Lord Sin by Kalen Hughes
(Zebra, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-8149-9
George must be the new black for historical romance heroines. Georgianna Exley, the heroine of Kalen Hughes’s debut novel Lord Sin is the third I’ve come across who answers to that nickname. She is by far the least likeable, and her story is the least interesting. I don’t think I can blame it on her name. This George would definitely sound as bad with any other.

Six years ago, Ivo Dauntry killed a French nobleman in a duel he fought in defense of George’s honor. As a result, he was exiled from England, and she lost her husband’s trust. Now, he is back in England, and she is the merriest widow of them all. Surrounded by a host of young admirers, she never grants her lovers more than one night in her bed. There are several vague hints why she behaves this way, but nothing is ever elucidated. It doesn’t really matter because before you can say “George,” let alone “Georgianna,” a very different set of hints start appearing. These suggest that she never was half as lustful as portrayed. No attempt is made to reconcile or justify these two rather different portraits.

In the meantime, Ivo has convinced George that he deserves at least six nights for those six years (about which we learn absolutely nothing). Our lustful widow, who has been sighing how she can’t trust any man and vowing how she won’t let any man order her about, immediately concedes. Yet another example of how incoherent and half- baked this character is.

We are given a generous tasting of their passionate nocturnal encounters. These lusty, down-to-earth sex scenes are probably the best part of the novels. Still, it would have helped if they actually fed into a story or told us something about the characters. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a romance reader!

Things go fine and dandy for Ivo and George, which may be good for the couple but bad for the story. Hughes makes it worse for both. She throws a wrench into the machine and not a particularly imaginative one at that. Ivo gets an alleged fiancée, George gets wind of it, and we immediately get the picture. Once that’s settled, there’s another bogus detour involving a vengeful murderer. The only thrills it will produce is that of finally seeing the end approach.

The story is set in England of the late 1780s, but other than a vague reference to aristocratic entertainment and an occasional mention of contemporary Gothic literature, the setting is, at best, undistinguishable; at worst, it is anachronistic.

I’m sure Hughes is planning a come-back featuring one of the single men who plays court to George. I hope she puts a little more thought into plotting her story and drawing her characters because she does write good sex scenes and her other descriptions aren’t too bad. Still, it takes more than words on a page to tell a good story. It takes some thought and planning. This time round I see little evidence of either.

--Mary Benn

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