Book Review

Beyond Seduction by Emma Holly

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Title: Beyond Seduction
Author: Emma Holly
Publication Info: Jove 2002
ISBN: 0-515-13308-6
Genre: Historical: Other

In the previous entry on romantica, erotica, and romance novels, oh the heaps of contrast, Stef mentioned a conference in which a person explained the difference as “they have members; we have c0cks.”

Indeed. I would like to announce that the hero of Emma Holly’s historical romantica novel Beyond Seduction has a cock. And he refers to it as such, when the heroine is not touching it, exploring it’s veiny wonderment, learning how to give a good hand job, and otherwise fixating on its hardened masterfulness. His cock is practically a secondary character in its own standing.

The primary characters are Meredith “Merry†Vance and Nicolas Craven. The cock in question belongs to Nicolas, in case you were concerned that it was that kind of romantica. Merry is the daughter of a Duke with three older brothers, all merrily married (sorry couldn’t resist that one). Merry is older than she should be to be “on the market†and is a outspoken tomboy, with freckles, frizzy curly hair, and no delusions that she’s beautiful. She’s horse-mad and quite the competent stable master, but her family, particularly her mother, despair of seeing her married.

Merry has decided that she doesn’t want to be married at all. She inherits a small estate from a grandmother in ten years’ time, and is trying to hold out and remain a spinster so she can become a modestly wealthy spinster in the future.

Her mother, however, is being blackmailed into seeing her married off to her husband’s estate manager’s son, a shy, but kind and good-looking man named Ernest. Merry’s mother has gone to great and cruel lengths to keep her daughter from being pursued by other eligible men, and as a reader, you want to hate her. And that’s just fine because the mother is eminently hateable.

Nicolas Craven is a painter with a slowly-growing following among the ton. He’s just finished a portrait of Merry’s father, and he, and Merry, once she sees it hung, feel he’s captured the essence of the older aristocracy: haughty, but completely confused as to what the world is becoming, and powerless to stop it from changing.

Craven is popular as a portrait artist, but only among male members of society, as he is a known rake who frequently entertains loose women in his home. “No decent woman would sit for him,†Merry’s mother says. Oh, ho.

Merry’s mother has meanwhile employed similar blackmail techniques to persuade Merry to marry Ernest, and Merry finds herself in a position to lose those things she truly loves and cares about, including her maid and her stable of horses, in order to preserve her precious freedom.

And so Merry decides, after a deus ex machina encounter with Nicolas in the street, to run off to his house, and sit for him as a portrait subject, thereby ruining herself for marriage and getting her insistent parents off her back.

Merry does not tell Nicolas she is the Duke of Monmouth’s daughter and agrees to sit for a nude portrait of herself cast as Lady Godiva, while living in Nicolas’ house. Further, she agrees to learn the arts of the nouque. Nicolas does not allow Merry to think she is anything but another woman in a long series of conquests for him, even though he finds himself falling for her, and reminds her that her time with him lasts as long has he has any interest in her physically. His friends imply that there is no alternative ending to their story, even as Merry equivocates whether the erotic pleasures she experiences with Nicolas would feel half as good if she weren’t head over curls in love with his Craven self. He wants to hump her; she’s in love with him and therefore is able to enjoy the humping. Odd how I didn’t expect a emotional-attachment-precludes-sex element in a historical romantica, even if it is a Holly novel, where there is a happily ever after ending for at least two of the principal characters in most of her stories.

Nicolas gives Merry a thorough education in the erotic arts, but within the realm of his cock lies the first problem I have with this book. I know that the strict sensibilities of the Victorian era were marked with outrageous subtexts to express all that repressed sexuality. Flower language, for one – I once read a brief article about how one bouquet of the wrong flower -or the right one – could send some serious humpty dance messages. And it’s not like I’m talking about the giant sex flower, either.

Because I was expecting some subtlety in the erotica, or perhaps some acknowledgement of the societal suppression or their deliberate release from that repression, the erotic language of the book struck me as jarring. I can’t decide if it is truly fair to discredit the author for historical details that I was expecting, but I can demerit my rating of the book for the often-startling introduction of the naughty talk used by the characters, particularly the hero. At one point, they’re dancing around their feelings for each other, after the heroine has been ill to the point that the hero worried for her life, then the hero says he wants to “cram her full of every inch of [him] [she] can take.” Well, now. Just slap me over the head with your giant wang, why don’t you, and tell me what you really want to do?

My other problem with this book was the multiple lies the characters tell one another. I could see the big crisis of their relationship coming a mile away: Merry would be able to see past Nicolas’ deceptions and forgive him, but Nicolas would feel that Merry had deliberately made a fool of him, and lied about her true name and social standing to trap him. Aside from the ever-popular “I lied but your lie was much worse†device, how did this man not realize the woman posing for him was not at all a housemaid, and was in fact well-born and well-bred? I mean, he remarks upon her posture, her bearing, her manner of speech. She knows how to dress, and has excellent social skills, even with his friends, who are certainly of a lower class than both Nicolas and Merry. How did he not figure out who she really was?

Further, MINOR SPOILER, he never thought to wonder why a boy the exact age as his estranged and distant son has suddenly taken up a position in his house, exhibits no training or skills in the house-caring department, and wears a scarf over his head to hide his face. I couldn’t even tell you the number of times I thought to myself, “Oh, come on, dude.â€

This almost became a novel wherein I could write in the review that the hero was indeed too stupid to live, except that he didn’t so much endanger his life blithely doing what he pleased; he just couldn’t get a clue if he danced naked in a field of horny clues wearing clue musk during clue mating season. 

Another odd piece about this book was that it couldn’t seem to decide whether it was a romantica with exceptional sexual activities featured within it, or if it was a historical romance with some hard-core sex talk thrown in. If it were anyone but Emma Holly, I’d say that the author didn’t really understand what romantica and erotica were. It’s not a romance with the word “cock†and “pussy†thrown in like icing on the cupcake. Having read other Holly books, I expected some elements of sexual exploration, not just explicit descriptions of his ranging wang and her endless orgasms.

There is some mention in reference to the hero’s backstory of ménage a trios with two of his friends who are a Victorian version of a swinger couple, though they seem to engage in affairs to inspire jealousy, but there’s no specific mention of sexual adventures on the part of the hero or heroine, aside from deflowering her and then having sex in untenable positions.

For example, at one page, the heroine mentions how she is petite when she stands in front of the hero. Then, two pages later, they have sex with her facing a door, with the hero behind her. Completely unrealistic – I’m 5’4†and Hubby is 5’8â€, and there’s not any way we could have sex standing up. I mean, the height difference is impossible. Even in the few pornos I’ve seen, I’ve spotted a small bench or stool under the female so she can be propped up to the correct height. A nitpicky point, perhaps, but enough to yank me out of the story and dump me back into reality. Unfortunately, I was at that moment sitting next to a particularly stinky person on the train who didn’t cover his mouth when he coughed, and would have much preferred to stay in the story than experience the reality next to me.

To define specifically why I scored this book at the low grade that I did, I have to explain that the story itself was good. Twists and turns, adventures to other countries, and protagonists that I did indeed like, though they often got on my nerves, all made finishing the book a pleasure. But did this book need to be an erotic or romantica novel? No. Did the erotic elements add to the story? Were they elements of his or her character, and did they serve to develop or explore new facets to their personalities? No. It was a fairly done romance with erotic language thrown in. It wasn’t even a spice, like a saffron or a nutmeg taste to a fine sauce. It was like finding whole gherkin pickles in your consommé – jarring and not entirely enjoyable.

The shades of the hero’s backstory and sexual history were interesting, but there wasn’t enough specific interest to make it a valid or valuable part of the story. Further, if he really was that much of a sexual libertine, there was a lot more he could have done with the heroine than what all they did, particularly as a device to explore trust in another person even on a shaky unknown foundation to a relationship. She didn’t know all that much about him, and he didn’t know who she really was, but there were all kinds of soul-shattering orgasms going on. Sexual acts that require trust would have certainly added a spicy element to the development of their characters and to their relationship, and would have justified this being an “erotic historical.†As it was, it was a romance with a giant plastic cock glued on the front.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Bonnie says:

    This is the first Emma Holly review I’ve read that echos my sentiments about her work. Granted, I only bought one of her books (forget the title, vampire historical), but I only bought one because the one I read did absolutely nothing for me.

    I also remember reading in the first chapter and running across a very jarring modern-language thing, in keeping with your observations.

    Dunno – I’ve read much better sex in “normal” historical romances, than I read in the Holly book, so I wasn’t impressed by her status as some new hit on the titillation thing. I don’t understand why everybody else is.

  2. 2
    Jorie says:

    I liked this book but, and there were a number of buts.  I forgave quite a lot because I really liked the characters.  But I do remember skimming through some of the later sex scenes because I was looking for the plot—and I know that’s not how you’re supposed to read Holly!

  3. 3
    Maili says:

    I didn’t like Holly’s historicals [that one and the other one with the gay brother], which is probably why I’m dragging my feet to read THE DEMON’S DAUGHTER.

    It’s killing me because someone said it’s a historical steampunk novel, the very thing I’d sell my hubby’s pride & joy [the bloody car] for.

    Actually, to come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever finished OUTWITH SEDUCTION. Hm, I will have to finish it to justify that ‘didn’t like’ line. :)

  4. 4
    Maili says:

    Argh! Sorry, I meant *BEYOND* SEDUCTION. Stupid me. Sorry about that.

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    I like “Outwith Seduction” much better! Out with it! Out of the house! Right now!

  6. 6
    Wendy Duren says:

    Maili—I have to say, THE DEMON’S DAUGHTER is my least favorite Holly book.  I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why, though.  It never compelled me the way her contemporaries have and I suppose that’s lead to my hesitation over BEYOND SEDUCTION.  I’m sure, once I work my way through everything else of hers, I will read the historicals just to get my Holly fix.

  7. 7
    Sarah says:

    I agree that the historicals are nowhere near as good as the contemporaries-  but I haven’t read all her contemporaries. I have a few more in the queue from Books(not)Free, and I wonder- will I like them? Or will she turn into Feehan’s Carpathians for me- the first one or two were good entertainment, but after that the formula got stale? Enquiriing minds want to know.

  8. 8
    Wendy Duren says:

    Sarah—I was musing on the same thing earlier today.  Part of what I love about Holly is that I don’t know what’s on the next page.  Anything that I think can’t—wouldn’t ever—be done, she does with skill and glee and I’m thrilled from one page to the next.  But, like you, I wonder what will happen if I were to become accustomed to her, learn her tricks, if you will.  So, I’m taking it slow, hoping the new never wears off.

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