So here is the romance novel I thought was one of the best I’ve read in a long time:
It’s a debut in historical romance. The premise is one I’ve never seen before. The heroine, Martha, is recently widowed. Her estate will pass to her brother-in-law unless she is pregnant with her deceased husband’s heir. She is not pregnant, but realizes that if she can quickly become pregnant, and the child is born male, she can avoid being disinherited. And she knows her husband wanted very badly to prevent his brother from inheriting. (Over the course of the novel, we learn why.) So she determines to get pregnant by someone suitable, fast.
She picks someone and hires him for the task and what follows are some of the most hilariously unsexy sex scenes ever written. I usually skim the sex scenes in romance novels because they’re just the same thing over and over again–when it comes to romance novels, I’m all about the character development, romantic tension, and witty banter. But these sex scenes were so different from anything I’ve ever seen before that I was fascinated and read every word. These scenes take every standard romance trope and turn them upside down. Take this dryly written passage, which had me in stitches:
“‘Is that Irish linen?’ she said of his shirt, just to be saying something, and ‘Yes, in fact, it is,’ he answered before lifting it, a bit slowly, over his head.
“Clearly he was expecting to be admired. He would be used to it, well-proportioned man that he was. His musculature altogether outpaced what she had seen in Mr. Russell [her former husband], though Mr. Russell had set no very difficult standard to surpass. That mattered to some women. Muscles and so forth. Those taut flat ones across his stomach, for instance. Or the ones that stood out on his arms. Women who didn’t place the proper priority on a man’s character had doubtless taught him to be vain of his physique, and even a woman of principle could enjoy, on some aesthetic level, the picture he made with his shirt removed.
“Then he let his pantaloons fall, and that was the end of the enjoyment.”
You may notice that the writing is exquisite. It’s that way throughout the entire book, and I’ve never read any historical novel that felt truer to period, especially in its dialogue. I felt like I was reading Jane Austen again, albeit a much racier Jane Austen.
Does this book have any faults? In my mind, no, it doesn’t. I absolutely loved it. But I can see why it’s getting some negative reviews along with the folks who are raving about it. Some readers are bothered by the fact that the heroine is doing something sinful. I understand that objection. But for me, that makes the book way more interesting. There are moral gray areas here. She’s committing a sin to prevent a much greater sin from taking place, and the moral gray areas are deeply explored throughout the course of the book. Trust the author. She’s going somewhere with this.
A few readers find it boring. I get that too–although I disagree with them. It’s a slow paced, somewhat cerebral book. The early sex scenes are deliberately unsexy. I find them hilarious and fascinating, but if a reader wants titillation, she’s not going to get it in those early scenes.
This is a story about a sort of heroine who isn’t written about very often–the type of woman who has to fall in love with a man before she feels physically attracted to him. I am that sort of woman myself, and we’re a small, woefully misunderstood minority. If you love books with moral complexity, emotional honesty and exquisite language, this is a book to be savored. I normally prefer fast-paced books, but for a novel this enjoyable, I have infinite patience. Highly recommended, for the reader who can appreciate it.