If you long for the dear old days when you were twelve or so, and boys and girls expressed their romantic interest with taunts and shoves in the schoolyard, then this is the book for you.
Lucien St. Aubyn lives under a shadow - ďalmost everybodyĒ who ever loved him is dead. The fatalities to date include four governesses, a groom, his best friend, and his parents (Lucienís mother died giving birth to him and his father choked on a chicken bone when Lucien was twenty). While itís difficult to blame Lucien for these casualties, suspicions were aroused when Lucienís older brother died. A bullet killed Henry - a bullet from a gun that Lucien fired during a duel. Since Henryís death meant Lucien inherited the dukedom of Ravenwood, there were whispers that the shooting was not entirely accidental.
Lucien has spent the years since proving that he does not believe in love by becoming one of Englandís most notorious rakes, famous for despoiling innocent young ladies of quality. As you might imagine, Lucien doesnít receive many invitations.
One of the few young women impervious to Lucienís legendary charm is Lady Elizabeth Montclair. Elizabeth herself has some experience with living on the fringes of acceptability. She is the daughter of an earl and the granddaughter of a shoemaker who was elevated to the peerage by that card, George III. The aristocracy was not then, and is not now, amused.
Challenged by Elizabethís apparent indifference, Lucien decides to seduce her. While he does not succeed he does manage to get caught trying. Elizabethís reputation is destroyed. When the unthinkable happens and Lucien actually comes up to scratch no one is more surprised than Elizabeth, or more furious. She has been humiliated, and now she must spend the rest of her life shackled to this unprincipled cad. Elizabeth swears that he will never have more of her than the finger on which he places the wedding ring. He may do as he likes and she will take any lovers that she pleases.
It becomes immediately apparent that this is a hollow boast on her part as she is an exceptionally incompetent seductress. Many romance authors find this sort of ineptitude hilarious; perhaps someday I will understand why. Many romance authors also use this device as an excuse for the hero to instruct the heroine in the subtle art of seduction.
Except that in this instance, there will be precious little of either subtlety or seduction. In spite of the fact that Lucien is supposed to be the most accomplished and hardened rake the ton has ever known, he is completely flummoxed by the slightest hint of spine from Elizabeth. To set a man up as a ruthless sexual predator and then have him continually regress to the stuttering incompetence of an outraged virgin makes him ridiculous.
You might also expect, given his touted experience with subverting innocents, that Lucien would be possessed of extraordinary skill and refinement as a lover. If he is, the reader is not fortunate enough to experience it and neither is Elizabeth. Instead, there is one rather pedestrian instance of mutual, um, letís call it manual stimulation, and one loss of virginity (hers, obviously) during which they both grit their teeth and vie for control. Apparently, authors sometimes forget that if the charactersí hearts arenít in it, the readersí wonít be, either.
As for subtlety, well, Lucienís idea of eroticism is to teach Elizabeth to drive a man wild with the way she eats a banana. The author apparently did not intend this to be a joke.
But then, juvenile sensibilities define this relationship. Elizabeth and Lucien bait and dare each other like frenzied adolescents in an escalating game of one-upmanship only to be furious and astonished when the other refuses to back down. Ultimately, it was impossible to believe that the result of all this churlish antagonism and denial would be a mature and lasting love.
I did not find it at all seductive, but then my opinions about these things have changed since I was twelve.
-- Judi McKee