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REVIEW: Sold To The Enemy by Sarah Morgan

Dear Ms. Morgan:

You’ve taken a number of standard fairy-tale and romance ingredients and turned them into something fresh and original in this book. I’ve always enjoyed your disadvantaged, yet plucky and intelligent, heroines, and in Selene Antaxos you’ve created a character that ranks for me with the heroines of Doukakis’ Apprentice, Twelve Nights of Christmas, The Prince’s Waitress Wife, and Sale or Return Bride. Selene isn’t badly off financially or an orphan, but her circumstances are pretty dire.

sold To The Enemy by Sarah MorganWhen we meet Selene, she is scheming a way to leave her isolated Greek island home and travel to Athens without her father finding out. Selene and her mother are virtual prisoners in a house that doubles as a fortress, victims of a man who insists on complete control over their lives in order to present to the world the picture of a perfect, virtuous family. He keeps them in penury and watches their every move, but Selene has turned a flair for creating handmade soaps and candles into a potential business opportunity. She uses her annual convent retreat as a means of leaving the island and approaching Stefanos Ziakas, who is her father’s enemy in business, but whom she remembers warmly because he was kind to her at one of her rare public outings. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous.

Stefan is annoyed with his personal assistant for letting Selene in to see him, but his annoyance dissipates as he is intrigued and attracted to her. He hears out her business plans and decides to offer her the loan she seeks. Even more impulsively, he invites her to accompany him to a party that night. Selene can’t resist; she’s never been to a party where she can just enjoy herself, free from her father’s threatening presence. The only hitch is that she has nothing to wear, but Stefan quickly arranges a way to overcome that obstacle. One thing leads to another and Selene and Stefan wind up in a mutually agreed-upon and passionate one-night stand. The morning after brings guilt, but not for the obvious reasons. Selene’s realization that the party was attended by guests who then plastered her picture all over the tabloids makes her outraged with Stefan and leads to her flight back to Antaxos, where she correctly fears her father is waiting for her.

Stefan rescues Selene just in time, but once she is safely away she escapes him too, angry that he took advantage of her to get an advantage over her father and fearful she’s traded one uncaring man for another. When Stefan is finally able to convince her that he wasn’t behind the photos and that his rivalry with her father is about more than business, Selene does an about-face and decides to go all-in with Stefan. Stefan has spent his adult life avoiding anything that looks remotely like a relationship, so she has her work cut out for her.

For me, this story is all about the heroine. Oh, Stefan is very appealing and sexy. But Selene is even better. She wants, more than anything else, to be her own person, and you get the sense that as much as she wants Stefan, she won’t compromise what she’s finally achieved to keep him:

He took a deep breath. ‘I realise we have some obstacles to overcome, but it would be much easier to overcome them if I wasn’t worrying about your safety all the time. I want you to come and stay at my villa, at least for a while.’

The temptation was so great it horrified her. ‘No, thanks.’

‘I don’t want you living on your own.’

‘Well, I want it. I’ve lived under my father’s rules for so long I want the freedom to come and go as I please. I can wear what I like. See whoever I like. Be who I want to be.’

‘And who do you want to be?’

She’d thought about nothing else.

‘Myself,’ she said simply. ‘I want to be myself. Not someone else’s version of who they think I should be.’

‘So if I ask you—the real you—out to dinner, will you say yes?’

Selene swallowed, unsettled by how much being this close to him affected her. What scared her most in all this was how badly she lost her judgement around him. She didn’t want to be the sort of woman who lost her mind around a man.

Selene is a classic HP virgin heroine, except she’s not. In this story, the virgin heroine is virgin because that is how her life has unfolded.  When I was reading Sold to the Enemy, I happened to follow a conversation among friends on twitter about how romances commodify virginity. Curious, I searched to see how it was used here. I couldn’t find a use of the words “virginity” or “virgin.” Selen’s virginity is not “taken” from her, and she doesn’t “give” it to Stefan. Yes, it’s her first time, but everyone has a first time. She wants to make love with him, she convinces him she wants it, and the next morning she’s the same person, just one who has had a great night. It’s a passionate, wonderful experience for her, and after she realizes that Stefan is not using her, she coaxes him into continuing where they left off.

I also very much appreciated that each of them has a major, traumatic backstory but they are also their own people, especially in terms of their attraction to each other and how each approaches a relationship with the other. And their histories were truly traumatic. Selene’s father was a not a paper tiger. He was truly awful, a scary, oppressive character, and her scenes with him were quite dark.

There were minor aspects of the novel that didn’t quite work for me. Selene’s mother was important in the early part of the book and then faded off the page; I would have liked to see more of her. I liked that Selene was willing to let Stefan fund her startup business, but putting his employees in the middle of the negotiations was unfair to them. And I don’t think I ever figured out quite what Stefan did to mke his billions. Finally, there were some abrupt shifts in plot and character behavior that could have used smoother transitions. But these niggles didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment.

The Presents line is often criticized for stereotyped, unbelievable plots and characters. But regular category readers know that there are also novels that take familiar elements and make something fresh and interesting out of them. Here we have a rich, handsome hero, a virgin heroine who needs rescuing from an ogre, and a happily ever after they are guaranteed to reach. How refreshing that while Selene can’t entirely rescue herself, she still manages a lot of it on her own, she never loses her desire to become her own person, and she tells the hero that he has to get his act together if he wants to reach that HEA with her. Grade: B+

~ Sunita

 

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

18 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:44:51

    This sounds like a great antidote to the HP Jane reviewed last week.

    ReplyReply

  2. LisaCharlotte
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 12:52:33

    Sold!

    ReplyReply

  3. Susan Reader
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 13:45:24

    I’ll have to try this again…

    I loved Dukakis’ Apprentice and generally find Sarah Morgan very reliable, but I wanted to throw this one at the wall just a few pages in (because it was on my reader I gently deleted it instead). Maybe I’ll give it a little more time….

    ReplyReply

  4. Elyssa Patrick
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 13:56:19

    I’m just excited Sarah Morgan has a new book coming out. I love her stuff! This sounds amazing–I love heroines like this, and I know I’m totally going to enjoy it.

    And, damn it, I just went to buy it on Kindle and it’s not for sale yet. WHY, HARLEQUIN, WHY?!!! *sobs*

    ReplyReply

  5. Liz Mc2
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 13:58:50

    That was such a great Twitter conversation! Your review and comments on the way the book deals with virginity have sold me.

    ReplyReply

  6. Debbie Haupt
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:25:43

    I Love Sarah, she is one of my all time favorite authors.
    deb

    ReplyReply

  7. Anne
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:41:52

    Read this and really enjoyed it – in spite of a similar issue with the whole working with the coworkers thing.

    @Elyssa Patrick:

    Elyssa, you can’t download anything from eharlequin or Mills&Boone onto your kindle? Man, that’s rough.

    ReplyReply

  8. Elyssa Patrick
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:59:06

    @Anne, I’d forgotten about that but it’s always such a PITA, and I have a Kindle gift card so I’ll hold off. But I wish ebook was available same day as print. It seems rather silly it’s not.

    ReplyReply

  9. Lia
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 16:20:52

    Sarah Morgan is hands down my favourite Presents-author. Her and India Grey, but the latter sadly seemed to have vanished of the Presents-earth.

    Will add this to my TBR-pile.

    ReplyReply

  10. Sunita
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 16:27:51

    @Susan Reader: Selene is a combination of ditzy and determined, that’s for sure. It may not work for you, but if you give it another try, I’d love to hear what you thought either way.

    @Liz Mc2: I’m not sure I caught the whole conversation, but I thought it was great too. It made me appreciate what Morgan was doing even more.

    ReplyReply

  11. Ros
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 17:54:10

    @Lia: India’s working on a single-title historical at the moment. I’m hoping to persuade her back to Presents soon!

    ReplyReply

  12. Dabney
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 20:47:04

    I just read and disliked Woman in a Sheikh’s World. Unlike A Night of No Return, to me WiaSW was like a slow episode of Oprah–all talk talk talk about feelings and why are we like this. I didn’t find the love story at all compelling. After reading your review, I’m wondering if Morgan’s work is weaker when the protagonists are on more equal footing.

    I will try this one.

    ReplyReply

  13. Kaetrin
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 21:50:39

    I have Doukakis’ Apprentice on my TBR but haven’t read it yet. Generally, the HP line is one I find a bit scary, but this is soooo tempting I might have to give it a go.

    ReplyReply

  14. Judith
    Feb 06, 2013 @ 19:02:49

    Thank you for these great reviews!
    I will definitely buy this HP from Sarah Morgan . The sypnosis is very engaging.
    Thanks again. I am about to go and look for DA other recommendations.
    Judith

    ReplyReply

  15. Mel
    Feb 08, 2013 @ 22:16:42

    Sarah Reader, I’m with you! I’ve had good luck with Sarah Morgan in general (Doukakis’ Apprentice was fab), but I just absolutely hated this one. Decent premise, but the heroine… was she suffering from some sort of bipolar-lite personality disorder or was she just terminally stupid? Blech.

    ReplyReply

  16. Object Lessons II: A Tale of Two Taglines | Something More
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 22:23:39

    [...] coming up for hopefully-less-cranky posts? I’m enjoying Sarah Morgan’s Sold to the Enemy and thinking about romance beginnings vs. endings, and playing with tropes. I [...]

  17. Sold to the Enemy: Deconstructing the Presents Alpha Hero | Something More
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 22:54:53

    [...] to know too many details about a book, you may want to skip this. For great straight-up reviews see Sunita’s (which sold me the book), Brie’s, and [...]

  18. Lia
    Aug 22, 2013 @ 21:54:37

    Finally managed to read this one. It was okay, not Morgan’s best book by a long shot, but still decent.

    However, isn’t there a really big age gap between hero and heroine? If his mother was killed before Selene was born, that would make him at least 45 or 46, considering Selene is 22.

    ReplyReply

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