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REVIEW: The Seduction of His Wife by Tiffany Clare

Dear Ms. Clare,

I had missed reading your debut novel The Surrender of a Lady, though I heard intriguing things about it. So when the opportunity came around to read this book, I snatched it up. I wish I could say that it was an unmitigated success, but that’s not quite the case.

The Seduction of His Wife by Tiffany Clare Richard Mansfield, Earl of Asbury, encounters his wife Emma for the first time in 12 year in a brothel. Emma is there for a meeting with a blackmailer. Richard is there recovering from wounds he received in an attack, though he’s also canoodling with a prostitute when he comes face to face with Emma. Neither this fact, nor the fact that he left his wife abruptedly after their wedding night and stayed away for over a decade keeps Richard from being high-handedly outraged over finding his wife in such an establishment. This got Richard and me off on the wrong foot, and we never quite got back on the right one.

Emma has made a life for herself in her husband’s absence – she has her two sisters and her close friend, the Duke of Vane, to keep her company. She also has her art – Emma secretly paints and sells (through Vane) nude portraits of women, including herself. Now Waverly, another supposed friend of hers, has acquired several of the paintings and is threatening Emma with exposure. (I’ve seen similar plots before in other historical romances and never quite gotten how a portrait could be as damning as, say, a pre-Photoshop-era photograph. There’s no proof that Emma posed for the self-portraits or that she even painted the other pictures. Sure, I suppose someone could cause a scandal by alleging so, but would they even need the paintings themselves to do that? It doesn’t quite make sense to me.)

Anyway, Emma is anxious to retrieve the portraits; she doesn’t care about her own reputation (of course not!), but her youngest sister Grace is of marriageable age, and she wouldn’t want a scandal to ruin her chances of finding a good husband. Unfortunately, the brothel-visit turns out to be a bit of a wild-goose chase, at least in terms of encountering her blackmailer.

Richard and Emma feel the requisite tingling in naughty places upon their unexpected reunion, but the course of true love doesn’t run smooth; neither is too happy to see the other, overall. Still, Richard pursues Emma the next day in their London home, and when she flees with her sisters to the country, he follows her there, accompanied by his hulking and mysterious Italian business partner, Dante.

Emma’s sisters prove surprisingly easy to win over – if someone married my sister and then abandoned her for a dozen years, I don’t think I’d turn so quickly complicit in bringing about a reunion. For it’s a reunion Richard has decided that he does want, though for how long, he doesn’t seem to be clear. Maybe he just wants to get an heir on Emma, and then he’ll leave again. Emma is, not surpisingly, underwhelmed by the romanticism of this offer, though she would like a child of her own. Still, she avoids a quick return to the marriage bed, and thus we are presented with a fairly familiar scenario of hero-pursues-heroine-demurs. The sisters assist in the seduction by presenting Emma with some rather silly challenges – climb a tree, roll down a hill – that seem intended to get Richard and Emma together when Emma is in a more vulnerable state. The reward for Emma if she completes the challenges is the opportunity to paint her sisters nude, which I found…odd. (It doesn’t help that Emma’s interest in painting the nude female form is never really explored in-depth. I guess it was intended to make Emma seem sexy and unconventional.)

Anyway, there’s nothing really wrong with the plot of The Seduction of His Wife, in theory. The execution fails on a couple of (related) fronts: 1) lack of depth of characterization and 1a) Richard’s undeniable status as an asshole.

I can accept asshole heroes, provided there is some motivation for their being assholes (and some reform towards the end, too, of course). Richard had a poorly defined bad relationship with his controlling father, who forced him to marry Emma when she was but 15 (a detail that seemed anachronistic given the era – early Victorian period). After he left Emma, he apparently traveled the world and got rich as a businessman, as romance heroes tend to do (I wonder if it would be interesting to read about a romance hero that absolutely sucks at business and has to just go back to being a duke with all of his pots of inherited wealth?). Part of his business seemed to involve dealing opium. Richard expresses occasional regret and shame over his involvement with the opium trade, but it wasn’t enough for me. His reasons for becoming a drug dealer (of sorts) and his reasons for stopping remain a mystery.

And that’s really the problem with so much in the novel. It’s not really clear why Richard resented his father so much. It’s not clear what happened on Richard and Emma’s wedding night (it’s implied several times that it went badly, though). It’s not clear what drew Emma to painting, specifically painting nude females. It’s not clear how Richard became involved in something as shady as opium dealing, nor why he decided to stop. It’s not clear how the villain, an apparently slavering, crazy opium addict, was able to befriend the heroine and hide his true nature from her for a year. Sometimes the characterization feels like an outline without the details filled in. It made it impossible for me to feel any attachment to the characters.

There is a secondary romance between Emma’s middle sister Abby and Richard’s friend Dante; it wasn’t hugely compelling but at least they didn’t have all the baggage that made Richard and Emma’s romance frustrating to me. Another plus is that the sex scenes were well-done and hot (and rather frequent, especially in the second half of the book).

Ultimately, I can’t really recommend The Seduction of His Wife. My grade for it is a C.

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.

18 Comments

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  2. tori aka ggs_closet
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 09:47:50

    Nice review. Maybe I’ve matured, but what appealed to me in historical romances 20 years ago now just irritate the heck out of me. I never understood the heroine’s family when they push the her to go back w/said hero. Their reasoning is always, “Well he’s here and wants to have sex with you so he must love you.” Sigh.

  3. DM
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 10:41:48

    I did read Surrender of a Lady, and can’t recommend it either. I also found the characters thin, and some of the dramatic situations implausible. But what disappointed me most was the quality of the writing. It felt padded. Like there were enough story events for a novella, but not for a novel. So we were treated to repetitive character rumination. If any of what the characters had been feeling had the ring of emotional truth, or some psychological depth, I could have enjoyed the book, but alas, that was not the case. Old Skool sexy plot elements (harems! brothels! erotic paintings!) can be a lot of fun, or they can be a distasteful blast from romance’s not-so-proud past. Unfortunately, this gal’s books, for me, are the latter.

  4. Joanne
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 11:03:46

    If I don’t read – at least for a long, long while – another cover blurb featuring a brothel or a member of the aristocracy who abandons his wife at or near the altar and then is gone for years, I’ll be very content.

    I did try this author’s first book which featured a husband selling his wife and the auctions of female slaves (and how can one not be absolutely charmed? alas, I was not) that was a DNF for me.

  5. Sunita
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 12:51:35

    Thanks for the helpful review, Jennie. I tried the author’s first book as well and it was a DNF. This does sound like an Old Skool (and not in a good way) style across books. In the first book, harems were equated to brothels, and now we have the trifecta of early marriage + abandonment + blackmail for doing something not that naughty. I’m not opposed to the abandonment motif, in fact I think it can work pretty well in the right hands, but it’s all about the execution.

    I think there is a readership for this kind of book, but I’m not in the target audience.

  6. DM
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 14:05:30

    @Sunita

    I’m with you on that. I will read a heroine in a harem story, if it’s about a woman with recognizable human emotions, and the harem is an actual harem, and not a disturbing and derogatory western construct: the harem as brothel. It is definitely all about the execution.

    On the upside, if there are any graduate students keen to write about orientalizing in romance, come on down!

  7. Polly
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 15:08:33

    Orientalizing in romances? It’s why I rarely read and even more rarely enjoy romances with “exotic” settings or characters. There are some real stinkers out there.

  8. Janine
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 21:39:38

    I also read Surrender of a Lady and had the same concerns about the brothel/harem that others here have expressed.

    Richard expresses occasional regret and shame over his involvement with the opium trade, but it wasn't enough for me.

    I had a similar problem with the hero of Surrender of a Lady, who stopped trading in opium because he had become addicted to it, but did not express remorse for having addicted others.

    OTOH, I liked the heroine, Elena. I found her sympathetic and thought the way she adapted to her captivity by reinventing herself as a courtesan and telling herself that it was better than leaving the brothel was interesting, from a psychological perspective.

    I also thought Clare’s writing style was elegant and sophisticated though the book itself was something of a downer. It sounds like this book shares some weaknesses with its predecessor so I probably won’t be reading it, but I might try her again a few books down the line.

  9. Jennie
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 23:09:24

    @Joanne: Selling his wife at auction? Wow. That sounds like it would be hard to come back from.

    One of the things that annoys me most in romances is when the characters (usually it’s the hero) commit serious sins, but they aren’t taken seriously in the book. Such as the casual treatment of opium dealing in this book (and apparently, the previous book that Janine read). I can handle bad behavior, but it needs to be dealt with honestly and seriously.

  10. Janine
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 23:32:48

    @Jennie:

    Selling his wife at auction? Wow.

    The above is not an accurate description of the plot, and not what Joanne said (if you reread her comment you will see she’s describing two disparate elements).

    To clarify, the heroine’s first husband (not the hero, but one of the villains) traded her in payment for his gambling debts (not in auction, IIRC). She was taken to a slave market and sold to another man, the owner of the harem/brothel (also not the hero, and not her husband either). That man sells her favors at auction, but doesn’t release her on a permanent basis. The hero was a man she’d been in love with before she married, and he found her at the brothel, spent time with her there and then kidnapped her in an attempt to get her free.

    On another note, I like flawed characters but I agree there needs to be a strong demonstration of remorse for a redemption story to work.

  11. Ellie
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 23:39:07

    Jennie, the husband who sold his wife in “Surrender of a Lady” wasn’t the hero. I remember that much, but not much else of the book. It wasn’t a DNF, but I essentially skimmed it after the first few chapters.

  12. Jennie
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 23:54:37

    Thanks for the clarification – obviously I didn’t read closely enough!

  13. Joanne
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 07:34:07

    @Jennie LOL, no, it’s that I was being flip instead of expressing my thoughts on Surrender of a Lady. Thank you @Janine: for clarifying.

    What I was bumbling on about is that in fiction I am willing to suspend belief for almost any premise as long as I can get invested in the characters. I like Sheiks and slave girl stories and flawed heroes and/or heroines but not if they’re just old skool copy and paste caricatures.

    There was a time and place for those books but it’s not now, at least for me.

    And thank you for an interesting and revealing review.

  14. Jennie
    Feb 02, 2011 @ 17:37:29

    @Joanne: I totally agree – I do not see myself, generally, as a fan of “light” romances, but I would a million times rather read a decently written light romance than a tortured, angsty one where I don’t feel connected to the characters or the conflict, or where I feel that serious matters (like dealing opium and deserting your wife for a dozen years!) are treated lightly.

  15. Sunita
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 10:47:31

    @Jennie: I’m kind of dumbfounded at making not one but two opium dealers the heroes of the books, given what the opium trade did to the social and economic health of China. It’s possible to make an opium addict the hero of a book (I think Meredith Duran did it, and of course Patricia Ryan’s Beacon Hill series had Will), but it takes a lot of care and thoughtfulness to pull it off.

    I’m trying to imagine a contemporary romance with a hero who deals in opium in, say, Afghanistan, and I’m utterly failing.

  16. Jennie
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 18:27:44

    Sunita, it was odd to me too. I mean, aside from a couple of sentences about it, it wasn’t treated like a big deal at all. Also, I think most of the hero’s money was made from the trade? I guess he had inherited wealth as well, but that made me uncomfortable.

  17. Janine
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 21:31:20

    @Jennie & @Sunita:

    given what the opium trade did to the social and economic health of China

    China was the first thing I thought of when I read that the hero of Surrender of a Lady had been an opium trader. I waited for a real effort of redemption, or at least for him to have an epiphany as to how much damage he’d caused, but he never thought beyond his own happiness and the heroine’s.

    This ties into a discussion that @evangelineh and I were having on Twitter the other day. Evangeline mentioned that when historical romance heroes leave England without much money and return far wealthier she always wonders where that money comes from. As soon as she said that, the slave trade was the first thing to pop into my mind. Later I thought of opium and then Caribbean plantations.

    The fact is that some of the ways rich Englishmen became wealthy in the 19th century are morally shaky, and that’s something authors need to give thought to.

  18. Liz
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 17:36:42

    Oh my gosh, I completely agree with your review. I couldn’t even finish the book as I felt no attachment to the characters and Richard for a good part of the story just seemed like some horn ball trying to get it off on his “wife”. He constantly pushed the term “wife” on her just so he could get in her pants. In the end he sweetened up a great deal which was more refreshing yet for me the story seemed so unrealistic on so many levels that I couldn’t get into the story in depth and really enjoy it. Also the sex scenes seemed a little over the top, I felt like I was reading an erotic porno novel, the type of free erotic stories that you can find in abundance on the internet. The sad part was that I actually paid for this book, ha.

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