Diamonds In The Rough, the latest full-length novel in Portia Da Costa's Victorian Ladies Sewing Circle universe. I adore Da Costa like crazy-cakes and have enjoyed many, many of her books. I've even enjoyed several of the short stories in this series. But the full-length novels? Yeah, not so much. The first book I actually DNF'ed, and this one? Well......
Adela Ruffington is well and truly on the shelf. No raving beauty anyway, a slightly crooked nose (after an altercation with a tree branch....), some chicken pox scars, not to mention her family's only asset being a lavish diamond necklace, means men on the marriage mart aren't exactly falling all over themselves to get her attention. But Adela is a breathtakingly modern-thinking sort of female. She supplements her family's income with her naughty erotic artwork, and relieves her sexual yearnings with the aid of hired gigolo's that work at a friend's "establishment." She's not desperately lonely, or feels like she's missing out on anything in life, that is until she runs into her distant cousin, Wilson, at a house party. The same distant cousin Wilson who divested her of her virginity some years earlier.....
Wilson has always been intrigued by Adela, but theirs is a sticky situation thanks to family. When Adela's father died, and her mother having only born three girls, her grandfather desiring an heir with a penis turned to Wilson - a distant relation. Adela's mother has always coveted a match between her daughter and Wilson - mostly because Wilson is inheriting what she feels should be her daughters' birthright and also because with only a meager allowance, the money would welcome. Wilson knows this - which means while he and Adela did share a sexy tryst in their younger years, wasn't about to be trapped into marriage. However his last paramour has just tossed him over for an elderly, albeit ridiculously wealthy, Italian count and his wee lil' male pride is hurt. And who should he see at the house party he inexplicably accepted an invitation to? His cousin. The same cousin who sets his blood on fire.
The strong positive to this story is Adela, which isn't that surprising since I've always felt the strength in Da Costa's writing is her heroines. She writes great heroines - smart, funny, adventurous, but with enough foibles that they seem refreshingly real. Adela is one of those radical new-thinking Victorian women. She thinks women shouldn't be shackled in corsets, that it's perfectly acceptable that they have sexual desires, but is also cognizant of the fact that she can't just go around behaving radically and creating scandal. She certainly does scandalous things (using "French letters," paying men to sexually service her, selling naughty artwork under a pseudonym), but as the reader you buy into this because for all outward appearances she behaves herself. The only real criticism I have of her character is that like, too many romance heroines to name, she has a traitorous body when she comes within the same air space as the hero.
Wilson was the real fly in the ointment for me. He's this odd mix of Super Genius Geek Boy and Asshole Alpha. Adela, naturally, gives as good as she gets - which means Wilson finds out how she gets her sexual kicks and with whom. He, in turn, gets all worked up over this and Ye Olde Double Standard comes into play. Certainly it's OK that he had a mistress, but it's not OK that Adela is out getting her kicks with anybody other than him. Would men in the 19th century think this way? Hell, men in the 21st century think this way! Doesn't mean I necessarily want to read about them.
The pace of the story plods along, with several sex scenes tossed in to keep the reader (hopefully) engaged until the author brings the villain of the story (an oily blackmailer targeting Adela's sister) to a full boil. The problem was that it takes an awful long time for all of this to come around, and given that Wilson wasn't working for me for a long stretch, this was a slog of a read. I also questioned whether a relationship with Wilson was really in Adela's best interests. As any woman will tell you, "just sex" can be fun and fulfilling, but sex with all the emotional love-dovey stuff attached to it is a different kettle of fish. I never felt a strong connection of the lovey-dovey stuff between Wilson and Adela. Heck, I'm wondering why she didn't just stay single and keep paying for male prostitutes.
Things do perk up in the final 100 pages or so - mostly because the author brings the external conflict to a full boil. I also appreciated that Da Costa's Victorian world actually reads Victorian. So often in Romance Novel Land Victorian falls into the Vaguely Drawn Pseudo-Regency-Like trap. But other than that? Meh. This may be a case of an author's contemporary work resonating with me better than her historicals.
Final Grade = C