Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-123493-4
Historical Romance, 2009
Tempt the Devil is the first book by Anna Campbell that I have read. I have her previous two books as well, but they were in electronic format and… well, let’s just say that if I have to choose between a book I can hold in my hands and one that I have to read on the monitor screen, I’d pick the dead tree book. Having read this book, I’d have to say this: this would be a decent book written in the “forced seduction” school of style (think Christina Dodd’s works) if the heroine wasn’t a courtesan.
Now, you know me. I always believe that we need more harlots finding love in the romance genre. This is because harlots are usually more enjoyable to follow than those colorless pallid selfless virgins, for one. However, there is a huge disconnect between what the author tells me Olivia Raines is and what she shows me in this story. As a result, the whole thing feels really fake and even bloody stupid at so many moments.
Olivia is the reigning courtesan in London that has every man panting for a touch, a taste, and more. Julian Southwood, the Earl of Erith, is back in town to attend his daughter’s wedding, and since he doesn’t settle for anything less than the best, he wants Olivia to be his mistress. However, he won’t play by the rules she sets, so expect plenty of scenes here that is pretty much Erith running roughshod over Olivia. Such a charming relationship could only lead to better things as these two realize that lubrication-free sex is the best way to complete the empty spaces in each other’s heart and soul.
Let’s start with the good things about this book. The last third of this book is very good as it deals with plenty of enjoyable epiphany moments and soul-baring declarations of love. When she’s not with Erith, Olivia is a woman who has a spine and who won’t be cowed by disapproving hags that easily.
But for a long time, the author has Olivia behaving in such ridiculously naïve manner about physical contact between two human beings that I have a hard time imagining that Olivia is such a successful courtesan. Ms Campbell has Olivia constantly lamenting her lifestyle, which I suppose is understandable given that it is a cliché in the romance genre that the more a character has sex, the more unhappy that character is before that character meets his or her true love. But in this story, what I do not understand is how Olivia acts so wide-eyed about the things Erith does to her. Oh no, he’s putting that thing in her… ooh, what is this, why is she feeling this way? Yikes, he’s kissing her, and she likes it, oh the horror! He’s putting this thing and that thing here and there… and she has never felt like this despite having so many protectors before, oh my god!
Oh my god indeed. What is this, Ms Campbell? What the hell is this? Am I seriously expected to believe that a very successful courtesan is unfamiliar with the feelings and sensations she can experience from the sex act? Am I also to believe that a successful courtesan like Olivia will quickly turn into a spineless submissive fool just because a man won’t listen to her and just takes what he wants from her? Doesn’t a successful courtesan have, I don’t know, bouncers to beat such men senseless when they behave like out-of-control maniacs?
And then we have Erith, who is supposed to have a hot mistress in every port, or something like that. In his first intimate encounter with Olivia, he ignores her request to use lubrication-cum-spermicide, saying that he’d withdraw before shoving his fingers home with all the finesse of a blind bull in heat… and then he’s shocked and angered when he realizes that she is not aroused. Or, as this book puts it, she’s completely dry down there. The fact that Erith is actually shocked that a woman doesn’t like it when he tells her to shut up and take it has me suspecting that his previous sexual encounters must have taken place with inanimate objects.
I can accept the fact that Erith behaves like a psychotic stalker in this book for so long, although I don’t have to like it, because there is some nice epiphany later in the book. However, the very premise of this story has Olivia being this successful if tortured courtesan, only to have the plot driven by her acting like a virgin being deflowered by the worst boyfriend in the world. It’s like reading a story where a supposed veteran professional Formula One racer spends most of the time behaving as if it’s her first time behind the wheel. It’s ridiculous. Tempt the Devil is ridiculous.