Berkley Sensation, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-425-22981-1
Fantasy Erotica, 2009
The TBR Challenge theme for this month is “comfort read”, and I’d like to interpret that a little differently this time. Since I was a kid, I am always fascinated by language. And there are certain authors who can write in a way that resonate with me, so much so that I find a sublime kind of pleasure just reading the story, enjoying the cadence and the rhythm in the way the words are put together. And there is no fixed kind of writing style that appeals to me. It can be anything – something bombastic, something succinct, when it clicks, it clicks with me. I am enchanted by Judith Ivory’s books each time I reread them (especially those that she wrote under the name Judy Cuevas), but Laura Kinsale’s books leave me cold, for example, when it seems like I should be liking both authors since their styles are somewhat similar.
Megan Hart is one author whose evocative writing style always fascinates me. Even when the story is not as interesting as I’d have liked, the author’s words can still reel me in nonetheless. That’s the impression I get from the handful of stories of hers that I’ve read anyway. This is one author whom for some reason are just not meant for me: many of her books are either in overpriced trade paperbacks or digital titles made unavailable to me thanks to geographical restriction. Still, when I come across this book while rummaging for something to read for the TBR Challenge, this looks like the ideal comfort read on the basis of the author’s writing style alone. Oh, and it looks like a sexy read, and sexy is also nice, no?
Unfortunately, No Greater Pleasure may look like an erotic work, but it’s actually not as spicy as I’d have expected it to be. There is hardly any physical interaction for a big part of the story, and there is a strong element of woman-hating-woman drama that it sometimes feels like I’m reading something by Robin Schone, minus the obligatory gay bashing.
This one is set in a fantasy setting, with recognizable 19th-century England-like elements, only with fantasy names and some mythological mumbo-jumbo. Our heroine, the woman known as Tequila, oops, I mean Tranquilla Caden is from the Order of the Solace. These women serve men in every way these men want, in an effort to help those men find succor and peace in their souls. Once this is achieved, they believe that another arrow would be added to the quiver of their deity, and the deity will return to usher in a new age of glory. Mind you, getting those women isn’t cheap, so it’s not like I can ring up the hotline and tell them, “My soul is troubled! Please send over a maid, er, Handmaiden to clean the fridge and wash the toilet every day ASAP!”
Anyway, Quilla is sent to serve Gabriel Delessan, an alchemist who would be happy to be left alone to play the mad scientist – a sexy one, of course – were not for the distractions of a loony but manipulative wife and a kid he doesn’t know how to reach out to. Never fear, Quilla and her let-me-service-you-long-long-time mojo-fu will help make things right. And upright. And… you know what I mean.
Don’t cringe; the premise is actually pretty interesting rather than cheesy and over the top bawdy. Quilla may seem like some submissive doll at the surface, but she is actually a well drawn and interesting character as her layers are slowly peeled away throughout the story. This story is told entirely through Quilla’s point of view, so I have no good idea of who or what Gabriel is, but Quilla’s growing fascination of him is a nice example of slow boil in action. Unfortunately, because Gabriel is a bit of a cipher, he seems to fall for her with an abruptness that never rings real to me, and the romance never feels believable as a result. Either the romance should have moved faster or the book should have had another hundred or so pages for the love thing to be developed a bit better, I feel.
Still, the writing is as always engaging, elegant and graceful to read, and the heroine is interesting enough to keep me turning the pages. But I soon find my personal “ugh” button pushed hard when the author decides to pit every key female character in this story against the heroine. One is love-hate in nature, but the wife and her companion are predictably enough nasty. Now, I don’t mind woman-versus-woman if it’s done right – really – but here, the whole “Evil! Nasty! So nasty!” vibes of the antagonist females come off as just lazy. An author who writes like Megan Hart can surely do better, no?
Worse, the lazy portrayal of the evil wife has unfortunate implications. Once again, we have a woman who had affairs after being neglected by her husband, and yet, she’s the nasty one while Quilla makes plenty of justifications for Gabriel’s inability to treat people without showing them his rear end first. No Greater Pleasure is not the first book to use this “neglected by the hero into becoming a slut” angle for the evil other woman, and it certainly won’t be the last, but the implication here is very unfortunate: if the husband neglects you, you should somehow endure and, if you still fail to win him back, then you’re not his true love. No matter how you try to turn things, left or right or up or down, the onus of mending a failing marriage is always on you, the woman, and if you fail, then the hero deserves to have his ultimate true love sweep in and take over your place in his life. And if you give up on pining after the man to chase after your own happiness? Oh, you slut, please kill yourself, thanks. And if you resent his true love coming in to sweep you out of the picture? You mega slut.
At any rate, I don’t get as much pleasure as I’d have liked from this one, and no, there aren’t many sexy moments here. In fact, I’d hesitate to even call this one an erotic romance; I’m just going along because of the label on the packaging. It’s probably a good thing that I’m a fan of the author’s narrative style; maybe one day I’d be a fan of her stories.