Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: No Greater Pleasure by Megan Hart

Dear Ms. Hart,

I’ve enjoyed several of your books, and three of them, the novels Dirty and Broken, and the novella collection Pleasure and Purpose, are among the best books I’ve read in recent years. I was thrilled by Pleasure and Purpose and greatly looking forward to No Greater Pleasure, its sequel, so I’m genuinely sorry to report that I found the first half of the book unsatisfying enough to put the novel down unfinished. The following, then, will not be a full review but rather an attempt to articulate the reasons I stopped reading.

Like Pleasure and Purpose, No Greater Pleasure takes place in (to crib from my review of the earlier book) “a fantasy setting which resembles mid nineteenth century Europe in terms of its technological development.”

It is the prevailing religious belief that each time a soul finds perfect solace, even if only for a moment, an arrow appears in the god Sinder’s quiver. According to legend — and many people’s faith — when the quiver is full, Sinder, his wife and his son, The Holy Family, will reunite, bringing peace and harmony to mankind.

To that end, the Order of Solace was created. The women who enter the order, called handmaidens, make it their task to bring solace to the patrons who engage their services. Sometimes doing that involves sex, but there is more to it than that. To give an idea of the handmaidens’ outlook, here are the five principles which comprise the tenets of the Order of Solace’s philosophy:

“1. There is no greater pleasure than providing absolute solace.
2. True patience is its own reward.
3. A flower is made more beautiful by its thorns.
4. Selfish is the heart that thinks first of itself.
5. Women we begin and women we shall end.”

Tranquilla (“Quilla”) Caden, a handmaiden in the Order of Solace, arrives at a house called Glad Tidings as No Greater Pleasure begins. The owner of the house is Tranquilla’s newest patron, Gabriel Delessan.

Quilla is greeted with suspicion by Florentine, Gabriel’s chatelaine and cook, and with surliness by Gabriel himself. Gabriel is an alchemist and has retained Quilla’s services to have his comfort and order in his laboratory seen to, not to attain solace. As he explains to Quilla, he requested a handmaiden so that he would not have to put up with “lies” and “pandering.” He does not want to hear that it’s her pleasure to please him, merely that she will do her job, which will not involve sex.

Quilla does her best to perform her task, seeing to it that Gabriel doesn’t forget to eat, replacing his broken teacups with whole ones and oiling a squeaky hinge on one of the doors, cleaning his lab, conversing with him when he seems to want conversation, and keeping silent when he doesn’t.

From Florentine, Quilla learns that Gabriel is married to a beautiful woman who may or may not be mad. Saradin cheated on Gabriel and drank some potion from his lab in an attempt to abort a baby. Her son was born healthy, though it is unclear whether or not Gabriel is the father. Sometimes Saradin screams in the middle of the night, but at other times, she seems completely sane, if oblivious to Quilla.

Gabriel does not discuss his wife with Quilla, but he does tell her that his own mother betrayed his father in a similar fashion. Gabriel’s half-brother Jericho is the result of an affair between Gabriel’s mother and her brother-in-law, Gabriel’s uncle. Gabriel is disgusted with his now deceased mother and uncle, but he does not take out his anger on Jericho, who is not to blame for the circumstances of his birth.

As time goes on, Quilla feels thwarted to realize that Gabriel does not want joy or solace. He will not cooperate with any of her attempts to help him become happier. Yet he doesn’t send her away, even though Quilla feels she is doing every task but the one that gives her purpose.

Gabriel’s half-brother Jericho arrives at Glad Tidings and is instantly smitten with Quilla, but Quilla doesn’t trust his sincerity. Jericho flirts with Quilla and makes it clear that he wants to pursue a relationship with her, something Quilla cannot indulge in while Gabriel remains her patron.

Quilla is startled to comprehend that she is beginning to feel jealous of Saradin for holding Gabriel’s attention. In previous assignments for married patrons, Quilla has never envied a spouse, nor was she sorry if her presence in a house brought a married couple closer together. But now she finds herself feeling differently.

No Greater Pleasure was a frustrating read for me because its premise sounded so intriguing and I hoped for an emotional reading experience. Instead, I found myself feeling relatively indifferent to Quilla and Gabriel’s fate.

One of the problems was that in the first quarter or so of the book, there was a lot of dialogue that seemed geared at explaining the principles of the Order of Solace, as well as the nature of a handmaiden’s role and work. Since I had read Pleasure and Purpose, I was already familiar with all of this, and I felt I was treading well-worn ground.

It didn’t help that some elements of the scenario — the surly patron who does not believe in solace or in the order, the skeptical servant who sees the handmaiden as a whore — were present in your wonderful novella “Stillness” and were therefore familiar to me as well. I suspect that to readers who have not read Pleasure and Purpose, this material might feel more fresh.

Quilla wasn’t unsympathetic, but she also wasn’t as compelling to me as the three handmaidens in Pleasure and Purpose. True to her name, her mood stayed even for a good part of the section I read. Although this wasn’t always the case, she often took things in stride to such a degree that I found her difficult to relate to. Since she did not seem to feel things that deeply, it was hard for me to feel deeply for her.

As for Gabriel, in the first half of the book, at least, he was sullen much of the time and therefore not very appealing to me. Although the book was written in third person, in its first half we never got Gabriel’s viewpoint (or anyone else’s other than Quilla’s), so even though Gabriel’s position wasn’t enviable, and I was willing to sympathize with him, I never truly experienced deep sympathy.

The situation Gabriel and Quilla found themselves in wasn’t particularly romantic to me. Understand, I’m not categorically opposed to adultery in books. For me, it all depends on the circumstances. But with Saradin, Gabriel’s shrewish wife, under the same roof with Quilla and Gabriel, it was hard to get into a romantic mood.

Perhaps that shouldn’t matter, since I’m not certain if the book is a romance. I have to admit that I often read for the romantic elements even in books outside the genre, and that may be a factor in my response.

Speaking of genre, I’m also not certain whether the erotic novel label would be appropriate in this case, because in the section I read, over half the book, there was no sex to speak of, unless you count the time Quilla was briefly subjected to overhearing Gabriel and Saradin going at it. I expect this changes eventually, but I didn’t get that far.

Quilla did not even kiss anyone in the book’s first half, though a few people tugged on her braid. I was frustrated enough by this state of affairs (or should I say, non-affairs) that I almost wished she would forget about solace and tumble into bed with Jericho, who, though probably untrustworthy, at least showed interest in her.

There are some good things about No Greater Pleasure which are worth mentioning. The gaslight fantasy setting is unusual, the Order of Solace premise truly inspired, and the prose is generally solid and at times evocative.

I had the feeling that this novel was heading for some kind of major development, but in the end, it pace of getting there was too slow for me. My interest kept wavering, I kept putting the book down, and finally I concluded that this book was not for me.

Just as I have enjoyed your other books, I’m sure there are other readers who will enjoy the unusual setting and premise in this one enough to overlook the things that bothered me, readers to whom the plot and characters will appeal more than they did to me. I wish I were one of them, but for me, No Greater Pleasure is a DNF.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers on October 6, 2009.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

20 Comments

  1. Jennie
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 17:32:44

    Thanks for the interesting review, Janine. It’s too bad – it really does sound like an intriguing book. I haven’t read Pleasure and Purpose yet, but if I find that I like it (your review made it sound fantastic), I may give No Greater Pleasure a shot; perhaps I’ll like it better than you did.

  2. Janine
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 18:52:33

    You’re welcome Jennie. I hope you do like it better if you read it. I think expectations probably played a factor in my negative reaction to this book. Because I had loved Pleasure and Purpose so much, I had high hopes for this book.

    I also, fair or not, expect a certain amount of sex from a Megan Hart book. At least in a couple of her Spice books, the sex sometimes gets a little repititve, so that I find myself wanting a little less, so it may seem contrary for me to say that with the first half of this book I wanted more. But that was the way I felt.

    Please do let me know what you think of Pleasure and Purpose when you read it, and this one too if you continue with the series.

  3. joanne
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 19:49:58

    Not a romance? Not a romance? I thought this was an erotic romance series? How disappointing. It’s probably what I get for ignoring my dislike of adultery in fiction and pre-ordering.

    Now I wonder if they’ll just send me that gorgeous cover and I can simply re-read Pleasure and Purpose. I will give it a try when it comes and see if I enjoy it —or at least can get through the whole thing.

    Do you think it was the word count ‘thing’ rearing it’s ugly head and causing all the previously given background to be repeated in this story? It wouldn’t be an excuse but I just wondered.

  4. Sharon
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 19:56:59

    The cover is astoundingly beautiful!

  5. Janine
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 21:04:48

    @joanne: Well, the first half wasn’t romantic to me, although there clearly were a female (Quilla) protagonist and a male one (Gabriel). It’s quite possible that the second half is more romantic, but since I haven’t read it I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me when you read the book. Hopefully you will enjoy it.

    Do you think it was the word count ‘thing' rearing it's ugly head and causing all the previously given background to be repeated in this story? It wouldn't be an excuse but I just wondered.

    I doubt it. I felt that it was done to bring the readers who hadn’t read Pleasure and Purpose up to speed, but for me, it felt too familiar.

  6. Janine
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 21:05:45

    @Sharon: Agreed, that is a lovely cover.

  7. Tae
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 21:53:26

    the series seems to resemble Carey’s Kushiel series and the whole “love as thou wilt”

  8. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 07:36:12

    You write lovely reviews, Janine. They are my favorite here at DA. Even for a DNF, you’re so thoughtful and thorough.

    I’m interested in the previous novellas, so I might pick this up if those work for me. Agree that the cover is spectacular. Thanks!

  9. Janine
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 08:44:42

    @Tae: I have never read Carey’s Kushiel series so I can’t say if it’s similar. I do find the concept of the Order of Solace fascinating.

    @Jill Sorenson: You’ve got me blushing. Thanks! I hope you enjoy the novellas, and this one too if you pick it up.

  10. Janine
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 09:07:39

    Joanne and everyone else — I corrected this review to say that I’m not sure if this book is a romance.

    I also logged in to WordPress so now my posts will appear in green, unlike my earlier ones in this comment thread.

  11. Meljean
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 13:06:47

    @Jill Sorenson: I agree. I’ve heard so many times that DNF reviews aren’t good for anything, but my DNF here was probably one of the most helpful reviews I’ve gotten, and used it to improve aspects of my writing (what I could, anyway *g*) … and as a reader, there is enough here that I can judge whether this book is for me, even though Janine didn’t finish it.

    I’m really intrigued by this setup. I might try this one first, then the novellas, so that the worldbuilding info is fresh while I’m tackling the longer book — and count me in as another one who is loving the cover.

  12. Janine
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 14:07:55

    Meljean, that it seriously one of the coolest and most touching things anyone has ever said here at DA. I can’t tell you how good it is to hear it.

    I don’t enjoy giving out DNFs but I’ve come to the conclusion, based on self-knowledge, that I’m better off to stop reading at the point where I recognize that my frustration with a book will only turn to crabbiness and make it difficult to write a thoughtful post if I keep reading.

    And BTW I want to try one of your books again (my friend Meredith Duran is a major fan of your work), but I’m waiting for the steampunk series because I’m anal about reading series in order. Any news about when the first book in that series will be out?

    I hope you enjoy No Greater Pleasure.

  13. joanne
    Oct 09, 2009 @ 18:13:29

    This was certainly different than the three stories in Pleasure and Purpose but although there was a lot less sex and a whole different ‘feel’ to No Greater Pleasure, I really enjoyed it. I can see how a reader may have been expecting more of the first and gets a different book with No Greater Pleasure.

    This story was a roller-coaster ride. Throughout the first half I was getting a very Bronte-ish feeling of Jane Eyre & Rochester when allofasudden
    we were in the middle of a Jules Verne novel with a giant thing (no, not that thing, a monster) attacking. Then allofasudden we were back at Thornefield when
    allofasudden we’ve caught sight of the Marquis de Sade then allofasudden
    it’s a Harlequin Presents.

    Oh my! I thought it was great fun, and although it’s not a keeper nor would I ever re-read it, it has all the essentials of ‘something different’ and I really enjoyed the story.

    I can see where readers may wonder WTF is going on but even with my dislike of adultery in fictional couples it, for me, was definitely a romance. I loved the characters and the feeling that it was all written (well) with a wink and a smile.

  14. Janine
    Oct 10, 2009 @ 08:26:44

    joanne, I am really glad you enjoyed the book. I must have quit before the Jules Verne part of the book. The big holiday party was about to begin when I stopped. You almost tempt me to pick it back up again, but not quite. Thanks for reporting back on the book — I really appreciate it.

  15. Sayoko
    Oct 18, 2009 @ 03:34:52

    It was about to become a DNF for me, too.
    But at least the writing was good, so even though I did some skimming in the first half, I kept reading. And indeed the story becomes more engaging in the second half.

    But I agree, their situation isn’t particularly romantic. And Gabriel’s attitude doesn’t change much until the very end. As a hero he’s not only distant and aloof, but quite unlikable. Not that I like heroes who fall madly in love with the heroine in the blink of an eye, but still…
    It was a strange book, the first half is so slow and it seems to be getting nowhere. The second half gets better, but one would expect more romance.

    Maybe it would have worked better as an erotic romance, or it might have been more interesting with a secondary romance. Jericho, Gabriel’s brother, was such an interesting character, he deserved more that the fate the author gave him (*sigh*). Also, some MM or MMF would have been nice… Anything, instead of the boring “my-life-as-a-maid” routine described in the book, LOL.

    I had loved the first story from Pleasure and Purpose, while the other two had been disappointing in comparison. I’m not sure I’ll read the next novel in the series (if there’ll be one, that is).

  16. Janine
    Oct 18, 2009 @ 10:06:56

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the book, Sayoko. Good to know that it gets better in the second half.

    I enjoyed all three stories in Pleasure and Purpose although I agree that the first story in was the best one. But all three novellas engaged me much more than No Greater Pleasure. I do wonder if I would have been more interested in No Greater Pleasure had I not read Pleasure and Purpose, because then at least the world of handmaidens would have been new to me.

  17. joanne
    Oct 18, 2009 @ 11:55:03

    I was just reading through Megan Hart’s website when I saw that she talked about NGP having been written “years before” Pleasure and Purpose and that “Chronologically it probably takes place before P and P”.

    I thought that was an interesting disclosure because the differences in the two books show just how much (in My opinion) Ms Hart has grown as a writer.

    I would not have read P and P if I had read No Greater Pleasure first. In this case smart marketing and a great cover did a good job for the author.

  18. Janine
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 00:18:17

    @joanne: That is interesting to hear about No Greater Pleasure having been written years before Pleasure and Purpose. I wonder if it was written before Hart made the decision to brand herself as an author of erotic novels.

    I would not have read P and P if I had read No Greater Pleasure first. In this case smart marketing and a great cover did a good job for the author.

    I am glad you enjoyed Pleasure and Purpose more. I haven’t heard from many readers about it and I think it is worth reading.

  19. Roselyn
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 23:22:36

    After reading the reviews I wasn’t as keen to read NGP as I was with P and P. Surprisingly I enjoyed NGP possibly more then P and P. I felt that P and P explains what Handmaidens are about better because three Handmaidens are introduced. NGP was a nice build up from there and I can see why MH released NGP after P and P. I prefer full length novels rather than the novelas, and originally thought NGP was a novela till I was half way through.

    I agree with your comments Janine but the book does get better and you get easily hooked. I wanted to hate Gabriel’s brother and tried to find the untrustworthy nature about him but couldn’t and at other times I wanted Quilla to be with Gabriella’s brother. I loved that this wasn’t a typical romance and it actually hooked me in reading to the end to find out what happens and who she sleeps with and falls for.

  20. Janine
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 23:33:32

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book, Roselyn. Hopefully other people will too. I’m not a very patient reader and I think my reviews sometimes reflect that, but it’s good to hear that other readers are enjoying NGP more than I did.

%d bloggers like this: