Seven Nights to Forever
by Evangeline Collins
(Berkley, $15, NC-17) ISBN 978-0-425-23693-3
It's time for another TRR quiz. Let's call it The Romance Reader's What Would You Do?

We'll start by setting the scene. It's London, the year 1819.

Situation #1. Your name is James Archer. You're in your mid-twenties. Your father is a wealthy (very wealthy) merchant who has always wanted a title in the family. Your younger sister could marry a title if your being married meant she could be sponsored by your society wife. A viscount was willing to marry his daughter to you in return for your wealthy father paying off all his debts.You've amassed a huge fortune thanks to the shipping business your father settled on you three years ago when you married Amelia, but you're utterly miserable. Your wife is a nasty shrew who despises you in every single way including in bed. You yearn to have a woman who can tolerate you even for a single evening. You decide you'll go to a brothel and hire a whore. The whore is a fabulously beautiful woman who treats you as a worthwhile human being. You'll want to return on successive nights. And the sex is amazing. What Would You Do?

Situation #2. Your name is Rose Marlowe. You're the updated version of Barbara Cartland's stock character, the sister who suffers in silence for the sake of her vastly less worthy brother. Your father died five years ago leaving enormous debts. He sold off all the income-generating properties so there was nothing left to live on. Your then-thirteen-year-old brother adored your father. It would have devastated him to learn your father had left you in such dire straits. Besides which he wouldn't be able to continue enjoying all those gentry perks such as attending Eton and Oxford and being a useless, fashionable fribble sucking off the family coffers. Rather than telling your brother about your finances and how you'd both have to economize, you became a whore for one week out of the month in a high-priced London brothel. Timothy Ashton is a male prostitute working at the same brothel. He's your best friend. Then one night James Archer shows up; he's the nicest guy you've ever met. He comes back the next night and the next, but surely no man could be interested in a longer relationship with a whore. And the sex is amazing. What Would You Do?

Situation #3. You're Amelia, James's wife. You're the very well-born daughter whose unwanted marriage to the hulking, unpolished son of a wealthy merchant saved your father from debtor's prison. The wedding night was a disaster. Things have not improved since then. You and James cannot abide each other. He's expecting you to sponsor his sister now that she's reached the age to be presented to society. There are many refined society gentlemen who admire and desire you so you've taken a few lovers from your own social class. What Would You Do?

It's decision time, and I know what you've decided. You've decided it's not fair that these three should suffer because of their manipulative fathers. You've decided that James and Amelia should consult a marriage counselor and Rose should find a more respectable career.

Ha ha, just kidding.

If you can't figure out where this plot is going, you haven't read enough romance novels. Although to be honest, this plot is mostly heading to bed where the sex is frequent, repetitive, and very very hot. James is wealthy; James is horny. Rose is ... needy.

Years ago I wrote a Forum for The Romance Reader titled "In Defense of A Certain Widow." (It's no longer on this site, but if you're interested, you can find it at the Wayback Machine. Click on a 1998 link.) The Forum's topic was the madonna/whore dichotomy in romance novels. Seven Nights to Forever goes the next step: the whore's now the sympathetic heroine, the wife's now the despised and reviled character. The whore-with-a-heart-of-gold plot has been around a long time, but I'm totally unpersuaded that this new twist is progress.

James is generally a nice character, but his inability to stand up to his wife and assert his husbandly rights leaves me unimpressed. Of course, Rose responds to him as his wife doesn't; she's a whore: that's her job! She is, however, sacrificing her honor for her brother so it necessarily follows she must be a good person ... or so we're supposed to believe. As for poor pathetic Amelia, a more understanding husband might have handled things better and she might not have turned out so badly. She gets a lot more sympathy from me than she ever got from James.

The one truly sympathetic character is Timothy Ashton. By the end of Seven Nights to Forever, I'd lost all patience and regard for the others. Timothy really deserves better associates.

If you want an extremely explicit story line and don't mind some blurring of the line between morality and motivation, Seven Nights to Forever may suit you. If you are inclined to look beneath the surface in evaluating the characters, you may find Seven Nights to Forever as disappointing as I did.

--Lesley Dunlap

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