Friday, December 28, 2012

The Danger of Desire by Elizabeth Essex (2 stars, historical)

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Thoughts After Reading:
I always find it extremely frustrating to have high expectations of a novel, only to have said expectations to be destroyed as the plot progressed. Such was my experience with Elizabeth Essex’s The Danger of Desire. It was a novel that started out well enough, an engaging beginning that generated empathy for the heroine’s life of poverty, introduced the hero’s spy mission of sorts, and had some exciting plot action. But the storyline - and the relationship between the hero and heroine in particular - quickly became filled with pointless conflict: their frequently inane behavior, their bickering that resembled that of schoolchildren, and even the way they fail to handle their awkwardly strong feelings of lust. My dislike of the characters steadily grew as the story developed, and not even the triumphant HEA could prevent the ending from feeling bittersweet.

The hero is a recently wounded naval captain who wants nothing more than to get back out to sea on his ship. The best way of achieving his goal turns out to be the completion of a secret job for the admiralty, one that involves catching a high-ranking spy. By chance, the hero notices the heroine expertly picking a man’s pocket. He decides she will be the perfect asset for the mission, and tries to chase her down. The heroine has spent a number of years on the street, honing her skills of picking drunk and clueless aristocrats with only her brother as a companion. She often has a sassy and belligerent attitude, a strong emotional barrier that apparently hides a personality of extreme insecurity. Beneath the attitude, it becomes obvious that she has a sharp mind and that she struggles to always do the best she can for her brother. The heroine escapes from the hero, but – for reasons that are not entirely clear – decides to track him down later on and accept the job of stealing for him. Obviously she wants the money and amnesty the hero offers, but she goes from making a big show of saying she doesn’t steal for others to doing a three-sixty on her decision. That type of contradictory action happened quite regularly throughout the novel.

Looking back, those first few chapters – demonstrating the heroine as a slick operator and a quick wit – was by far my favorite part of the story. The story slows down significantly as the heroine is trained to be a housemaid so that she can infiltrate a suspect’s household. A few events do occur: the hero and heroine argue incessantly, the heroine throws a couple of tantrums that the hero is leading her brother astray, the hero and heroine lust over each other in a way that’s more creepy than sensual… that sort of thing. There’s a little bit of excitement as the heroine steals evidence from a house, but that’s about it. The entire mystery plot is wrapped up in less than half of the book. As a result, the author drags out the romance as much as possible. I don’t even know where to begin with the sex scenes - they were some of the most awkward reading material I have ever seen. The heroine’s confused advances lead the hero to taking the heroine’s virginity in activity that may or may not have been consensual. And they continue to make love frequently, despite both characters’ emotions being all over the place. Poorly planned actions on the behalf of both characters continue as the hero makes some vague plans for training the heroine to become a lady and eventually marriage, the hero makes a proposal that sounds like he’s saying it out of duty, and more trumpeted up anguish is dragged out until the external conflict is resolved. Finally everyone goes home happy, with a sickeningly perfect conclusion to the romantic and external conflicts. Yay.

I am having a hard time writing about Elizabeth Essex’s The Danger of Desire, because it’s hard to know just what to say. The book started out strong, but turned into a dreadful mess of character actions and emotions. Suffice to say, it was not a historical romance I enjoyed.

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