by Claudia Dain, historical (2000)
Leisure, $5.50, ISBN 0-8439-4692-X
This is one of those books that everyone seems to dislike. Well, that means I would probably like it, and guess what? I did! I can see why this book gets panned by many readers though. Readers expecting a crew of pirates with the usual earnest teenage cabin boy, the gruff German cook, the wise Black second-in-command, and a pirate who somehow never kills anyone or only gently robs ships would probably burst a coronary.
The pirates in Tell Me Lies are very real, very nasty, and not at all willing to let the heroine teach them the ABC's. And when the heroine is captured by them, she is not given a nice personal cabin. In fact, she is not kidnapped for revenge, but for her body, short and simple.
And yes, she has to pretend she is willing so that she can keep the pirate captain's attention on her and hence won't be passed around. The sex is all primal and unromantic, nothing more than a means of survival on her part.
No wonder those readers expecting The Genteel Pirate And The Schoolmarm start foaming at the mouths. Me, I think Tell Me Lies is a wonderful exploration of the darker sides of human emotions - the dynamics of captivity, obsession, and one's S&M tendencies. My only complain is that the author doesn't make this story an outright erotica or actually add in a rape scene or two to make the whole dark journey more compelling. Because that's what Tell Me Lies actually is, more a dark erotic story than a romance.
In fact, I'm not told the names of the main characters until halfway into the story, and I won't do so here just to keep up to the spirit of Tell Me Lies. The captain is a man who is actually a genteel person, but make no mistake, he is a pirate, and he makes little apologies for his brutal sexual needs. Likewise, the heroine is a sheltered and respectable daughter of a prominent gentleman. In the darkness of the captain's chamber, however, both learn that the boundaries of captivity, fear, pain, pleasure, and desire can be blurred, maybe too easily.
And when they do meet again one day, both in their respectable incarnations, a cat-and-mouse game ensues.
Tell Me Lies isn't pretty, sweet, or romantic, but it is also delightfully carnal and brutally sensual in its depictions of obsession and dark desires. The heroine hates the hero, she knows she should, and the rational part of her mind is actually traumatized by her encounter with him. But she also yearns for his touch and the sensations sex arouses in her. Likewise, the hero has killed for her, and he will have her regardless of her say in the matter.
How delightful, I must say. This book is effective as a psychosexual erotic story. I must confess I get a vicarious thrill out of the whole sleaziness of the captive-in-thrall scenario. But make no mistake, in this story, the real power is held by the heroine. She's a helpless captive, but it is she who holds the hero enthralled. Such contradiction is very, very seductively compelling.
But egad, the dialogs! These people speak as if they're bad poets. Even during dire situations, like when she is tied up waiting for rapine and worse to befall her, she can still sprout No! Do not run to death as that cowardly sun runs to plunge into the sea. Or the hero telling her later, Can you not feel the bonds of fire between us? Honey, bad heroes don't say such fripperies, they go I want to fuck you now. (Surprisingly, the purple prose exists only in dialogs and not the love scenes.)
Tell Me Lies's misfortune, I'm afraid, is its being mismarketed as a typical romance novel (a mistake enforced by that "Romantic getaway" sweepstakes at the back page). It's not, and it shouldn't aspire to be. What it is is a dark, psychological trip down the dark side where pain, pleasure, hate, and obsession blend in one seductive velvet blur, and it should have gone all the way in depicting bondage as a means of courtship. In a genre where there exists a brand of political correctness (a hero can abuse the heroine verbally, mentally, but never physically, and a heroine must get down on her knees and bleed for enjoying sex), where the forefront priority seems to be depicting the brighter, sunnier sides of human emotions, Tell Me Lies don't stand a chance.
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