Readers were arguing about Anna Campbell's debut, Claiming the Courtesan, before it was published. An
Unfortunately, Claiming the Courtesan wasn't that book, but it wasn't a bad book, either. For a first book it was compelling and promising, with some fresh phrasing and a bold use of the old captive heroine motif. Sure the hero is a brooding, tormented nobleman –" the duke who fears he's as crazy as his father and mother and who seeks the healing effect of the heroine's body and soul. But this heroine isn't quite the virginal innocent nor the feisty TSTL aristocratic lady, and her relationship with the possibly insane duke kept my jaded self riveted for the first half of the book. As for the second half . . . well, I'll get to that.
Justin Kylemore, aka Cold Kylemore, has spent the last year enjoying the fruits of a five-year pursuit of one of the most notorious courtesans in
So what is a bereft and slightly crazy duke to do? Spend three months tracking his lover down and kidnapping her at gunpoint, then taking her to his remote childhood home in
Despite the extremely melodramatic dimensions of this set up, I was completely sucked in by this part of the novel, partly because it was just so extreme. Verity regrets her life as a courtesan, and once she is Justin's captive, she refuses to give him the pleasures of her body willingly, both because he has taken away her will and because she has never viewed sex as a real pleasure to be experienced. Justin, though, wants more than Verity's physical surrender; he wants the passion he identifies as Soraya's, because he has convinced himself that she is his salvation. Justin doesn't like it when Verity is passive or remote. Verity doesn't trust Justin when he shows her kindness. Justin realizes that he is acting unforgivably, but he keeps pushing himself on Verity, who represents a bewitching combination of innocence and experience Justin craves. Verity, on the other hand, tries to remain unfazed by Justin's fluctuations between angry kidnapper and smitten paramour.
In the most fundamental way, Justin is trying to force seduction on Verity. Part of Justin wants to punish Verity for leaving him, while another part is disgusted by his actions, wanting instead for her to truly desire and care for him. Yes, it's twisted, but
This portion of the book is uncomfortable, and it made me uneasy to think about how these characters were actually increasing their emotional intimacy within this unnatural and unequal situation. That Justin has a ton of past trauma and raging night terrors doesn't mitigate the wrongs he does to Verity. That Verity sees sex as somewhat debased doesn't mean that she needs to be forced to experience pleasure as a way to enjoy it without guilt. Much internal dialogue ensues during this section of the book, as
With so much emotional drama front-loaded, however, the second half of the novel suffered from a lack of momentum and the burden of conflict-manufacturing clichÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ©s, from Justin's scheming mother to Verity's needless self-sacrifice. While I'm glad Verity and Justin (Truth and Justice?) didn't arrive at page 375 with “I hate you –" I love you,” I wanted the plotting of the novel's second half to be as intense as the emotional tenor of the first. I was also somewhat ambivalent about another heroine who, if she can't be an actual virgin, is ashamed of her sexuality in substitution for her missing hymen. Again, though,
There is definitely a strong sense of emotional justice in this book, and a relatively traditional Romance novel-y finale for Justin and Verity, which makes me think this book will appeal to mainstream Romance readers. I anticipate that some will dismiss it as a mere bodice-ripper, although I think it is more a meditation on bodice-rippers. That said, I understand why readers who do not like rape or forced seduction might hate this book. In general, I am one of them, and the only thing that saved this book for me was the way
Janet (aka Robin)