My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m fresh off Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and utterly tired of great plot promises consistently undelivered in her books. I can only name one in the series, Duke of Sin, that kept me relatively hooked until the end.
So, it was with some surprise that I found Raven Prince in my to-be-read pile marked — Highly recommended! I don’t know whose recommendation got me that excited, but something made me give Hoyt one more chance. And this time, I wasn’t disappointed.
The story starts slow as an ill tempered earl hires a respectable widow as his secretary. Their attraction takes root almost immediately, though both know that they can’t act on it. Edward, the Earl of Swartingham (I’ll never tire of laughing at this name) considers himself too much of a gentleman to seduce a lady, so when their attraction reaches boiling point, he hies off to London to make use of the services of an infamous brothel. Rumour has it that this brothel, the Aphrodite’s Grotto, allows women of the upper classes to masquerade as prostitutes to indulge their sexuality. As absurd as the premise it, it allows Anna, our rather enlightened heroine, to throw aside social restrains and meet Edward at the Grotto to enjoy the intimacy that they would be otherwise denied.
Anna is at that stage of her life where she questions the unchallenged rules of society that restricts her actions and judges her character, even when she tries to help someone in need. Hoyt lays the groundwork for her frustration with society’s expectations from women so well that her reckless decision to visit a brothel doesn’t pull me out of the story. Edward on the other hand is hobbled by an old grief and the belief that he’s unattractive. The obstacles in the path of their love are mostly made of preconceived notions and stubbornness on Edward’s part, but once he realises the error of his ways, he’s a seductive hero you can root for.
I ended the book satisfied because of two things: a believable romance and really good sex scenes. I confess that I pretty much always skip descriptions of love making. No matter how good the writer, these scenes are always variations of the same, and there is a monotony to the descriptions that always spoils the deeper connection between the characters for me. So, I skip the endless paragraphs of descriptions to the next bits with dialogue in it. In Raven Prince though, I read all three sex scenes and was surprised by how much they added to the growing relationship between the two characters.
[SPOILER]The first scene is set at the Grotto where Edward is called up to the room of a masked woman who is waiting explicitly for him. It’s the first time with Edward, and Anna is nervous and unsure of what to expect. But when Edward arrives, he never says a word. He makes love to her and leaves, only telling her to meet him again the next night. You can see that Edward is an expert lover, but he doesn’t give his emotions to this woman he believes is a professional. Anna is sated but feels the hollowness of the act as well. And you don’t need the author to tell you that. It’s evident. Contrast this to the third sex scene, where Edward knows exactly who his lover is and he’s seducing as well as wooing Anna. He smiles at her, stripes for her, and their love-making this time is full of the little things they know about each other and the many more things left to explore. [/SPOILER] When sex scenes are done well, they tell a story of evolving intimacy. I enjoyed these thoroughly, because I got to see Edward and Anna grow closer and fall in love.
Finally, a word about physical descriptions in this book. Neither Anna nor Edward are conventionally attractive people. Initially, Edward finds her quite plain, but can’t take his eyes off her voluptuous lips. Edward’s own face is pockmarked and his body scarred. He think he would be quite repulsive to a gently bred woman, but Anna revels in his masculinity. So, this is a story where the author threw out a chance to use superlatives like “beautiful” and “handsome”, and decided to give the characters dimension by making them real people instead of air brushed models. And this “realness” adds to the freshness of erotic scenes that were done so well.
Note to self: This is Hoyt’s first book! Published all the way back in 2006. What happened to this writer since then? Why did she get so…generic?
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