A new book by Catherine Coulter used to be an auto-buy for me. But after several disappointing reads, Iíve skipped her last few books. When I found her latest, The Courtship, among the books I was sent to review, I eagerly pulled it out first. Maybe this reading experience would be like one of the older Coulterís I fondly remember. Unfortunately, itís not.
The book opens in London, 1811. Our hero, Spenser Heatherington, Lord Beecham, is skulking behind a potted palm, attempting to eavesdrop on a private conversation between Helen Mayberry and Alexandra Sherbrooke. The gist of which concerns discipline.
You see, Helen is known as a master of the art of discipline and she is attempting to give Alexandra pointers in the fine art of disciplining her husband, Douglas (Alexandra and Douglas were featured in one of Coulterís earlier books, The Sherbrooke Bride). Helen points out the wonders of dominance, of being completely at the mercy of another, and the delicious fear and excitement of it all. Now this is only page two, and already Iím becoming a little alarmed at where all this is going.
Meanwhile, back behind the palm, Spenser is making himself crazy, conjuring up images of what he could teach Helen about the art of discipline. He is determined to meet this most unusual woman, and naturally within the next twelve hours, does just that. (For those of you concerned about the discipline aspect of the book; it is a recurring theme, but it never really amounts to much).
Unfortunately for Spenser, Helen is more interested in his intellectual talents. She has located an ancient manuscript that needs to be translated, and Spenser is just the man for the task. She believes the manuscript holds the key to the whereabouts of King Edwardís Lamp, a lamp that is reputed to have mystical powers. Helen is determined to find it.
The search for the lamp gives Helen and Spenser the opportunity to spend a lot of time together, so they can deny their mutual attraction, while going at it like a pair of Energizer bunnies. Thereís no doubt these two are in lust with one another, but I could find precious little evidence of love.
The most heart wrenching romances are the ones where the protagonists are willing to do whatever is necessary for the well-being of the other, often putting their own needs aside. Isnít that what truly loving someone is all about?
Not in this instance. These two are focused on one thing only and that is themselves.
When Helen refuses to marry Spenser, he does what anyone who truly cares about another would do: he chloroforms her, kidnaps her and attempts to tie her to his bed until she capitulates. I thought that type of domineering hero had (thankfully) gone the way of Nehru jackets and go-go boots.
But at least the reader knows just where he stands. Helen is an enigma. We spend very little time in her head, so I was never sure of her motivation. Part of the reason could be because Helen is keeping a very big secret. Something that could chase Spenser from her life. Since she needs him to help her find the lamp, she keeps a vital piece of information to herself, in effect using Spenser for her own gain.
When you have two characters that focused on themselves, itís difficult to believe their relationship will last.
The plot speeds along, and kept me well involved, surprising considering how much I truly disliked the main characters. There were several interesting secondary characters, especially Helenís father, Lord Prith, a wise man who knows the value of a good glass of champagne.
If you are a true blue Coulter fan, nothing I can say will stand in the way of your reading this book, and thatís as it should be. But if you are on the fence, like me, my suggestion is to pass on this one.