Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Lord Sin," by Kalen Hughes

The Chick: Georgianna "George" Exley, the wealthy, beautiful, and fiery widow who eats scandal for breakfast. She shoots, gambles, and parties hardy with a cadre of devoted male friends.
The Rub: Keeps a house chock-full of beefcake, and maintains an iron-clad rule that no man sleeps with her for more than one night. Also, while she has a habit of doing and saying whatever she wants, most of the rumours about her are untrue.

The Dude:
Ivo Dauntry, lately returned from six years' exile on the continent, has come back to England to reunite with his family and take up the title of Earl after his cousin's death.
The Rub: Ivo got banished to continent after he killed an aristocrat in a duel over George's honour, only to return and find out she's hardly the meek, modest woman he was expecting.

The Plot:
Ivo: Grr! I can't believe I wasted six years defending the honour of a woman who keeps lovers only for one night! What a strumpet! How DARE she not conform to the feminine ideal! How DARE she not adhere to my standards even though she didn't even know me when I killed a man in her name! Ha! I know - I'll marry her! That'll show her!

George: Hey, baby. How's it been? Wanna spend the night?


George: How about NO.

Ivo: How about I kiss you very hard until you say YES?

George: .... alright.

George's Sexy Man Friends: *not amused*

Alloted Nights #1, 2, 3: George: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES....

Evil Frenchman: Whore! You killed mon pere! *strangles wrong woman* *botches assassination attempt* *shoots at George and misses* Merde!

George's Sexy Man Friends: OHNOEZ! Hurry and put our feisty, willful woman under lock and key so that she will be protected and safe!

George: No, really, you don't need to...

Evil Frenchman: Die, whore, die!

Ivo: Oh no you don't! *draws sword*

Evil Frenchman: *draws pistol*

Ivo: Shit.

George: *shoots Frenchman*

Ivo: .....

George: ... My hero! *marries*

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Best Friend With Too Many Children

1 Male Harem

1 Dirty Old Man

1 Marriage Proposal (refused)

1 Matchmaking Relative

1 Evil Frenchman

1 Sexual Act in an Inappropriately Public Place

1 Case of Bringing a Sword to a Gunfight

The Word:
Ivo Dauntry's been dreaming of the same woman for the last six years. Six years ago, Ivo caught a drunken aristocrat pawing a married woman and killed him in a duel, earning him banishment and separation from his family. Although he missed his home and family, Ivo's spent the last six years convincing himself that, ultimately, he did the right thing in protecting the honour of a modest English wife.

So imagine his unpleasant surprise when he shows up in England to catch that same woman - Georgianna Exley, or "George" to her adoring and predominantly male fanbase - hanging out at a boxing match, flirting outrageously with a man she's not married to, and maintaining a house that's part gambling hall, part boy's club, and part Playboy Mansion.

Ivo flares with resentment over the six years apparently wasted defending the honour of a woman who never appeared to have any in the first place. He's also offended that his sacrifice meant so little to her that she never bothered to live a decent, proper, unscandalous life for his sake - an irrational offense to be sure, seeing as Ivo and George barely knew each other before the duel was fought, but one Ivo feels all the same. However, his attitude changes when he finds out George is a widow - why, then she's fair game, and Ivo is determined to seduce her into a more proper, permanent arrangement.

But Ivo's not completely right about George. She's not one of those common rakish characters who are outrageous and scandalous for the express purpose of causing outrage and scandal. Her main crime is doing as she pleases, when and where she chooses to do it. She shares a warm relationship with her in-laws, babysits her friend's kids, and tends a swarm of men who are all happy with her the way she is. She doesn't defy ... she simply ignores. And while the scandal sheets are far too eager to label her a slut, she maintains her own special rule: she never keeps a lover for longer than one night.

When she and Ivo reunite, she's instantly attracted to him, but offended by his insistence that she owes him big-time for the outcome of the duel. The duel that sent Ivo out of the country also nearly ruined her (and weakened her relationship with her husband), so she's hardly pleased when Ivo demands compensation. His wheedling (among other things) eventually persuades her to upgrade him from one night of pleasure to six (for the six years in exile), but after that, that's it. She's done. Unbeknownst to her, Ivo's already planning how to make those six nights so good she'll extend the deadline indefinitely. Through marriage, ideally.

This book was a bit of a mix for me. I'd read quite a bit of reviews on the book (along with its sequel, Lord Scandal), and all of them emphasized how outrageous (truly, truly, truly outrageous) George is, but I didn't feel the novel delivered. Maybe I'm influenced by contemporary morals, but while George did bend rules and social norms, she hardly seemed the most scandalous person in the book. I guess by reading the reviews, I was expecting one of those loud and obnoxious (not to mention anachronistic) feminist characters who thwarts convention for the purpose of throwing it in the chauvinistic, patriarchal social establishment's face. Shows up at parties in pants, dallies with married men, hosts weekly orgies, intervenes in the upbringing of girls to teach them about sheepgut condoms and education etc. etc.

However, this wasn't a drawback for the novel. Far from it - George was rather lovable. I found it interesting she received such a nasty reputation just from doing what she wants in her own house and on the estates of her friends. She doesn't set out to hurt people, she doesn't interfere in other people's affairs, and she never flirts with men who are already married or engaged. Best of all is that she doesn't flaunt herself in society in order to incite social change or some such nonsense. She keeps herself surrounded by friends and family (including her in-laws!) who genuinely enjoy her company and respect her person and she's satisfied with that.

Actually, it was Ivo that I didn't like. I found his whole mantra of "She's mine, no one else's, she's mine, she just doesn't know it yet" incredibly annoying. I mean, I like that there's a gender reversal of the "rake and prude" plot, but I found Ivo's whole "mindlessly pleasure George until she does everything I ask" strategy pretty damn offensive. He spends most of the novel standing around looking pissed while George does her thang with her sexy man friends, which made me wonder why he even wanted to marry her. Their first reactions to each other when one of them walks in the room are always lust first, not love. Not "oh wow, he's here, my heart's so full" but more like "ouch! my nipples/penis!"

I think if he really loved who she was he'd stop thinking of her as belonging to him, and more of him belonging to her. And I think that was my main problem with the novel, was that I couldn't buy George's feelings for him. I get that he's crazy attractive and a god in the sack, but, well, that's not love. George is a free-willed character who's had sex before, probably good sex before, but almost all of her reactions to Ivo's presence are physical. She's horny, we get it, but what parts of him does she like that aren't ten inches long and engorged with blood?

I read the book and saw a man affronted with a woman's freedom and determined to curb it to his will, who succeeds. Fantastic. It wasn't George who needed to be tamed, in my opinion, but Ivo. C+.

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