My Dark Prince

The Seduction

Night of Sin by Julia Ross
(Berkley, $13.00, R) ISBN 0-425-20013-2
Although there is some very vivid scene-painting in this book, its drama is as remote as the hero’s beloved Himalayas. Unfortunately, I prefer my romance to hit a little closer to home.

Lord Jonathon Devoran St. George, aka Wild Lord Jack (I’m not sure why he needed such a plethora of names), has returned to England from the Far East, following a fossil tooth rumored to have sacred powers. The man he’s watching is brutally murdered, but only after he slips the relic into the basket of a young woman “as plain and virtuous as a Sunday sermon.”

When Anne Marsh arrives at the home of the aunt she is visiting, she’s affectionately scolded for walking though the port town alone. Arthur Trent, with whom Anne shares an interest in fossils and a rather prosaic engagement, should not have allowed it, but Anne can’t take her aunt’s concern too seriously since she came to no harm. Then a shocked servant discovers the dangerous-looking tooth in the basket under copies of Anne’s father’s sermons.

Late that night, Jack sneaks into Anne’s room, intending to retrieve the tooth and disappear undetected. Unfortunately, Jack is discovered when Anne awakes in time to fight off two thugs also attempting to steal it. At first, she believes he is in cahoots with the other thieves, but Jack’s suave self-assurance soon convinces Anne’s aunt that he is who he says he is, the younger son of the Duke of Blackdown.

When Jack finds that Anne turned the tooth over to her fiancé, he decides that it is probably safe for the moment, unlike Anne. To protect her, he will take her to his family’s estate. She is reluctant, but agrees when she realizes that her presence endangers her family from the ruthless foreigners who believe she has their relic.

With a suspenseful and vibrantly described opening, I had very high hopes for this book; unfortunately, Ms. Ross’s use of poetic imagery is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes the description is elegant (“Time now to fling this frail bird into the perilous skies, much as the hunter might regret the necessity of it.”). But it also teeters giddily on the edge of purple. Jack is described as looking like an “archangel about to spread his great swan’s wings to shatter the sanity of mortal men—and finding unholy mirth in it.” A joint orgasm is “the rainbow tumult of their mutual release.” Stopping to roll your eyes kinda breaks the mood.

I’m also not a fan of the storyline that has the innocent maiden begging the experienced man for tuition in passion. This is partly because the device is no longer terribly original, but also because it contributes to the general sense of detachment. This approach turns what should be total intimacy – the emotional intimacy that expresses itself in physical intimacy – into a rather clinical merging of body parts.

In this book, that impression is not helped by the amount of time Anne spends justifying her erotic experiments as scientific inquiry, and persuading herself that she is entitled to this physical exploration because afterward she’s going to quietly sacrifice herself to a passionless marriage, and concluding that she’s probably doing Arthur a favor. The result is that the reader is persuaded of the opposite. The lady doth protest too much – and we’re pretty sure that poor old Arthur would feel utterly betrayed by her actions.

Neither are we warmed to this relationship by Jack. Like Anne, he is so involved with himself, and so determined not to be emotionally ensnared – but so willing to have sex anyway – that for most of the book any emotional bond, any sense that these characters were connected in any way beyond their sexual infatuation was completely missing.

Both these characters are simply drowning in personal angst over it, however, so if you’re looking for a good guilty wallow, this book would be an excellent bet.

In my opinion, this is Julia Ross at half strength. To see what happens when she puts her considerable descriptive skill to work in the service of a compelling romantic relationship, I recommend The Seduction.

-- Judi McKee

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