A Seduction at Christmas by Cathy Maxwell
The Particulars: Historical romance, Avon, 2008, In Print, First book in the Scandals and Seduction series.
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: There was an eBay auction for a romance author (and I'm ashamed to say, I can't remember who now) to help her with some medical bills. Maxwell was offering up this really cute Dr. Seuss-themed charm bracelet that I ultimately won. Along with the bracelet, she sent this book - which was her latest release at the time.
The Review: Fiona Lachlan came to London thinking it surely had to be better than Scotland. Gently born and schooled by her mother to one day marry well, the tide changes quickly when her magistrate father attempts to do the right thing (which those in power think is the very wrong thing) and her brother gets mixed up in rebel causes. She was employed as a seamstress, although she is now out of work and getting a little desperate. So desperate that when her neighbor falls in love (for the umpteenth time) and elopes, she agrees to take over an errand the girl was going to run for a notorious courtesan.
The courtesan in question wants Fiona to meet her former lover, who has since unceremoniously dumped her. Fiona is to feign like she's there for seduction, but instead slip a potion in the man's drink so he'll become violently ill. That will surely teach him to not trifle with the affections of his spurned mistress! However, when Fiona shows up on the scene? It's not the man who spurned the courtesan, but the notorious Duke of Holburn who is waiting for her. He's there thinking he's finally going to meet the man who stole his family signet ring years before - but instead he gets the delectable Fiona. Then hired goons show up waving around guns and things get really sticky.
I know some authors who get their backs up when the term "wallpaper" is thrown around, so let us just say this book has absolutely no sense of place. It's a bit like living in an apartment. The walls are white and the carpet is beige. Think of it like going to see some experimental theater "production" off-off-off Broadway, where the actors perform the play on an empty stage with no sets. After a while I started to fancifully imagine these characters in any half-cocked location I could think of, because honestly - they would have fit just about anywhere with minimal changes needing to be made to the story. On a pirate ship? Sure. At a Texas cattle ranch? Why not! On a space ship voyage to Mars? OK, that's a little weird - but it could work!
The characters are likable enough, aren't prone to silly misunderstandings and do communicate with each other fairly well. The Duke has Dead Daddy and Shrewish Mommy Issues, while the heroine is "haunted" by a gang rape she suffered at the hands of soldiers back in Scotland. I don't mean to belittle gang rape, but this aspect of the heroine's back-story runs hot or cold - cropping up only when the author needs a convenient plot device. It's not employed on a consistent basis, and I'll admit the feminist in me got annoyed that something as serious as a gang-rape was reduced to "convenient plot device" - on the same level as a impish child character who interrupts a potential love scene. Bother.
The driving conflict of the story is really, mostly, external. Someone wants the Duke dead, but who? This "mystery" (and I use the term loosely) is thin and obvious, even though the author does toss in a red herring. However, it does succeed in keeping the story moving along. There is also a little slice of woo-woo, in the form of Greek mythology (the Oracle at Delphi plays a small role in the story). As someone who is totally over paranormal, I can assuredly say that this aspect of the story is really light, although it did run a little silly for my personal taste (A prophecy? Really?)
So we've got white walls and a thin mystery. Where does that leave us? With this weird sort of magic Maxwell's writing style seems to have over me. It's like drinking liquid candy - which is ultimately how I came to think of this book - as "brain candy." Sure there's no sense of place and I knew where the plot was going before it got there, but this is the sort of book I just needed at this moment in time. When my head is all over the place, I'm strung a little too tight, and I'm overwhelmed. I could pick up this book, turn off my brain, flip the pages, and just lose myself several chapters at a time. No, it's not high art but I kept reading and never thought about DNF'ing it. And even though I told myself I wasn't interested? I looked up the other books in this series to make sure some of the secondary characters I met in this book eventually got a romance (I probably won't read those books - but I still had to make sure!).
So at the end of the day? I'm left with the ultimate "C read." It wasn't terrible, it wasn't great, it was easy reading, but ask me in a week what this book was about and you'll probably get "Uhhhhh....."
Final Grade = C