Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Night of Sin by Julia Ross
I really liked this book and this author. I'll need to address one kinda sorta almost major problem I have with it below, but as I do so, please know that I would recommend it, and I did enjoy it.
I totally fell for the cover of this book. I read the back blurb only so far as to see that the hero's name was Lord Jonathan Devoran St. George, and then didn't read the rest. (Gotta know the book's not a contemp with that name for the hero!)
Jack (Lord Jonathan D____ St. G____) has just returned from traveling in the Middle East. He is tracking a sacred object which has been stolen, and which is simultaneously being tracked by a group religious assassins. Anne Marsh, a principled, intelligent, young engaged woman, has just stepped off a ship and is walking to her aunt's house when she is jostled in the crowd. Suddenly, as Jack watches, a man is killed, and Jack tracks the assassin. Jack soon realizes, as does Anne when she gets to her aunt's, that the sacred object has been slipped to her. She is now in danger of being killed.
Jack visits Anne and convinces her and her aunt that not only is she in mortal peril, but that he is truly the only one who can keep her safe. Jack is great here. He is charming, powerful, polite, respectful, yet implacable. Everyone knows that Anne's reputation will suffer if she hies off with Jack without a chaperone, but after examining all the options, there really is no alternative. Besides, Jack makes every promise to keep her virtue and "her person" safe from harm.
As they drive towards Jack's family's estate, they begin a complex conversation. (As I seem to have fallen into an endless personal A&E Pride and Prejudice marathon--Yes, Cindy. I may very well go blind--this book was total enjoyment up to this point. The characters work, and the conversation begins on the right foot.) Eventually, they end up talking about passion and "conjugal rights", are waylaid by assassins, and end up wet and hungry in a gamekeeper's cabin.
Anne encourages Jack to show her what to expect on her first night of marriage with her fiance, and he, being trapped in a romance novel in cabin with wet clothes, a fire, and a heroine, ravishes her. Very nicely, I might add.
By morning they have to get their way to Jack's family and face the consequences. The St. Georges are not amused, but they welcome Anne even as they try to force Jack, who has been away from England in the unprincipled and exotic East for far too long, to return to his English responsibilities. The characters are well-drawn, and I enjoyed the power-struggle conversations. Anne eventually has to face her father, her fiance, and convince Jack to marry her. Both still have to drive off the assassins, face the villain, and tie up the plot threads. All of which is very well done.
So. I recommend this book. Jack is not what I would call tortured--but he is dark and slightly twisted. Anne is intellectually quite strong, and she's appealing and brave. The sex is graphic and sex scenes are long (chapters-worth). The writing is excellent too. Especially in the beginning. Having Jane Austen's characters flitting around in my head, I would say that Night of Sin *felt* right.
What troubled me about Night of Sin: Jack's deflowering of Anne, and the attraction of the exotic East, filled with sexual mores and religious cults so different from our own.
When Jack is trying to convince Anne's aunt early in the book that she must allow Anne to come away with him, he completely convinces them that he will keep her safe. He convinces me too. (Even though, logically, I know somewhere along the way Anne's engagement will be broken, and Jack will have sex with Anne. But for that moment, I absolutely believed that he would keep her safe during the trip to the ducal estate.)
Eventually, when he starts talking to her about virginity, and sex, and passion, and even during the sex scene itself, I couldn't shake the feeling that Jack had lied. Which I can expect from a rake on his way towards reformation with "the right lady," but from Jack it feels wrong. I never quite got over that betrayal of his early character--maybe he was simply too convincing to begin with.
Then, agh, there's the whole fascination with the mystic, exotic, corrupting influence of the East. My aunt used to call this "The Lawrence Effect" after T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).
There's a certain theme in Western culture where everything which comes from the mystic Orient must be a) different that English/Western culture and b) justifiably superior from its counterpart in Western culture only because it originates in the East. My aunt was involved years ago with a scholarly effort to prove that Armenians wove carpets. The main objection to this theory was the pre-conceived notion that only Muslims wove carpets. (We didn't have knotted carpets in the West, we didn't have Muslims in the West. Therefore, Christians, which we do have in the West, must not have knotted carpets which come from the East, because anything which comes from the East must be mysterious, different, and superior than that which comes from the West. It's a romantic world-view which is very hard to break through.)
And, as you all know by now, I have a long history with Arabian horses. I think they are superior to some other breeds. But are they superior because they come from the mystic East, bred for generations by black-robed Bedouin? Is a German Hanoverian horse intrinsically less valuable because it is not wrapped in black cloths of mystery, violence, and romance? I think both are horses, but to romanticize either one gets you in trouble soon enough.
Back to Night of Sin. Jack's mother thinks he's been unalterably corrupted by his stay in The Mystic East, where he learned erotic arts at the knees of black-clothed Eastern beauties. I don't begrudge her that impression--she's an English Duchess--and she still loves her son and wants to see him content. But what bothers me is that Jack and the book itself seems to hold up Jack's erotic training as a fantastic trait, which can only be learned in the Middle East and rightly purifies him of his Western illusions of false honor, prudery, and social stuffiness.
It's a little too reverential, a little too clean for me. Jack swears that he will not ravish Anne, and then when he does, he doesn't seem *that* upset by it. Because, after all, he was only following his native impulses and being true to his Eastern erotic character. Except that in the East, corruption of a virginal woman, or even worse, a woman belonging to another man, not only corrupts her, but also corrupts the corrupter. (To despoil your enemy's horses in the desert, let loose his stallion, and allow him to breed your mare. Intercourse with a lesser mare ruins that stallion's purity forever, making it impossible for your enemy to continue using him on his own mares.)
I still highly recommend Night of Sin, even with all the blather above.