Thursday, May 24, 2012

Perilous Pleasures by Jenny Brown

Adam Selkirk, Lord Ramsay, has served a man known as The Dark Lord for nine years. He continues to be haunted by his sister Charlotte's death during the Terror and continues to hate the woman who caused it: La Belle Isabelle, a courtesan.

It is with great unwillingness that Adam carries out The Dark Lord's dying wish to collect La Belle Isabelle's daughter, Zoe and to bring her to Scotland. It is believed that Zoe holds the key to Adam's Final Teaching -- the last step before Adam becomes The Dark Lord.

Zoe Gervais is shocked by the revelation of all the secrets from her past: that her mother had bargained her to The Dark Lord, and that her education and placement at Mrs. Endicott's school have all been at the behest of that distant and unknown person. And now she has no choice but to go with Adam, a man who clearly hates her and her mother.

This is the third book in Jenny Brown's Lords of the Seventh House series -- I feel that her work is getting more esoteric. In the first book in the series, Lord Lightning, the addition of astrological elements was refreshing and novel.

Perilous Pleasures, on the other hand, is encumbered by all the reference to ancient practices and old magic.

Zoe serves as the reader's interpreter as she, too, is new to this world of magic and superstition. But Zoe is unreliable as her knowledge of it is very limited to what she has read in books and learned in schools.

The Dark Lord's heir must not touch iron.

There was only one kind of creature that feared cold iron -- a witch. She was too good a student of science to believe in witchcraft, but still, he had read her thoughts, more than once. And though he was an educated man -- far better educated than she was -- he obviously believed in wizardry. She couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps what he believed in was more than just fantasy.
- p. 67

The ambiguity of whole thing does lend to the overall air of mystery in the novel, but it also frustrates the reader. Are we supposed to believe in magic in this story?

I had difficulty understanding the author's project:

If the story serves to show the fight between magic and science and too show that England in 1803 was rife with superstition that should be disputed, why does Zoe (who seems to represent science) repeatedly "fall under Adam's spell"? Why does the author continually debunk science over magic?

She couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps what he believed in was more than just fantasy.
- p. 67

"So my father hoped when he married my mother. He, too, was a man of enlightened principles and refused to accept that his life could be ruined by some ancient curse. He didn't want to tell his wife-to-be about our family history, afraid that she'd laugh at him and call him a superstitious fool. But when she quickened, and the midwife told them she'd be having twins, he was forced to tell her the truth."
- p. 244

(I highlighted the last part of the quote for emphasis.)

"I could never regret it. You just made me feel as if I was the most beautiful woman in the world."

"You are," he said.

"It's your magic that has made me so."

"Do you wish for me to remove the spell?" ...

"Never. I'm coming to love your magic." ...
- p. 260

It is interesting to note that, while Zoe seems to be accepting magic, Adam was in the process of shedding it. (See p. 108 when Adam decides between using his bronze blade and his surgical blade, which is made of steel.)

The scope of this story felt too broad and would explain the lack of clear focus and direction --

That being said, there are some wonderful moments in the story. I especially enjoyed the quandary Zoe and Adam find themselves in when Adam could not break the spell he had put on her when he compelled her to marry him.

"How can I choose," she answered, "when you've made me want you so, with your enchantment?"
- p. 166

Overall, this was an okay read. I will get the next book in Brown's series because she offers a unique narrative perspective in historical romance novels.

I hope she regains the balance between astrology and telling her story in the next book.

To read more about Jenny Brown, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.



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