by Alexandra Benedict, historical (2006)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-084794-8
Too Great A Temptation is a fun seafaring-style romantic adventure story that brings to mind some of Marsha Canham's most enjoyable stories. There are some noticeable rough edges here and there, but the star of the show, so to speak, is definitely the author's bouncy and infectious humor.
Our hero Damian Westmore won't win any awards for amazing brainpower, but a lifetime of constant inebriation and skanky sex can do that to a person, I hear. The "Duke of Rogues" is forcefully made to become sober when his brother Adam is lost at sea. Worse, the news only reach him long after the tragic event happened because he was too busy partying to care, and even then, he learns of the news because he rushes to his mother to tell her off for daring to interrupt his revelries with her pesky summons. His mother understandably wishes that Damian is the one at the bottom of the sea rather than the more responsible Adam, and drives the blade of guilt deeper into Damian's heart by revealing that it is she who summoned Adam home from America because she had begged Adam to come talk some sense into Damian.
Damian decides to not just sober up, he also wants revenge. So he runs off to America to locate and presumably tear apart the pirates that sank the ship that Adam was on with his bare hands. However, clearly lacking the brainpower to put together a plan, he ends up penniless and looking for a way back to England where he can recover his losses and come up with another, er, plan. When he tries to rescue a young lad from some thugs on the street and learns that this young man, he ends up getting acquainted with Hawkins brothers. They have a ship that is headed towards England, and with Hawkins feeling indebted to Damian, they are willing to take him along, especially when he fibs that he's a good navigator. Alas, also on board is the Hawkins sister who have stowed away on the ship without her brothers' knowledge, Mirabelle. She's not a complication that he needs at that moment.
There is more to this situation, however. Damian believes that the Hawkins brothers are behind the attack on the ship that Adam was on. Now that is indeed a complication.
Belle and Damian are not exactly the smartest or most mature people I have come across in a story, heh, but they are most amusing together. There are some ample chemistry between those two and the sexual tension is pretty crisp. Belle is smarter - much smarter - than Damian, since Damian is prone to dramatic shows of angst rather than flairs of brilliance, but still, these two are fine together. The Hawkins brothers make some entertaining secondary characters as well although they can be really very suffocatingly obtuse when it comes to insisting that Belle is an incapable type.
However, where Too Great A Temptation falters is the author's handle on Damian's psychology. For a long time, she seems to be operating on the basis that Damian's sins are his to bear, but towards the end, the story seems to be shaping up to be a big apology for Damian. His childhood is so sad, he is misunderstood, he is a sad woobie who isn't that bad he finds the love of the Right Woman to heal/change him. I find myself rather confused by the author's motivations here. Still, on the whole I think the author has a pretty decent grasp on what makes her characters tick and she is able to get the readers to understand the characters well as a result.
When the identity of the villain is revealed, I have mixed feelings about this plot development. On one hand, it feels like a cheap way out to have Damian reconcile with the Hawkins with everyone's hand being clean. But on the other hand, Ms Benedict allows the villain to be human, which is nice. I think it says something that in that short moment when I encounter the villain, I find myself thinking that he'd make a far more interesting hero than Damian.
Fast-paced, humorous, and action-driven at times, Too Great A Temptation is too much of a blast. The author seems to be on a roll in the right direction.
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