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REVIEW: Seven Nights to Forever by Evangeline Collins

Dear Ms. Collins,

Jane was kind enough to send your book my way, knowing I have an affinity for prostitute romances. I can honestly say I’m glad she did, even if Seven Nights to Forever did contain some tropes that caused me more than an occasional eye roll.

Seven Nights to Forever by Evangeline CollinsRose Marlowe is a respectable gentlewoman living on her family’s modest estate in the country three weeks out of every four. The fourth week, Rose travels to London and works as a prostitute in a high-class brothel. A brothel that is patronized one night by James Archer, a wealthy businessman driven there by loneliness and despair. James and Rose find each other and are each pretty much gone for the other immediately. But there are obstacles – significant, soul-wrenching obstacles – between the two and their HEA.

Rose has come to the brothel after a bad experience as a member of the demimonde. The crushing debt her father left behind when he died had pushed her to such an unrespectable profession. Rose wanted to protect her younger brother, Dash, from the truth about the father he idolized, as well as give him all the things she thinks a young gentleman should have – an Eton education and and an estate that’s in the black financially. Yes, Rose is one of those – a self-sacrificing heroine.

So, Rose meets James, who could give her a run for the money in the martyr department. James married the aristocratic Amelia at his tradesman father’s behest – he is part of an exchange of money for social standing. The social standing is supposed to allow James’ beloved younger sister, Rebecca, to enter society (with Amelia’s sponsorship) and find a titled husband. James doesn’t expect much when he marries Amelia, but he’s not anticipating being saddled with the female Regency equivalent of Snidely Whiplash. Because Amelia, who we chiefly see through James’ eyes until the latter part of the book, is bad, bad, bad. She wasn’t a virgin when they married. She refused for a year after their marriage to allow him to visit her bed, and when she did allow it, she so demoralized him that he was unable to complete the act, a fact which she then mocked. She flaunts her lovers and abuses him verbally at every turn. James suffers it all in saintly silence, not wanting to jeopardize his sister’s chances at a brilliant Season and a good marriage.

So, for most of the book Rose and James are basically in a competition for the gold medal in the Doormat Olympics. Rose is particularly aggravating in the scenes where she continues to protect her brother from the truth of their financial situation even though he has dropped out of school and is living it up in London, running up debts that she must make good. To be fair, eventually there is some acknowledgment that Rose’s actions in regard to her brother are not in anyone’s best interest. But for the longest time I got the feeling I was supposed to believe that Rose was so noble, when in fact her behavior was stupid and weak.

Rose also has some odd moral strictures. She first came to London to find a protector, but left her first protector after a few weeks when she discovered he was married. She was with her second, presumably single protector for longer, nearly a year, before his abusive behavior drove her to the brothel. Rose seems to believe that it’s okay to have sex with married men in the brothel because “it’s only one night.” Now, I do understand viewing the protector/mistress relationship differently from the john/whore one, but having sex with another woman’s husband is having sex with another woman’s husband. From a cost-benefit analysis point of view, it seems to me that the protector/mistress relationship would be vastly preferable to a woman like Rose to being a prostitute and having to sleep with seven different men every month (she appears to only take one client a night). But Rose never misses a chance to wear a hair shirt when she can.

James just seems plain depressed. He works long hours to avoid his wife, sometimes sleeping in his office. He doesn’t appear to ever defend himself against her abuse (until the end of the book; her comeuppance was satisfying to read). He seems to be resigned to a loveless, lonely life and only gives in to the urge for the comfort of another woman’s arms in a weak moment. But once he meets Rose, James is hooked.

I don’t want to be too hard on James or judge him by antiquated standards of masculinity. But…there’s no getting around the fact that his behavior comes off as wimpy. Maybe it’s just because doormat heroes are so much rarer in romance than doormat heroines, but while Rose inspired annoyance, James engendered an odd mix of distaste and respect/affection in me. On the one hand, even if I don’t want to be all gendered in my thinking about his character, there’s still some part of me that thinks a real man doesn’t let a woman treat him that way. I don’t love it when female characters are doormats, but I’m more acclimated to it.

At the same time, the more progressive part of me likes the fact that James is not a traditional romance hero, and that he’s allowed to be so vulnerable and weak. When it comes right down to it, James is simply a nice guy.

The relationship between James and Rose is pretty straightforward – he quickly decides that in spite of his assurance to himself that his brothel visit would be a one-time thing, he can’t stay away from Rose. Rose runs more hot and cold – she tries to push James away several times, and if it weren’t for the fact that their many misunderstandings tend to be short-lived, I would find the lack of communication between them pretty annoying. As it is, there is a pattern that James and Rose follow several times: he hurts her feelings or makes her uncomfortable, and she withdraws. James is confused and bewildered. Then they resolve it. Lather, rinse and repeat.

The secondary characters are kind of a mixed bag: Amelia, the evil wife, is broadly drawn and pointlessly mean. I would’ve liked to see a little more depth in her characterization. She’s balanced by the sensible and kind Rebecca, James’ sister, who (shockingly!) likes town and wants to have a brilliant season, though she doesn’t know how much her brother is sacrificing to give it to her. I found this refreshing, given that virtuous characters in romance (particularly the female ones) invariably prefer the quiet pleasures of the country to the gaudy attractions of town.

There is a third, intriguing secondary character – Timothy Ashton, Rose’s friend and co-worker at the brothel. Timothy appears to service both male and female clients, and seems to specialize in BDSM submission. It’s not clear what Timothy’s actual proclivities are, but he’s a compelling character who I’d like to see more of. I’m hoping he gets his own book; I’d very likely read it.

The love scenes in Seven Nights to Forever are well-done – they are both hot and rather romantic. The latter may seem surprising in a story about a prostitute and her john, but since there is an immediate emotional connection between Rose and James, it makes sense. Whether the immediate emotional connection itself makes sense is another question. I’m not a big fan of “love at first sight” and Rose’s attachment to James was even more questionable to me given the nature of her usual connection to men. I suppose that’s one of those romance tropes that cause my eyes to roll.

As I said above, I’m glad I read Seven Nights to Forever - it is a flawed but involving book. My final grade: a high B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

11 Comments

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  2. Jane
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 08:13:29

    I gave this book a slightly higher grade. I did not find James to be a wimp or a less of a man. He was long suffering but he also had good cause. He wanted his sacrifice, his indentured servitude to be worth something. He went into the marriage with good and honorable intentions.

    And when Amelia was so cruel to him and refused him access to her bed, forcing her to have sex with him was out of the question. He did not want to take a mistress, believing that doing so would harm his sister’s ability to make a good match. (and thus making his sacrifice for nothing).

    And, I felt like James had reached the breaking point when he found Rose. He had been celibate. He had become worn down emotionally and with his sister’s coming out upon him and her chances of securing a good marriage seeming to be attainable, he finally sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

    The fact that he endured Amelia’s vituperation and became emotionally vulnerable because of it doesn’t make him less of a man in my eyes. Surely men, even strong men, can become embroiled in an emotional abusive relationship. And he came out of it, freed himself of it.

    I found James to be totally refreshing from the overbearing alpha males and the rakes who spread their seed across society as evidence of their “manhood.”

  3. Lizzy
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 09:03:41

    I just bought this, and plan to read it this weekend. I’m really looking forward to it, in part because I love courtesan romances and in part because of the reviews I’ve read (flawed but involving seems to be the general feeling).

    Also, I love the cover … it’s so old school bodice rip. Hawt.

  4. Danielle D
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 10:20:40

    After reading the review and Jane’s comments — it’s off to Borders I go.

  5. Sunita
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 10:54:35

    Jennie, what an awesome review! As soon as I read it I downloaded the first chapter from Amazon.

    The character of James sounds kind of anachronistic, but I’m curious to see what the author does with him. And I’m more than willing to read history-lite historicals if the writing and romance is well done.

  6. vanessa jaye
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 12:21:17

    This one is on my to buy list. I checked just last night but it’s not in Chapters-Indigo stores(Canada) yet.

  7. Carolyn
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 15:54:58

    Did someone else review this?

    I seem to have pre-ordered it, got quite a surprise when it turned up in my Kindle.

    Good review and I’m glad Jane chimed in. I love beta heroes, I think I’ll enjoy this one. :-)

  8. Jane
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 16:00:02

    @Carolyn I put a review up on Goodreads. Did you see that there?

  9. Janine
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 19:26:53

    This book sounds interesting and different. I like prostitute and mistress stories and the merchant hero is unusual too. I may give this one a try.

  10. Jennie
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 19:31:48

    I realize I’m a bit unfair to James. I tried to convey in the review that I find that kind of extreme self-sacrifice annoying from both hero and heroine; it’s just that it’s so common in heroines that I think it sticks out less for me. James seemed so completely at Amelia’s mercy, and at times I was uncomfortable with how obsessed he seemed to be about it. A lot of his early thoughts were of Amelia (it changed once he really fell for Rose), and they were…intense. I understood him hating her but the intensity of his feelings was a little unsettling.

  11. Carolyn
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 19:30:22

    @Jane: No, sorry. :-(

    Ah well, another sign of aging, I suppose.

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