Book Review

Seven Nights to Forever by Evangeline Collins


Title: Seven Nights to Forever
Author: Evangeline Collins
Publication Info: Berkley Trade November 2010
ISBN: 9780425236833
Genre: Historical: European

Book Cover I finished this book feeling emotionally wrung out, with a bittersweet happiness at the ending. But the more I thought about it, the less the emotional journey was matched by an intellectual strength in the plot, leaving me with too much pathos in the argument towards a happy ever after, and not enough logos or ethos. Yet weeks after finishing the book, I remember it with the breathless “Oh, my Gosh” sigh because the journey these two go through is just painful and so very, very well written. This is some fine, fine romangst.

Rose Marlowe’s father left her family destitute, and she bears the responsibility for her younger brother, who has no idea that they have no money. Rose is, of course, stunning, and so once a month she travels to London from way out wherever, and spends one week in the most exclusive brothel as the most exclusive and expensive courtesan in the place. She entertains men for one week, then goes home with her share of the money, using it to keep herself alive and her brother in the style to which he is accustomed (you can see where that’s going, right?). There’s no false virginity here, or lurid tales of booty calls that somehow miraculously preserve Rose’s virginity. She is a courtesan. No question – and she’s good at her job. She’s learned quickly, because (as Rose reveals) there are very few options available to women when they fall from some level of comfortable social status to utterly broke gentry status through no fault of their own.

One night, James Archer purchases an evening with her. James is impossibly, improbably wealthy – from trade. He’s married to a woman who is his spouse in the most minimal of terms, and he is miserable. So he purchases an evening with Rose with the most heartbreaking hesitancy, because while he’s originally after a night of welcome and indulgent sex, he’s really looking for simple companionship.

Collins takes a very simple emotion and weaves it through both Rose and James’ characters so well, you feel the empathy all the way through. Simply put, James and Rose are terribly, painfully lonely. They are alone in their burdens, they are unable to get help from anyone, and they are miserably isolated and cold. James has incredible wealth but no home to welcome him, really, because of the source of his wealth: shameful trade. And Rose has a home and no ability to support it except through shameful trade of herself. They are lonely.

Much of the story rests on James, and he’s a fascinating character. He’s a brilliant businessman, and personally rather shy. His alpha-ness rests in his intellect, because while he is very unassuming and quiet, the reader doesn’t doubt his competence in business and management. His wife knows exactly how to hurt him, and hurt him she does. He’s prepared to make the best of his arranged marriage. She is prepared to eviscerate him at every turn. As a result, he is lonely, as I mentioned, and emotionally lost, because no matter what kindness he shows to his wife, it is thrown back in the cruelest of ways, to the point where he isn’t sure what to do, as everything he does personally and emotionally is wrong.

What I find amazing is that instead of reducing James in status because he is, for all intents and purposes, an abused spouse, I had a lot of empathy for him, stuck in an abusive relationship that he didn’t feel he could escape from. Until he meets Rose, he sees no alternative that’s more attractive.

James is also prepared to endure the painful relationship because his wife has agreed to sponsor his sister Rebecca for her season – and as the daughter of a viscount, his wife has considerable social power. The status quo is painful but he can exist at his office at all hours until Rebecca comes to London for her season.

When James meets Rose, it is because he has purchased her only for the evening, desiring company that could at least pretend to want him around. Collins creates an unusual courtship between them: James visits Rose exclusively for a week in the brothel, and each night progresses painfully and almost sweetly from holding hands to kissing – and Rose identifies right away the kindness and emotional torment that James lives in. She recognizes his loneliness, and Rose recognizes in him an unattainable, forbidden treasure: a man she truly likes.

Having convinced herself he would not return, his appearance had been so unexpected it felt like a gift. On some level she was aware she should not want him to be here. It was a dangerous thing to be presented with her heart’s deepest desire night after night yet knowing nothing but the most painful disappointment could ultimately come from it. But it was becoming so very difficult to think beyond the moment when she was with him. Each moment precious, each one demanding she savor it to its fullest.

They sat side by side on the settee, so close she was pressed against him, one long line from her shoulder to her knee…. She should have asked him to prod the fire in the hearth when he had got up to open the drapes, but the fire could burn down to embers for all she cared. Just bring with James warmed her from the inside out.

He brought their joined hands up, pressing a light kiss to the back of her hand. “Will you take a walk with me in the park? It is a beautiful night, and I want to share it with you.”

It’s rather stunning to watch this courtship progress between two people who have no reason to have a courtship between them; he purchased her time and her person, and her acceptance of his pursuit is an item of commerce between them, and a foregone conclusion. Yet they do get to know one another through all the typical painfully awkward steps of being ferociously attracted to someone you don’t know.

Rose is less easy to empathize with, but they mirror each other marvelously. James is tolerating a hideous marriage to someone who mistreats him because he wants his sister to get away from their father (the man who coveted and demanded James’ marriage to a titled lady) and marry someone who will care for her and adore her properly. He wants to protect Rebecca from his own fate, as much as he possibly can. Rose is tolerating prostitution because her brother is a wastrel who hasn’t been informed of the actual financial straits of the family after their father’s death, and Rose sees it as her duty to care for her brother and protect him as much as possible until he can marry and possibly improve their financial status.

The problem is, of course, that Rose’s “care” is enabling, and James’ care comes at the expense of his own happiness. Both have to realize that they can and should choose their own happiness first, but James’ recognition comes in a more satisfying fashion – while Rose stubbornly insists on “Caring” for her brother, even when she can see the lack of progress of that care and knows that at some point, her brother has to man up and take care of his own wastrel self.

The scenes between Rose and James are powerful at times, giving me that cutting feeling of empathy and sympathy for their emotional pain and their desperate and almost forbidden desire to be with one another. Even the issue of gifts between them is troublesome – James wishes to give gifts that will not be thrown in his face, but to his wife, and to Rose, those gifts come with meanings that James cannot predict or really comprehend.

While the emotional turmoil of Rose and James is profound and moving, I kept waiting for more nuanced characters to surround them – or for either of the protagonists to honestly address the potential problems of their possible alliance. Rose’s best friend is extremely typical Ga y Best Friend, and James’ wife is prototypical Horrid Wife, with no sympathetic motivations for her actions. She’s so awful, I want her destroyed – but I don’t know that she is destroyed in the end. That leaves me worried because James’ wife? She’s a bunny boiler, no question.

My biggest problem isn’t specific to this book, but specific to me: I have a hard time, no matter the strength of the story, believing in the ever-after of the happiness of the couple when one is a former or current courtesan. I don’t think the children of that marriage would ever be welcomed in any social circle, nor would they be considered socially acceptable marriage partners, and so I always look at such pairings and feel badly for their future children – unless the protagonists sail off to a place far away enough that their reputations can’t follow them, but their money can.

Moreover, James’ father plays a terribly influential role in his life and the life of his sister Rebecca, but the man himself is never on screen or present enough to explain why they would both subject themselves to his whims to the detriment of their own happiness. James marries his horrible wife because she is the daughter of a viscount and can therefore elevate James and Rebecca, thus enabling Rebecca to make a very successful match. James’ wealth on top of his father’s already considerable fortune make Rebecca more desirable, despite her commoner status, particularly as James’ wife has agreed to sponsor her, and as hideous as his wife is as a person, socially she’s of a particularly desirable status. All of this misery at the direction of a father who never appears in the book.

If James and Rebecca’s father is so powerful and influential that both children would subject themselves to potential and actual misery to please him, why is he never seen in the story? His menace was diminished by the fact that the only portrayal we see of him is through James’ recollections, and they are more of an explanation than a motivation for his own decision to remain miserable.

Ultimately, if I separate emotions and logic, my heart had a lot to feast on with these two characters who have so much to give to help one another heal. But logically, the more I thought about the plot, the more it didn’t fully support the depth of emotion with an equal depth of strength and intricacy. That said, I believed in the pain and healing of these characters, and while I don’t always gravitate toward angsty-romance, or “romangst,” as it were, I would look for Collins’ next book without hesitation. I think she is incredibly brave and talented to create a romance of emotional power between a hero who is an abused spouse, and a heroine who is a courtesan with her own history of abuse. The emotional journey depicted in this book is still with me.

Seven Nights to Forever is available at Amazon and for the Kindle, at TitleBook Depository, Powells, BN and for the Nook.

Comments are Closed

  1. Anony Miss says:

    Great review. Just last night I was perusing the excerpt of this book on the author website and wondering how the story would go. I really want to read it – I loves me some romangst. (A delightful term up there with ‘plot moppets’.)

    But not a single word about that flamingly purple clinch cover?? SB Sarah, have you become jaded?

  2. joanne says:

    My only problem with the plot is that it goes against everything I’ve ever read in historical romance: men had all the power in a marriage.

    A woman could have been locked in a tower or put in an institution and her family and friends could do nothing to help her since she ‘belonged’ to her husband. So, if everything I’ve ever read in historical romance books is true, AND OF COURSE IT IS!, why wouldn’t he have at least threatened the bitch-wife? Do what I want or find yourself in an insane asylum?

    That would have gone against type for James but it would have made him work better for me as a hero.
    And oh yeah, that cover, too old-school.
    Great review, thanks so much.

  3. lizw65 says:

    The story sounds amazing but I agree; dreadful, dreadful old-school cover.  When I clicked on the site I really thought I was looking at a book from the ‘80s.  Jaundiced hero with what looks like extra ribs (!) on his back and weirdly feminine legs, hideous masses of violet ruffles, and are those black-and-white cow fur pillows?  All that’s missing are a mullet on the hero and gobs of blue and purple eyeshadow on the gal.

    Now I’m curious—how does the story get around Joanne’s issue, that of the man wielding all the power in a marriage?  Is the sponsorship of Rebecca into society so vital that James is willing to let his wife hold all the cards?

  4. SB Sarah says:

    Oh, yes. That cover. I read an ARC with a plain yellow cover, which I found SO PREFERABLE to that chiffon-splosion of old-skool coloring. At some point, mark my words. he’ll either inadvertently pin her down with all that fabric flying around, or he’ll rip her hair out of her scalp, because it’s everywhere, too. I saw the finished cover and for real did a double-take. 

    @joanne: I don’t want to give too much away, but yes, James’ character would prevent him from being all ANGRYMAN SMASH. He just wants to be happy – or left alone. He also doesn’t see a reason or motivation to change anything, because everyone, except him, got what they wanted: his dad got the titled marriage and ton connections, his wife got a fortune she can’t possibly spend through when prior to that she just had a title and no money behind it, and his sister has socially powerful sponsorship for her own debut which will get her a husband who can care for her financially and emotionally (which is James’ priority – keep Rebecca out of the hell hole he’s found himself in and away from their father as well). He has no reason to rock the boat – until Rose.

    In James’ relationship, Collins does a painful and deep exploration of the emotional power and the power under the law- and the power of pride. Even if James were to exercise his legal power against his wife, he and his sister lose social power, and it’s that social power he’s counting on for Rebecca. And because his wife knows that, she exercises her considerable emotional power against James, keeping him miserable because she’s not happy either.

    I have read this three times and I so hope I am not giving too much away.

  5. Betsy says:

    Great review as usual, Sarah.  And as a small bonus, it reminded me of something romances used to do for me a lot: articulate/validate my own confused romantic feelings.

    Yet they do get to know one another through all the typical painfully awkward steps of being ferociously attracted to someone you don’t know.

    This! is my life right now.  I had forgotten that everyone deals with this kind of shit.  Thank you.

  6. My only problem with the plot is that it goes against everything I’ve ever read in historical romance: men had all the power in a marriage.

    This is only true to a degree. I haven’t read the book yet (but after this review I definitely will), but if she’s the one bringing money into the equation, and if she was smart in setting up the accounts prior to marriage, it is quite possible for her to control the purse strings.

    All you have to do is put the money into a trust for her sole and separate use before marriage—or have a parent or brother of hers explicitly control the funds—and he doesn’t have all that much power at all, because she can cut him off. A women with a clever solicitor could have a great deal of power in her marriage.

    Of course, it is still the case that a man who wanted to abuse her could do so, notwithstanding the legality thereof. But abusive spouses don’t (just) get their power because society grants it to them—they also get it because they convince their spouse that he or she is powerless on an emotional level. You don’t need the law to be on your side in order to be abusive—which is why you still have spousal abuse today.

  7. I haven’t read this book, but I wanted to address the issue of power within marriage.
    Legal power was generally with the man, but there were ways of circumventing it to protect an heiress’s fortune, for instance. The money could be put in trust in the marriage settlement, thus effectively giving the wife control. Or the father could give a token settlement, and send the wife the money directly.
    There’s also the issue of personality. Many men then, as now, had an innate sense of fairness and would not insist on draconian measures, just because they could.
    In the 1770’s there was a campaign among women to show men how much they were needed. They agreed to everything without demur – everything – and reduced their men to abject apology (see Amanda Vickery’s “The Gentleman’s Daughter” for more details). Marriage was considered a partnership, with each person having their own specific duties, but they were supposed to work together. Most husbands of this time were only too agreeable to this, although of course there were exceptions.
    A woman could, if her social status was superior to her husband’s, have a lot more influence. She knew more people and because of her family background, they would trust her. And society was where influence and networking happened, so it wasn’t just a matter of going to parties.
    The only comment in the review I might take issue with is the “trade” aspect. The Georgian nobleman was usually heavily engaged in trade in some form. He didn’t conjure his wealth from nowhere. His fortune and influence would be a mix of rents from his land, financial investments, and riskier speculation.
    The wealthy merchants of the city often didn’t want their children to marry into the more corrupt aristocracy, because their spheres of influence weren’t the same. It was not an issue of snobbery, it was something far subtler than that. But if a man was wealthy enough, he could move in the highest circles, even buy himself a title (indirectly – the direct purchase of titles was always verboten).

  8. joanne says:

    Thanks Sarah, sold.
    I just wanted to make sure the hero was believable in his ‘niceness’ before spending (geeze) 9.99 for an author I’m not familiar with.

    I’m much less lenient in how much leeway I’ll give a beta hero because I loves me some great beta heroes and it seems that few can write them well.

  9. Mrs. Hanson says:

    Her Ladyship’s Companion is in a similar vein, though the colors aren’t a pastel explosion like this one.  It’s easy to distinguish the dress from the rest of the scenery.  I too read the ARC with a solid yellow cover—and the book is very good.

  10. Kristin says:

    Awesome review Sarah.  This sounds like a gripping book.  I’ll have to check it out.

  11. Donna says:

    Thanks for the review. Now I’m even more likely to move this to the top of the tbr pile. That cover.. I don’t care what anyone says, it calls to me…
    And yes men may have had all the “power” in a marriage, but that doesn’t give them the ability to protect themselves from hurt or loneliness. It seems unlikely that exercising his power would have made James feel any less of either.

  12. Tee says:

    Regarding courtesans and future children, I agree that many folks seem unwilling to forgive this type of profession for women.  Your comment reminded me of the Laurell K Hamilton books where there are some former male prostitutes and how their background is more accepted by the circle of friends until the issue of possible children also rises and some biases rise again by certain men. 

    Is it possible that heroines are more likely to forgive this behaviour in their heroes?  Maybe that promiscuity is more acceptable in men, whether or not paid, while limited sexual partners is prized in women.  So a courtesan with only one or two partners might be acceptable as redemnable, but someone with a new person every night more would be less aceptable….

  13. Chicklet says:

    This is a situation where the cover is doing a real disservice to the book. Because when I look at that old-school cover, I assume there’s an old-school book inside it, complete with a Rapey McRaperson hero and a spunky heroine and all that other jazz. I actually thought this was a reprint of an old-school romance (I started reading romance only three years ago, so I never read the classics of the genre).

    But it sounds like the book inside is much more thoughtful and up-to-date, in terms of its mindset. So yeah, major Cover FAIL.

  14. Suzanne says:

    Your review was so compelling that I can’t wait to read this book.

    I agree with the comments about the cover, as soon as I saw it I thought this was a book from the 70s.

  15. Kathleen says:

    I read her other book Her Ladyship’s Companion and it was the flipside of this one (heroine, lady; man prostitute). I had the same reaction to it as you did this one Sarah. It was emotionally powerful, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he would really be accepted in her life. Of course, that isn’t going to keep me from reading this one too.

    That cover has got to go.

  16. Karen H says:

    I like the cover but the plot sounds awful!  I just don’t do infidelity, no matter the reason.  And I am soooo tired of the female having to suffer incredible degradation (being a prostitute is in no way empowering to a woman) so her wastrel brother can continue to live the life he’s accustomed to!  Why can’t he go to work and let her live the life she’s accustomed to for a change?

  17. Karen H says:

    It occurred to me that I actually picked this book up from the library based on the cover.  I did not expect an “old skool” romance based on the cover as it is very different looking (for one thing, her breasts aren’t spilling out all over the place).  I started to read it but became so disgusted with the plot points (see previous post), I quit reading it.  I don’t regret it based on your review and I actually consider that the plot is more like an “old skool” romance than a modern one.

  18. Isobel Carr says:

    But the bitch wife isn’t an heiress according to the review, the money is HIS. She has social status, but she’d have no control over the fortune, except whatever was granted to her in her settlement (pin money, basically). He might, however, be handling her with kid gloves since he wants her to bring out his sister.

    As for the children of courtesans not being accepted, it all depended on the status and influence of the father and his family and just how big the children’s inheritance was. There are real life cases of courtesan’s and mistress’s’ illegitimate daughters marrying VERY well and being accepted simply because their fathers gave them VERY large dowries. I see no reason why a legitimate child of a former courtesan/mistress would be any worse off. I don’t have time to dig through my books right now, but you all know I’m a research wonk and I swear to you this is a true statement. I’ll try and do a post about it on History Hoydens next month.

  19. Daisy says:

    Hmm, you called the book “so very, very well written” but the dangling participle at the beginning of the excerpt was enough to put me off—and the rest of the excerpt seems a lot more tell than show.  Not to mention the effect of all that satin and chiffon…

  20. I loved Seven Nights to Forever. James and Rose are two of the sweetest, most adorable characters I have read about in quite some time. First of all, I love that Rose is a prostitute. It might sound weird to say that, but it is just so different in a historical romance.

  21. Alpha Lyra says:

    I had already ordered this book, and now I’m looking forward to it even more. I don’t mind the edgier elements of this novel (her being a courtesan, his being unfaithful to an abusive and unloving wife). If the author can pull it off, I like a bit of edge in a romance novel.

  22. joanne says:

    I finished this last night, thank you for the review- because I would never, ever have gotten past the cover. The cover doesn’t come with the kindle version, yay!

    I agree that the ending was typical HEA in romanceland but I am glad for that. This story of the incredibly sad existences some people live and the brightness (and backbone) they can find with another person was well worth the journey.

    And now I’m wishing for the author to write Timothy’s story. Maybe it’s true, readers are never satisfied. Thanks again for the recommendation.

  23. Overquoted says:

    I finally read this on the basis of the review and found myself in complete disagreement. It struck me as the most bland and vanilla of romance novels. There was very little emotion or passion to it, as the story stuck to this sugary-sweet tone. Hell, anytime there was a conflict between characters, it was always solved within a few pages, sometimes on the same page. I was bored to tears by the time I got to the ending.

    I also found it utterly lacking in any realism. The heroine’s history is glossed over and given vague references to unpleasantness. The reaction the hero had to his wife’s behavior struck me as bizarre for the times. And finally, for a romance so reliant on sex scenes to bulk out the novel, the sex was surprisingly mild. I don’t mean boring or just vanilla, I mean everything was sweet and nice. It was almost like reading a romance from the days before bodice-rippers made sex spicy.

    Can I have my 3-4 hours back?

  24. Alpha Lyra says:

    I agree with Overquoted; this novel didn’t work for me. It was well written, but I wasn’t able to emotionally engage with it. It seemed to me the hero and heroine could have easily solved their problems if they just grew a pair. All the heroine had to do was tell her brother the truth. And the hero needed to anull his marriage. It wasn’t even consummated, and the “wife” was openly having affairs. What more grounds did he need? The conflict felt artificial to me, so I never really got into the book.

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