Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-134158-8
Historical Romance, 2008
The Perils of Pleasure is Julie Anne Long’s big Avon debut, and I don’t know whether I should go all Pater Noster – because, dear lord, it’s Avon, people – or be happy for the author as, for all its faults, its marketing department knows how to do its job very well.
This is a fresh start for the author, so of course it’s also the first book in a new series set in Pennyroyal Green in Sussex. This series focuses predominantly, I believe, on the antics of the family members of two feuding clans, the Everseas and the Redmonds. There seems to be an ongoing story arc that will build up to that one book everyone will spend years waiting for, only to be inevitably disappointed when it comes out due to massively high expectations, but for the most part, this story stands alone quite well.
Colin Eversea is the never-do-well scoundrel who lives and loves fast, until one day he accidentally kills a man in a tavern brawl and looks set to meet his end at the gallows. When he’s about to go out with a bang, he finds himself rescued instead, by Madeleine Greenway, a widow with a mysterious past who is hired to rescue him and deliver him to the person who hired her. Before she can do that, they find themselves nearly killed by an armed stranger. Has she been double-crossed? What is going on here? Naturally, she and Colin are about to find out.
The mystery is actually interesting, and to Ms Long’s credit, she manages to keep things interesting even when for the most part Colin and Madeleine are merely traveling from one place to another. As usual, the author’s prose sings, and this book is certainly a pleasure to read. There’s an irresistible quality to the cadence in the narrative, and Ms Long knows how to set a scene so that I feel as if I’d been transported into that scene itself.
The thing is, I would have enjoyed this book better if it had been written by someone else other than Julie Anne Long. I have enjoyed many of the author’s previous books, some of them very much so, and I can’t help feeling that this book feels like mere echoes of those books. Colin is a charming hero, but I see strong echoes of similar roguish heroes such as James Makepeace in him. Madeleine is, for the most part, an interesting heroine with spine of steel, but curiously enough, her character experiences decay as the story progresses. Let me explain.
Have you ever read a book where it’s pretty clear that the author favors one character over the other? I get that feeling here. It’s that or the author became bored of writing about Madeleine halfway into the story, because by this midway point, Madeleine who had been in charge all this while curiously enough turns into wallpaper while Colin becomes… everything. There are actually scenes where Colin does all the talking and more while Madeleine just stands quietly in the background, pointing the gun at the villain in that scene, as if she has somehow been relegated to being the hero’s sidekick without me getting the memo. Colin steals the show in this second half of the story – he drives it – and I am left wondering what happened.
It’s quite irksome that Madeleine, who had been shaping up to be a unique tough heroine up to this point, is pretty much relegated to a clear secondary role apart from those moments when Colin wants some nookie. By the last page, she’s just another heroine who is forced to be tough due to circumstances – all she really wants are a husband and some babies at the end of day. How disappointingly mundane, sigh. Madeleine also suffers from a decaying IQ – she starts out so well, capable in so many things, but as Colin takes center stage, she suddenly doesn’t check her guns or sniff out spoiled gunpowder. I guess things aren’t romantic if the heroine’s intelligence threatens to match the hero’s.
As I’ve said, this is still a readable story, but this one is also disappointingly ordinary with some disappointing tropes that tow the party line too much, often to the detriment of its own uniqueness. The Perils of Pleasure might be a fine book if it had been written by someone else, but it’s a book by Julie Anne Long that is… well, it’s humorous, romantic, and the couple have good chemistry, but there are other books by this author that have all these and more.