Feb 15 2008
Dear Ms. Long,
Of the authors writing historical romance, you are one of my absolute favorites. Not too long ago, I sang the praises of your previous book, The Secret to Seduction, in what is one of the longest, most detailed reviews I have ever written.
After I finished reading that book, I was tremendously excited to share my enthusiasm for it with the world and to try to understand the reasons it had been such a magical reading experience for me. In contrast, after finishing your newest book, The Perils of Pleasure, I find this review far more difficult to approach.
How does one do justice to a book that had all the potential to be sublime, but instead was better than average, good, worth reading, but not quite all that one was hoping for? How do I balance out its weaknesses and its strengths and convey to readers both my frustration that this book fell short of greatness and my hope that they will give it a chance nonetheless? I suppose the place to start is with the plot summary:
Colin Eversea is both a gentleman and a scoundrel. At least half the women in Pennyroyal Green, the village that Colin hails from, are in love with him. And though Colin himself has always thought to marry the beautiful Louisa Porter, he has never let that stop him from dallying with countless others.
But now Colin’s charmed existence has come to an end. Colin is accused of murdering a man who insulted his sister, and the only witness who can prove his innocence has vanished. Colin is sentenced to hang and jailed in Newgate, and he is uncertain who is responsible for what has befallen him. Is it one of the members of the Redmond family, whose feud with Colin’s family goes back centuries, or is it his own older brother Marcus, who is in love with Louisa Porter and who is scheduled to marry her within days of Colin’s execution?
Colin is certain that he doesn’t have long to ponder these questions, but on the day of his execution, he is rescued, blindfolded and then brought to a hiding place where a mysterious woman tells him she will not release him from his bonds.
To Madeleine Greenway, Colin is nothing but a job. Madeleine has been paid to save his life and promised a generous final payment upon delivery of Colin. The final payment will enable Madeleine to purchase a farm in the United States and leave her life in England behind her. Madeleine doesn’t know who the person who paid her is or what that individual plans to do with Colin, and at first she doesn’t care. But when the money is not delivered and instead an attempt Colin foils is made on Madeleine’s life, she reluctantly agrees to let Colin tag along while she tries to figure out why anyone would want her dead.
For much of the rest of the book, Madeleine and Colin have to dodge the soldiers who are on the hunt for Colin and other people who might turn him in for the reward that has been offered for his capture. In the process, the two grow closer as they piece together the clues that will help them discover who tried to kill Madeleine and who arranged for Colin to be arrested for a murder that he did not commit.
And Madeleine and Colin are both torn. For Colin it is a question of whether his resolve to marry Louisa is stronger, or whether his new feelings for Madeline are more powerful. For Madeleine, it is a question of whether she will let Colin charm her and leave her as he has countless others, or whether she will listen to her instincts of self-preservation, which whispers that she could have that farm in America if she turns Colin in for the reward.
The Perils of Pleasure could have been a keeper for me, if it hadn’t been for a few flaws.
First, I felt that the humor and charm which I so love in your writing did not suit the dark subject matter of the book, especially in the first half, which was set in London’s rough neighborhoods and which had the hero cheating death on the gallows and then on the run as a fugitive. While the jokes were occasionally funny, I also felt that they distracted me from the intensity of the situation the characters faced and sapped some of the grittiness that section of the book needed to have.
Second, I felt that there were some inconsistencies in the characters’ backgrounds.
In Colin’s case, I found it difficult to reconcile his rakish past with his powerful determination to stop his own brother’s wedding because he himself was so committed to the idea of marrying Louisa, especially since Louisa herself lacked spark and it was hard to see what would attract both Colin and his brother to her.
In Madeleine’s case, I found it hard to believe that the woman who was clever enough to effect Colin’s rescue with flash bombs and black powder (even if she had to hire others to do that work) would not be able to tell that the gunpowder in her gun was no longer good, or that she would think of turning Colin in for the reward on the one hand yet put her last penny in a child’s shoe on the other.
There are times when contradictions in characters can serve to make them multi-dimensional, but in this book, I felt that the inconsistencies undercut my ability to fully believe in the characters.
Perhaps another reason for that was that in certain ways, Colin and especially Madeleine seemed opaque, since Colin’s motivation for having both commitment to Louisa and a wandering eye was not revealed until the end of the book, and most of Madeleine’s past remained shrouded in mystery until around the halfway point of the story. (Since as as a reader I spent a good portion of the book in Madeleine’s POV, it also began to seem contrived that she did not reference her past in her thoughts for half the book.)
I thought the second half of the book was much stronger than the first. Here, we were given many of the answers to the questions about Madeleine, and learning the truth about her past made her character more whole and complete. This was also the part of the book where Madeline and Colin grew closer and their circumstances improved, so that the charm and humor which had seemed jarring in the book’s first half were more fitting in the second. I enjoyed the second half of the book very much.
I want to mention that The Perils of Pleasure has quite a few strengths. Among them are the unusual plot and setting. I thought the piecing together of the mystery was very well done, and I loved that the book was set in parts of London we don’t often see and featured some unusual side characters.
I also feel that Madeleine’s background was unique in a romance heroine and that she was very intriguing for that reason. Although I wish her past had been revealed earlier on, I really liked her streetwise mindset and her strong sense of self-preservation.
Finally, I love your way with language (metaphors especially); for example, this description of a countess: “She looked like a delicate, provocative little moth.” I really appreciate the fact that you find new and unusual ways to say what it is that you have to say. Even when your plots and characters seem familiar, your words invigorate them.
In this case, plot, heroine and language all felt fresh and new, which is why it is frustrating that the book did not fire me into the stratosphere as a couple of your others have. Perhaps the challenge for authors is one of high expectations. Unfair is it may be, the truth is that the more you blow me away with one book, the harder it becomes for the next book to please me. Despite that, I still enjoyed The Perils of Pleasure, and I believe that other readers will, too. B.