Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Surrender of a Siren," by Tessa Dare

The Chick: Sophia Jane Hathaway, a.k.a. "Jane Turner." Desperate to evade an unwanted marriage forced upon her by her ambitious parents, she hitches a ride to Tortola under an assumed name.
The Rub: She grows to like the ship's owner, Gray, but if she tells him the truth about her identity, who's to say he won't treat her with the same kid gloves as everyone else in her life has?
Dream Casting: Carey Mulligan.

The Dude: Benedict Adolphus "Gray" "Dolly" Grayson. A former privateer for England, he's only now going straight as an honest sea merchant with his brother, Joss, as captain.
The Rub: He longs for lovely English governess Jane Turner, but he'll hardly be upholding his respectable reputation if he seduces and beds her the way he truly wants to.
Dream Casting: Damian Lewis.

The Plot:

Sophia: I need to flee my unwanted nuptials!

Gray: I need to go straight after a history of piracy!

Sophia, as "Jane": One trip to Tortola, please.

Gray: Sure. Wow, you're pretty. But too pure for a naughty, naughty sailor like me.

"Jane": But I wants a naughty, naughty sailor! Did I mention I like erotic body painting and was trained in sex by a Frenchman?

Gray: Hot damn.

Gray and "Jane": *SexyTimes*

"Jane": *devirginized*


"Jane": Ohnoez!

Gray: Okay, after I nearly got blown up saving a ship on fire, I think I'm ready to forgive you and get married. Truth, please?

"Jane": Maybe later?

AnimeJune: You're a moron.

Skeavy Judge: I'm charging Gray with piracy!

"Jane": Oh, all right, fine. *tells truth*

Skeavy Judge: You're free to go!

Gray and Sophia: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Pathologically Lying Amateur Pornographer Heroine

1 Former Privateer Hero

Several Genial Sailors

1 Brother from Another Mother

1 Ornery Smuggler

1 Accidental Deflowering

Several Lewd Illustrations

1 Shark

0 Kraken

The Word: Okay, for my first book in my RITA Reading Challenge, I chose Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare, currently nominated in the Regency Historical category. I'd already read her debut novel, Goddess of the Hunt, where she managed the impossible by writing about an infantalized hoyden heroine in severe need of Ritalin, who was somehow not hair-pullingly annoying.

This whole series seems to be about redeeming Heroines I Normally Want to Push Out of Hot Air Balloons, for Siren's heroine is a Spoiled Brat AND a Sensual Innocent and the last book, A Lady of Persuasion, shows every sign of having a Pious Martyr for a heroine.

Anyhoo, this heroine (Sophia) is fresh off of playing the "other woman" from Goddess of the Hunt. In the last book, Goddess' Lucy was desperate to lose her virginity to her childhood crush Sir Toby Aldridge. However, Toby was all set to pop the question to perfect society beauty Sophia Hathaway. Goddess' angsty paranoid hero Jeremy thankfully scooped up Lucy, but it turned out that Sophia didn't want Toby either and ran away by the end of the last book, claiming she'd eloped with her handsome (but sadly fictional) painting master Gervais. Don't feel too sad for Toby, however - he's the hero of book three.

Sophia, it seems, suffers from her own identity crisis. While the first half of Goddess portrayed her as a delicate, proper English miss, in reality she's a ragingly horny pathological liar with a sexual imagination that would do a Victoria Dahl heroine proud. For years, she's put on the proper miss front for her social climbing parents and comforted herself with harmless, entertaining lies and pornographic sketches. However, she's tired of playing someone too pure to be touched - one of her problems with Toby from Goddess was that he was too daunted by her exalted virginity to make a move.

After discovering that her significant dowry is actually a trust that would be released to her when she reaches her majority, she decides "To hell with it!" and decides to flee her unwanted society wedding. She stuffs six hundred pounds into her underwear, assumes the identity of staid governess "Jane Turner," and finds a boat to take her to Tortola, where she plans to live on her panty cash until she turns twenty-one and can cash in the trust.

She goes to Benedict "Gray" Grayson, who currently owns the Tortola-bound ship Aphrodite, which is captained by his illegitimate black half-brother Joss. Gray is edgy about letting an unaccompanied female travel on his ship of only dudes, especially since this is his first professional foray into honest shipping after a history spent privateering for the Crown. He's determined to sail the straight and narrow, but the presence of a luscious blonde miss tempts him mightily. But money is money, and Gray has never been known to turn down a profit.

There's really nowhere to go on a ship, which ratchets up the sexual tension between Gray and Sophia as they keep running into each other. The interesting thing about Surrender of a Siren is that both protagonists believe they're too mad, bad, and rad for Society. Both of them feel too dirty for respectability, and that all their attempts to be proper are just a sham.

Gray's garnered a reputation not only for privateering, but for his willingness to do nearly anything in order to turn a profit. He and his brother Joss share a complicated and prickly history in which Gray did some not-entirely-brotherly things when he seemingly chose money-making over sensitivity to his brother's concerns. He's set on being the good guy now but is simultaneously convinced he'll never escape his bad-boy origins. While his feelings towards Sophia only grow larger and more painful as the story goes on, he feels unworthy of her affection.

Sophia, while near-intolerable at certain moments, is, very much like Goddess' Lucy, a heroine who is thoroughly unlikable on paper but intriguing as all get-out to read about because of her humanity, her self-awareness, and ultimately her self-acceptance. If you want to harangue her about her ridiculously stupid decision to ruin her reputation and run off to Tortola by herself without telling any of her loved ones where she's gone instead of, you know, just breaking her engagement to Toby, get in line - behind Sophia. She's fully ashamed of the lies and cowardice that led her to Gray's ship, and her development in the novel concerns her growing determination to be honest with herself about the kind of person she is.

In this case, Sophia one-ups Gray - Gray is ashamed of his improper past and tries to repress his feelings, whereas Sophia chooses to honestly embrace her Inner Wanton and to hell with Society.

Hilariously enough, this requires more lying. Sophia refuses to play the Virginal Miss any longer - she accepts that she's a horny young woman and wants sex. NOW. She's not satisfied getting her rocks off drawing graphic illustrations of dairymaids gettin' ploughed, but Gray is still all "I must not deflower this perfect English Rose with my long-fingered, nimble but sweaty gardener hands." This leads Sophia to lay claim to more sexual experience than she actually has in order to convince Gray to knock boots with her. Now, I get this. I really do - and I usually don't. Sophia wasn't brave enough to share her sentiments with Toby and so her behaviour with Gray is an evolution from that.

And, hey, Gray is more surprised than cheesed off to find out she was actually a virgin. The cheesed-off part, and the part where Sophia, as a character, veers into one of her intolerable moments, comes when their boot-knockin' reveals the six hundred pounds stashed in her underwear.

Gray is understandably appalled - Sophia introduced herself as impoverished governess Jane Turner who was incapable of paying for her own passage, but the gold coins nestled beneath her boobies effectively compromise his entire understanding of her identity. It's even heartbreaking when he realizes he doesn't even know his love's real name.

Sophia, however, gets huffy and self-righteous. They just had great sex - who cares about names? While she has a partial point how names and status do not a person make, and that she's shown Gray a truer side of herself than she's shown anyone else - she's still really clueless about how all this looks from Gray's POV. Worse - she still refuses to tell him her true identity, even when he comes round to forgiving her, until almost the very end of the novel. The couple of times when Gray does ask after her identity she either a) acts insulted that he should choose to ruin a Perfectly Romantic Moment to ask after something as inconsequential as Her Real Name, or b) gives him her Pleading Gaze and says, "Later" - the better to preserve their Perfectly Romantic Moment. Everything else was pretty well explained except for Sophia's reluctance in this regard and I just didn't understand it. It seemed contrived.

Other than this, though, Surrender of a Siren was an entertaining read. We have an unconventional setting (90% of which takes place on a ship), great humour, a reformed rake hero - and, let's face it, a pretty unique heroine. I usually hate the Sensual Innocent heroines who throw themselves at dudes for what seems like no reason (despite knowing nothing about sex), but Tessa Dare builds it up with great character description and plotting so that it by the time Sophia and Gray do get it on, it melds with what we understand of their characters. Yes, the plot does drag in points and I felt some of the lust speak was a bit repetitive, but all in all, Surrender of a Siren is a worthy successor to Goddess of the Hunt.


  1. Anonymous6:33 PM

    "Don't feel too sad for Toby, however - he's the hero of book three."

    I do feel sad for him though, because his heroine bites! Then again, so does he. Oh, how I hate book three! Love this one, though. -- willaful

  2. Anonymous5:51 AM

    Great review. I don't normally go for stories set on ships - hygiene issues and all that - but Tessa Dare's writing is just superb.

    I actually pictured Rosamund Pike (aka Jane from the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) instead of Carrey as Sophia.

  3. Vorkosigrrl1:29 PM

    Are you confusing privateering with piracy? Or does the book portray it as piracy? Privateering was a perfectly respectable way to make a living, even if it's not up to everybody's standard, the way a politician or a journalist might be looked down on today.

    A privateer was sort of like the Navy, only civilian, and more of a mercenary, since they were doing it for the prize money instead of the nobler cause of fighting for the glory of the throne and all that. See Patrick O'Brien's books.

    Or wikipedia: "A privateer was a private person or private warship authorized by a country's government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping. . . . Privateers were part of naval warfare of some nations from the 16th to the 19th century."

    So all this shame on the part of the hero just doesn't make sense. I'd have taken off points for historical inaccuracy.

  4. LULZ..

    "she plans to live on her panty cash until she turns twenty-one and can cash in the trust"

    I think "live on panty cash" needs to be a part of every woman's bucket list.

    I do love the way you turn a phrase, AJ.