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REVIEW: The Danger of Desire by Elizabeth Essex

Dear Ms. Essex:

The Danger of Desire opens in the POV of a young woman named Meggs. Meggs, a London street thief, and her younger brother Timmy, are preparing to steal near the Admiralty building. Meanwhile, Captain Hugh McAlden is in the same building, meeting with Admiral Middleton, who tells him the Admiralty Board has been infiltrated by a traitor who is passing secrets to the French.

The Danger of Desire Elizabeth EssexHugh is tasked with catching the traitor, and promised a knighthood if he succeeds (he is the son of a gentleman father and his mother is a viscountess through her second marriage). In the past, Hugh has used street kids to help him ferret out information, and he decides to do so now. On exiting the building, he sees Meggs execute her theft, and he pursues her and then makes her an offer.

A suspicious Meggs escapes Hugh, but injures her hand in the process. When the wound becomes infected, Meggs decides she has nothing to lose by finding out more about Hugh’s proposition. Eventually she agrees to help Hugh. A surgeon treats Meggs’ injury, and she and her brother Timmy move into Hugh’s house, where Meggs trains as a scullery maid in preparation for infiltrating the spy’s household once that spy has been identified.

Hugh and Meggs are attracted to one another from the beginning, but neither trusts the other fully. As they track the suspects down they begin to grow closer, though Meggs worries that Hugh will take Timmy away from her. Meggs was born in the country, and everything she has done has been to provide for her brother and to save enough money to escape their London street life.

Eventually Meggs and Hugh do identify the villain, and Meggs enters his house posing as a scullery maid. She faces great danger there, but sees her growing feelings for Hugh as equally dangerous, since the gap in their stations still threatens to separate them.

The Danger of Desire starts off at a leisurely pace and then ramps up midway through. For that reason, I enjoyed the second half more. Most of the romantic development in the first half consisted of Hugh and Meggs wanting each other but refraining from acting on these feelings, and with the exception of one or two scenes in which they shared something of their past, they didn’t get to know each other as well as I would have liked.

Once Meggs infiltrated the villain’s house though, the tension thickened and this was one of my favorite parts of the book. The emotions resulting from the risk to Meggs made for a deeper romantic connection between the characters in the second half.

Speaking of the characters, I preferred Meggs to Hugh. Hugh was mostly a good guy and I did like him, but for a good chunk of the book he was not only Meggs’ employer, but also in a position of power over her due to their disparate positions in society. For that reason, I had mixed feelings about his lusting after Meggs.

Meggs was a lovely character, outwardly hardened by her years on the street, but with a core of softness inside. She began the book almost feral in her reluctance to trust most people and her transformation felt believable to me. Her protective relationship with Timmy, her twelve year old brother, and her feelings for Hugh touched me and evoked my sympathies.

You have a gift for writing endearing heroines and hot love scenes. Even the lust leading up to the consummation wasn’t too bad. The reason I say “even the lust” is that like Jayne, I am not a fan of mental lusting. I think it can often feel repetitive and intrusive in a book. It has to be exceptionally well-written, used very sparingly, or played for humor (a la Loretta Chase or Jennifer Crusie) for me to enjoy it. The lusting did feel somewhat intrusive and repetitive in this book, but wasn’t as big an irritant to me here as it is in many books.

There were some inaccuracies in the book – for example, Meggs, Timmy, the butler and the housekeeper dine with Hugh at his supper table, although this is acknowledged to be unusual. Hugh is so egalitarian that it is difficult to believe he was brought up within a class structure. The navy was said to be the reason, but I still found it unlikely. Also, contemporary expressions like “Gotcha,” and “What are you gonna do” pepper the dialogue.

As I was reading The Danger of Desire, I was reminded just a tiny bit of the books of Julie Anne Long, another author whose books contain inaccuracies, and who uses well-trod tropes in ways that still manage to feel fresh. She is also another author whose heroines are frequently endearing and whose use of words is lovely.

I thought of Long because her writing can make me willing to overlook departures from historical fact. You have an appealing prose style that gets me over similar humps, and the heroines in A Sense of Sin and The Danger of Desire are also lovable in a way that felt real.

SPOILERS: [spoiler]There were some other improbabilities in the story as well. I felt that Meggs’ lack of sexual experience was unlikely given her life on the streets. Hugh’s virginity was also difficult for me to credit, in a twenty-eight year old sailor. Also highly improbable was the way Meggs and Timmy became separated from the family they were born to.[/spoiler]

When it comes to grading The Danger of Desire, I feel torn. It wasn’t a perfect book, but I did enjoy it. Robin/Janet once said that a book edges into the B range when it is written with flair, and despite its imperfections, I feel that The Danger of Desire has that quality. B-.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

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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.

14 Comments

  1. SN
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 22:02:40

    “Also, contemporary expressions like “Gotcha,” and “What are you gonna do” pepper the dialogue.”

    That alone means I will NEVER read this book!

    So sick of contemporary romances being disguised as something else simply because the characters wear fancy dresses!

  2. Joanne Renaud
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 23:21:19

    “Gotcha”… and “What are you gonna do?” Why not throw in a few “Yo dudes” while we’re at it?

    It’s a lot of authors don’t even try anymore. The writing may be technically good, but I don’t see the point of writing a historical if you don’t even try to be… historical.

  3. Janine
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 00:06:18

    @SN & @Joanne Renaud: I completely get where you guys are coming from, because there are times when this type of thing drives me up walls. All I can say is that with this book, it didn’t bother me as much as it often does. I put that down to the book’s ability to absorb me. Despite its flaws, it was a nice way to pass the time. I wish that it was priced more reasonably, though.

  4. Maili
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 05:34:58

    Meggs, Timmy, the butler and the housekeeper dine with Hugh at his supper table

    I’m sorry, but I’m really laughing at this image. Not only it’s unusual, having a scullery maid at employer’s table along with a housekeeper and a butler is a massive insult to the housekeeper and the butler. A scullery maid is the lowest in a house’s ranks. Lower than a still room maid. She would be on par with a boot or hall boy, in fact.

    Having her at employer’s table along with them shows that their employer doesn’t value their positions that much. “Meh, you’re no different from a mere scullery maid. You’re all equal in importance, respect and privilege in this house.” Ouch. A massive slap in the face, because this basically means the scullery maid doesn’t have to answer to the butler and the housekeeper. “Ha ha, you can’t tell me what to do. I dined at employer’s table, didn’t I? I even spoke to him without your say so and I talked to you in front of him, too!”

    To be honest, I’m puzzled that she’s even there at supper because a London scullery maid was rarely a live-in (the typical age of a London scullery maid was 14 (between 12 and 16), so London scullery maids were still living with their families until they were promoted to kitchen maid or similar, usually when they were roughly 16).

    I suppose it’s an exception in Hugh’s household as well? I feel sorry for him if so because his own staff and the staff of neighbouring households would probably think him and his parents uneducated and uncultured, and badly in need of a “good woman”.

    Hugh is so egalitarian that it is difficult to believe he was brought up within a class structure. The navy was said to be the reason, but I still found it unlikely.

    lol! You’re right. The Royal Navy (and British Army)’s professional and social caste system was a lot more rigid and closely observed than the British social class system. There are many old British films and novels highlighting this, too. It’d be much more plausible if it was an eccentric relative who taught him to be that way.

    Sounds like this historical romance is best suited to those who’re happy to ignore the historical bones of Britain in favour of historical fantasy. Nowt wrong with that, though, as long as it’s entertaining.

  5. Liz Talley
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 09:17:52

    I get that some readers dislike anachronisms in their historicals, but I’ve never really been bothered by a few erroneous details. Would he have eaten with a scullery maid? Probably not. Could he? Sure. A few stretches won’t keep me from reading a book, especially one about a pickpocket and spies.

    I never understood people getting their panties in a wad over simple details that have nothing to do with the actual story. If a heroine slathers lemon curd on a biscuit and there happened to be a blight on lemons in Spain that year and it’s unlikely she’d be having lemon curd, who cares? I’m more concerned with the hero’s hand creeping up her leg beneath her frock.

    Each to his or her own. I know there are purists, but I think the plot sounds fresh and engaging. Thanks for the reveiw :)

  6. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:04:25

    @Liz Talley: For me, at least, it’s not about “erroneous details.” I read and enjoy plenty of books with historical anachronisms and my panties remain unwadded.

    But when enough details pile up that it affects my ability to appreciate the overall context, that’s when I call foul. (My panties, though, remain sleek and comfy. Must be that miraculous, space-age material Jockey uses.)

    I don’t read *only* for the hero’s hand up the heroine’s frock. I also read for context and atmosphere. When I read something that I know is highly unlikely, especially something that seems integral to character relationships, it pulls me out of the reading experience. Sometimes the book’s other strengths are good enough to compensate, but sometimes not.

    In this case it sounds like the common problem of 19thC historicals, which is that authors almost never get the class relationships right. I find it harder and harder to let it slide because it really does fail to capture a major aspect of social relationships, and presumably the social interactions and relationships are important to many readers. This sounds sufficiently off base to verge on AU 19thC. But I might have the same reaction as Janine, depending on how well the author pulled me in. I enjoyed a book that gave northern England a heat wave during The Year Without A Summer, so you never know.

  7. Liz Talley
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:28:15

    @Sunita Okay, maybe I was focused on panties and hands under the frock too much. LOL. That wasn’t my intention. More of a “can’t see the forest for the trees” sort of thing.

    Maybe I’m being over-sensitive…or maybe it’s my undies that are twisted. I just hate to see several people react to two points made in the review and dismiss the author as someone who did not do a great deal of research…especially without having read the book. I’ve not read it. I may never read it, but I can’t absolutely pan it without seeing in what context each of historical inaccuracies were used. I do understand your stance, and perhaps, the writing and story are strong enough to overcome the class jumping.

    As to Regencies slipping into costume dramas, yeah, that’s happening. The reality of the 19th century world is not palatable, and so offends modern readers. Hard to cheer for a hero who would so callously use a street urchin without caring one whit about her life – and *if* this was a book rooted in reality, he likely wouldn’t give a farthing for her life much less deem to touch her.

  8. Janine
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:30:50

    @Maili: The butler and the housekeeper were aware that Meggs wasn’t really a scullery maid but was being taught to emulate one so that she could pass for one during her spying. Still, given that she and her brother were pickpockets, I didn’t think it would have been tolerated or that Hugh could have easily issued such an invitation.

    I’m puzzled that she’s even there at supper because a London scullery maid was rarely a live-in

    I wasn’t aware of this detail. She was a spy learning to pass for a scullery maid, rather than a true scullery maid, and some of the time that she wasn’t working as a scullery maid, she and Hugh followed suspects around London and tried to deduce who was the spy at the Admiralty, but once she infiltrated the villain’s house posing as a scullery maid, she did sleep there as well.

    @Liz Talley: I don’t feel my panties were in a wad but I did think that it was a good idea to mention some of the historical inaccuracies that I caught (these weren’t the only ones — there were others I didn’t mention due to spoilers or inability to find an exact quote of something I forgot to bookmark) because I know there are some readers for whom this could disrupt the reading experience. IMO it depends partly on how well one knows the time period. I don’t know the Regency era well but even so I was distracted at times. I still enjoyed the book overall though and hence my B- grade.

  9. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 11:44:48

    @Liz Talley: I think that the Regency & Victorian subgenres have always had costume-drama books, but readers are more aware of the anachronisms now because information is easier to come by. It also makes the anachronism-allergic readers more annoyed because they feel that since the author has an easier time getting the info, mistakes are less excusable. But a lot of readers don’t care, and even more don’t want a lot of detail.

    I think the 19thC can be made attractive, even with the disease, pollution, war, etc. issues. Not everyone who lived a happy life back then was fabulously wealthy. But maybe the books that reflect that wouldn’t be as interesting to modern readers or writers.

    I suspect that people had to be more emotionally accepting of deprivation and loss, or at least more able to compartmentalize and move on if they were going to be happy, than we are today. That’s a difficult difference to bridge.

  10. Liz Mc2
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 14:10:20

    Sunita beat me to my first comment about my comfort in my panties and that awareness of class difference isn’t a small, lemon-curd type thing but a pervasive part of how people saw the world.

    I think it’s easy to get knotted knickers when this subject comes up, because so often our discussions of historical accuracy seem to be attacks on each others’ taste and intelligence, let alone on tbe intelligence of authors whose books we may not have read. So I’ll try to say this in general terms without insulting anyone:

    To me there is a weird disconnect between the fondness of (mostly American?) readers, writers and publishers for titled characters in 19th-century historicals and those same people’s fondness for ignoring the realities of the class system in that setting. I am willing to read good stories about dukes and earls marrying street urchins, seamstresses, housekeepers, etc. But I prefer those stories to acknowledge and deal in some reasonably realistic with the very high barriers that would have separated those characters and the difficulty in climbing over them. Otherwise, it’s just a fantasy about a poor girl marrying a rich guy, and to me, that’s way less interesting than a story about love overcoming deep social divisions.

  11. Ros
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:20:33

    Actually we KNOW that 19th century England can be perfectly palatable to modern sensitivities. Witness: the continuing popularity of Jane Austen’s contemporary novels. And if an author chooses to write about a different slice of 19th century life from Austen, that’s great. There are lots of stories to be told from all sectors of society then.
    But if an author chooses to write about 21st century society with Regency dresses and pantaloons, they deserve to be slapped around the head. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, you CANNOT write about that society without having an appreciation of how class affected every single aspect of everyone’s lives. That’s not a minor inaccuracy, that’s a complete misunderstanding of the whole setting.

    In particular, if you are going to build your conflict on having hero/heroine from different classes, you really need to nail that aspect of your story.

  12. Janine
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 18:18:08

    @Liz Mc2:

    But I prefer those stories to acknowledge and deal in some reasonably realistic with the very high barriers that would have separated those characters and the difficulty in climbing over them.

    So do I. To be fair to the book, the heroine was quite conscious of the barriers separating her from the hero, and so were some of the side characters. It was the hero who ignored those differences much of the time. Even he was aware of those differences, but he seemed to feel that merit was more important than social station.

  13. What Janine is Reading
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:02:55

    […] historical inaccuracies but the endearing heroine and hot love scenes made it worth reading. Review here. […]

  14. REVIEW: Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex
    Aug 06, 2012 @ 14:02:13

    […] and presented to Captain Hugh McAlden (the hero of your last book, The Danger of Desire, reviewed here by Janine) and the other men aboard the ship. Everyone accepts her as a young man—she’s […]

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