Devil Takes a Bride

Lord of Fire

Lord of Ice

The Pirate Prince

The Princess

One Night of Sin
by Gaelen Foley
(Ballantine, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-345-48009-0
Good meets bad in more ways than one, in One Night of Sin.

Lord Alexander (Alec) Knight, son of the notorious Hawkscliffe Harlot, leads a dissipated life, to say the least. He and his four friends are described as “archrogues” and “highborn libertines” whose collective seductions “ranged into the thousands” and who have “fought a total of some fifty duels among them.”

After spending just enough time at a ball to “titillate a few doe-eyed debutantes into nearly swooning with their subtly insolent attentions” Alec and company depart for the usual night of gaming and whoring. On the doorstep of his friend’s mansion, however, they find a bedraggled young woman huddled out of the rain on the porch. They assume this scruffy waif is a prostitute sent to entertain them (which does not speak well of their collective brain power), and are astonished when she forcefully rejects their lascivious attentions and runs off. Alec, intrigued, goes after her.

Becky Ward is seeking the Duke of Westland to ask for protection. The granddaughter of an earl, Becky is now the ward of Mikhail Kurkov, a Russian prince who inherited the earldom. Mikhail intends to “train” her to be his personal harem girl. When Alec catches up with her, it’s clear that his interest isn’t exactly altruistic either, but Becky decides she’d rather give her virginity to Alec than be raped by her cousin.

The next morning Becky sneaks out, and, shocked by the evidence of her virginity, Alec follows her. He catches up with her at the Duke of Westland’s where he sees her fleeing Mikhail’s Cossacks and hears Mikhail telling Westland that Becky is not right in the head. Something is clearly very wrong. Alec goes after Becky, kills a couple of Cossacks using his vaunted dueling skills, and decides that he must help her.

If this all sounds a bit over-the-top (and there’s lots more), well, it is. Ms. Foley’s vigorous prose and ability to sometimes get right inside the heads of her characters are as enjoyable as ever, but I have to say I preferred the books set in the imaginary kingdom of Ascension. Maybe it’s me, but I think her extravagant style is better suited to swashbucklers about pirates and princesses in a fantasy location. When the books are set in an imaginary time and place, the muzzy period knowledge (Alec calls his butler “Mr. Walsh”), anachronistic language (‘head games,” “hung in there”), and improbable plots don’t bother me; they’re part of the fantasy atmosphere. In “1817 London” they knock me right out of the story.

The book could also use some editing. There are lengthy passages that are pretty much just for atmosphere – for example, Becky tells Alec her story in an extended flashback that doesn’t tell readers anything crucial that they didn’t already know. At 470 pages, there’s really no need to repeat anything.

We’re told (and told and told) what a bad, bad boy Alec is – but then he turns out to be one of those romance heroes who gets a personality transplant the moment he claps eyes on the heroine. One moment the author’s telling us about the debauches he attends every night, then she’s telling us that it’s been too long since Alec has “had a woman.” These kind of mixed messages don’t help me believe in what’s going on. And I’d rather see him change than hear about it.

On the other hand, Alec has some introspective moments that endeared him to me completely and, if Becky’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, fortunately he has enough brains for both of them. They also have lots of steamy sex, although a couple of instances were told in a brusque, almost crude style that was at odds with Ms. Foley’s usual extravagant prose. Not sure what that was about.

In other words, it’s a fun read, but not the slightest bit realistic – and if you enjoyed the previous Knight family books you’ll undoubtedly like this one, too. For my money, though, Ms. Foley writes delicious fairy tales, and trying to wedge them into the real world is counter-productive.

-- Judi McKee

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