Dear Ms. Featherstone,
My love of Joey Hill’s books aside, I normally don’t read erotic fiction, but your novel’s cover description caught my interest. A novel exploring opium addiction? Really? Since I’m currently trying to expand my reading horizons, I thought I’d give your book a shot.
Anais Darnby and Lindsay Markham have known each other since childhood and have loved each other for nearly as long. When they finally confess their feelings to one another, their future happiness seems assured until another woman puts Lindsay in a compromising position. Unfortunately for him, Anais catches them, jumps to the worst conclusion possible, and flees. Lindsay chases after her but when his pursuit results in failure, he journeys east where he loses himself completely to his opium addiction. A year later, he returns to England, determined to find Anais again. But he’ll have to make a choice about which he loves more — Anais or opium — because he can’t have both.
I love the friends to lovers trope, so Anais and Lindsay’s story predisposed me to like this book. Because of their history as childhood friends, I was able to suspend my disbelief when it came to their being unsure of each other’s feelings. I certainly understand why they could be blind to the truth — that Anais worships the ground Lindsay walks on and that Lindsay thinks Anais is the most stunning woman he’s ever known.
On the other hand, I wish more would have been done with Anais’s insistence on things being black and white, right and wrong. This comes out more and more in the second half of the novel, but I think it would have made her objections to Lindsay’s opium’s use more powerful had I been more clued in earlier. Maybe I was just slow to pick up on it. Opium addiction in and of itself is a bad thing, so I hadn’t even been aware her opposition to it stemmed less from its usage and more out of a desire that Lindsay be more like her seemingly perfect father and less like his own obviously flawed one.
I do think Lindsay’s struggle between the Anais of his perception and the Anais in reality was well done. Many readers dislike the Madonna and whore dichotomy and I usually count myself among their number, but it made sense here. Lindsay placed Anais on a pedestal, blinding himself to her flaws, so when he has to confront them in his quest to win her back, he finds himself at a loss and prefers to lose himself in his opium cloud where he can have the Anais in his mind, if not the Anais in his reality. It’s a difficult struggle for him since Lindsay is the one who awakened Anais sexually so he’s also the one who took away the very Madonna status he assigned her, even if only subconsciously.
As I said earlier, I don’t read much erotic fiction but I’ve paid attention to previous discussions regarding its conventions. Because of this, I wasn’t too bothered that the plot was simpler than my usual preference. It’s functional but certainly nothing memorable. But more to my surprise, there wasn’t as much sex as I was expecting. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’d call this an erotic novel. An erotic romance, on the other hand, perhaps. I’d be interested in hearing from readers more versed in erotic fiction who’ve also read this book. What did you think about the label? Is this an erotic romance or an erotic novel?
One thing that disappointed me was the lack of actual opium addiction. It was true that there were many references to it but Lindsay never struck me as being truly addicted until the latter third of the novel. I realize part of this was intentional. Lindsay spent a good portion of the novel thinking he had his habit under control, like many addicts do, and it spiraled out of control when he thought he lost Anais for good. But for a book described as being about a man who had to choose between the love of his life and a crippling addiction, I never got the impression the addiction was ever that crippling. Other readers might disagree. This simply could be a case of misled expectations as a result of a slightly inaccurate cover blurb.
And speaking of the cover blurb, it also led me to believe something about Anais that wasn’t true. I also realize this was intentional since Lindsay believes something is going on between Anais and another man for a good portion of the novel, but I also felt that Anais’s self-flagellation was out of proportion to what actually happened. It’s consistent with her unreasonable standards of purity and goodness but based on her health condition when she and Lindsay reunite, I actually thought Anais had syphilis. I don’t know if that was intentional or it’s simply my jumping to completely ridiculous conclusions but when the actual truth came out, I admit I was a bit disappointed because it was something I would expect from a Harlequin Presents novel, not a book about addiction.
Despite my efforts to go in with an open mind, I think misplaced reader expectations still prevented me from enjoying this novel fully. Ironically, it had less to do with the erotic elements and more with the story elements — namely, the portrayal of Lindsay’s opium addiction and Anais’s big secret. On the other hand, I think readers looking for a story about friends to lovers who then reunite and must circumvent obstacles to reach their HEA might find something to like here. Just don’t expect anything gritty and don’t be too surprised by a Harlequin Presents element or two. C