A Taste of Sin is not a novel for the faint of heart. Featuring a hero who's domineering, even cruel at times, and several "love scenes" that border on rape, Connie Mason's story reminded me of the historical romances I read in the late 70s that some of us romance readers now label "politically incorrect."
England's King George II has hatched a plan to demoralize the Scottish Highlanders after their defeat at the Battle of Culloden. He decrees that the orphaned daughters of Scottish aristocrats shall marry men of his choosing. English men.
Thus 14-year-old St. John "Sinjun" Thornton, the marquis of Derby, is ordered to marry a seven-year-old girl, Lady Christy Macdonald, who, in his eyes, is nothing but a red-haired Scottish "hoyden." Since Lady Christy's father and brothers were killed at Culloden, she will someday become a Highland laird when her grandfather dies. The plan is that Sinjun, when he's older, will be able to control the Macdonald lands and clans through his marriage.
Sinjun and Lady Christy don't exactly hit it off on their wedding day. The experience is so distasteful, that fifteen years pass and we find Sinjun enjoying a footloose and fancy-free life in London as a dashing, predatory wastrel who scarcely thinks about his wife in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Christy has grown into a beautiful young woman with big problems. It appears that her absentee husband has raised rents and taxes to astronomical levels in order to support his lavish lifestyle. Her clansmen are furious. One in particular, Calum Cameron, insists that she have her marriage to the Englishman annulled so that he can marry her and become laird.
However, Christy likes being laird. She likes it that her "husband" doesn't interfere with her life at Glenmoor and she doesn't want to relinquish control to Calum. She decides to go to London so that she can seduce her absentee husband. The goal? To prove to Calum that her marriage to St. John Thornton has been consummated through the birth of an heir.
It's not difficult at all for Christy to seduce Sinjun, nowadays known at Lord Sin. Mason gives us a hero who appears to have a honing device on his body that leads him to loose women and/or beautiful young virgins. (Mason talks a lot about this honing device, if you get my drift, in all of its various states of erection … er, that's detection.) As "Lady Flora Randall," supposedly married to an 80-year-old man, Christy tells Sinjun she's desperate to produce an heir for her husband. Sinjun is only too happy to oblige. They proceed to mate like rabbits.
When "Lady Flora Randall" disappears, Sinjun is thrown into a depression. He has never been so captured by a woman. So what does he do? He drinks, he gambles, he has sex with other women, just so he can forget Lady Flora. What a guy. Then he gets word that his Scottish wife is pregnant, so at his brother's urging, he travels to Glenmoor and discovers his Flora/Christy is indeed pregnant. He decides to stick around, though he's angry at Flora/Christy for lying to him, but he finds himself enjoying life as a Scottish laird. There are diabolical plots, deceptions, and many misunderstandings that serve to keep Christy and Sinjun unbalanced through the rest of the novel, however.
My biggest problem with A Taste of Sin was with the character of Sinjun. Whenever he was faced with a problem, it seemed like the first thing he did was run for a drink. The next thing he'd do is take out his frustrations in bed, whether Christy wanted him or not. Several bedroom scenes in this novel make it clear that Christy was forced to submit to her husband, and I think this may be upsetting to some readers, myself included. I don't find drunken, domineering men very heroic. Overwrought bedroom talk between characters (" 'Ah sweetheart,' he encouraged. 'That's it. Move with me. Feel it, live it, flow with it.' "), coupled with silly euphemisms for male and female sex organs, didn't help.
This novel also needed some stronger editing. While the pacing seemed non-stop at the surface, the author often repeated the same words in sentences, giving the story a clunky feel.
Connie Mason has legions of fans, and my review isn't going to stop them from running to the bookstore for her latest story. I would recommend this book to readers who reminisce over the historical novels of the late 70s/early 80s, where women were women and men were their masters. For those who like a kinder, gentler romance, I suggest you avoid the likes of Lord Sin.