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REVIEW: The Countess’s Client by Alison Richardson

Dear Ms. Richardson,

{3FBE5363-4B7E-4E95-B138-46A50AC08070}Img100When your Countess Trilogy was recently recommended to me by no less than three friends, I sat up and took notice. I quickly purchased the first of the three stories, downloaded it to my Sony reader, and devoured it.

The practice of genuine virtue leads to a life of odious boredom–of that there can be no question, and I cannot imagine that there is a woman alive who honestly aspires to the unhealthy ideal of true feminine chastity. The appearance of virtue, however, is a very useful thing.

So begins the first story (a Harlequin Spice Brief), The Countess’s Client. The year is 1785; Anna, the widowed German Countess von Esslin, is the narrator, and she is a very different kind of heroine.

In order to fulfill her sexual appetites, Anna has often turned to soldiers. Since she is “the only daughter of Fredrick the Great’s most famous general,” and “Everyone knows that fucking the general’s daughter is a hanging offense in the Prussian army,” she feels secure in the knowledge that army men will keep their mouth shut, and thus can be counted on to satisfy her while maintaining the impression that she is chaste.

The story begins when Anna journeys to Paris with an elderly aunt so as to visit her cousin Robert, who resides there. Abstinence is difficult for the young countess, but what is a girl to do when there are no soldiers to seduce?

This problem is solved after Anna catches her cousin with a prostitute at his house. Robert is so relieved that Anna doesn’t condemn him that he invites her along on his weekly visit to a brothel. All the prostitutes at the establishment owned by Madame Barthez are female, and Anna is only attracted to men, so she fears at first that the sole pleasure to be had at the place is voyeurism.

But that fear is allayed when Anna learns that there is one customer, a foreigner, whom the girls don’t like to service because he is no aristocrat and because his tastes are so plebian. In this Anna sees the solution to her problem: she will pose as a lady of the night, service the man, and satisfy her sexual hunger in the process. The man, thinking she is nothing more than a whore, will not spread any gossip about the Countess von Esslin, and since he is a commoner, they will likely never encounter each other outside the brothel, so Anna’s reputation will remain spotless and safe.

Of course, the course of true lust doesn’t run so smoothly. I had fun reading The Countess’s Client, a frothy erotic tale narrated in Anna’s cynical and superior tone.

Not only is Anna somewhat free with her sexual favors, she is also, not to put too fine a point on it, a snob. She believes she is better than the commoners she sleeps with, a fact that gets her into trouble in this story. Nonetheless, I found myself liking her, partly because she was a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it, and partly because I found myself laughing out loud at her boldness.

The jury for me is still out on Anna’s lover, the Scottish scientist James McKirnan. He is certainly intelligent and sexy, but I think it is debatable whether or not the last sex scene in the story is consensual. But for me, this did not detract from the bitingly humorous tone of the story, and since the prose was smooth and the characters intriguingly flawed, I enjoyed The Countess’s Client.

My understanding is that Anna’s story continues in An Impolite Seduction and concludes with a happy ending in The Birthday Present. I will be reading further to see where things go for Anna and James. B for The Countess’s Client.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. 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.

17 Comments

  1. Bianca
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 17:21:13

    Wow. This looks very intriguing! Great review. :)

    I do have a bit of a question, though – does the Scottish hero have dialogue with a brogue, a la Outlander or any other typical “Highlander” romances? I usually can’t stand brogue, so I’d love to know before reading…

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  2. Janine
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 17:26:43

    @Bianca: No, the Scottish hero has no brogue, thank goodness!!!

    The three Spice Briefs together make up a longer story. I have written reviews for the second and third stories as well, and the plan is to run those reviews tomorrow and Wednesday, respectively.

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  3. Jennie
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 18:29:31

    Thanks for the review, Janine – this trilogy sounds intriguing. I may just have to pick these books up. I can’t resist an unconventional heroine!

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  4. Danielle
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 19:32:49

    Can I ask is this book written in First Person Point of View?

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  5. Janine
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 20:35:50

    @Jennie: I had a lot of fun reading these and I hope you enjoy them if you pick them up. They are pretty short — on the Sony’s medium font size setting each story was about 100 pages, and I think in book pages each would be even shorter (maybe 60 or 70 pages) — but I was glad I purchased them.

    @Danielle: First, it is not a book, but a short novella at most. I think all the three Spice Briefs together add up to maybe 200 book pages. Second, to answer your question, yes, this story and the other two as well, are all written in Anna’s first person viewpoint. I usually prefer third person myself, but in this case, I thought the first person POV was well executed and I enjoyed it very much.

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  6. Jennie
    Nov 23, 2009 @ 23:40:04

    Ooh, I do enjoy well-done first person – I know a lot of readers strongly prefer third but well-done first person gives me such a strong connection to the narrating character.

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  7. Janine
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 03:05:21

    @Jennie: I added first person to the tags. I really think you would enjoy this trilogy. Please do let me know how you like them if you read them. And that goes for anyone else who wants to discuss them.

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  8. Evangeline
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 04:06:37

    bwuahaha!

    I actually found the last scene utterly hilarious because it was obvious that despite her humiliation, Anna found it quite titillating–and it was good to see James turn the tables on her!

    Can’t wait to read your reviews for the following installments.

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  9. Janine
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 12:44:51

    @Evangeline: I saw the last scene as somewhat open to interpretation and thought I should mention that in the review, but by the end of the second installment, An Impolite Seduction, my interpretation of that scene, in light of subsequent events, became more similar to yours.

    You won’t have to wait too long for my other two reviews. I’m very thankful to you for pointing me to this trilogy.

    ReplyReply

  10. REVIEW: An Impolite Seduction by Alison Richardson | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Nov 24, 2009 @ 21:47:30

    [...] I reviewed The Countess’s Client, the first Spice Brief in your Countess Trilogy. I enjoyed the story, and especially its haughty [...]

  11. Evangeline
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 07:09:18

    @Janine: After reading your second review, I say YES! Richardson’s writing is very much a wink, which is why I find Anna’s reactions to James extremely entertaining. And you’re welcome! Book recommendations are fun stuff.

    ReplyReply

  12. Janine
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 12:04:22

    @Evangeline: ITA — Anna’s reactions to James are a lot of the fun of these stories.

    ReplyReply

  13. REVIEW: The Birthday Present by Alison Richardson | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 15:01:11

    [...] The Countess’s Client and An Impolite Seduction, The Birthday Present is a Harlequin Spice Brief set in the late [...]

  14. Naya
    Nov 30, 2009 @ 02:08:32

    I love the books…it’s my first encounter with spice briefs and i totally fell in love with the story….
    From all 3 of the books my favorite part is the early half of book 1, the scenes describing Anna first encounters with James at the brothel and how we can see James interest grew toward her…and how he fell for her despite his thought that she’s a whore (with good accent though)… hehe
    By the way, great reviews…job well done :)

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  15. Janine
    Nov 30, 2009 @ 11:51:57

    @Naya: Thanks! I loved their brothel encounters too, although I think my favorites were parts of the third novella that it would be a spoiler to discuss. Basically the scenes where we got more tenderness.

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  16. bettie
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 11:23:47

    Janine, I bought the trilogy on the recommendation of these reviews, and am very happy I did. The books were a fun romp, and the Countess’s narration was fabulous. Thanks!

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  17. Janine
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 13:47:02

    @bettie: Yes, the narration is fab! I’m so glad you enjoyed these, Bettie. Thanks for letting me know!

    ReplyReply

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