by Claudia Dain, historical (2003)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5220-2
In 1156, Elsbeth of Sunnandune is married off to Hugh of Jerusalem by her father Lord Gautier. She just wants to either enter the cloister or to have a marriage where the husband will leave her be. Hugh isn't too keen to marry either - he wants to return to the Holy Land and continue what he believes to be God's work. The marriage was of convenience, except that Elsbeth comes with a lot of mental baggages that Hugh can only begin to comprehend by the last pages of the story. In the meantime, for way too long, the main conflict in this book is God's answering Elsbeth's prayers and causing her to experience her period. Yes, you read that right. I don't know why, but The Temptation is fascinated with fluids that are discharged from the vagina way too much for me to take.
In the prologue, Elsbeth attends the delivery of the (stillborn) child of her mother and her mother's death is described in painful detail. Or rather, I really wish the author doesn't describe the pool of blood spilling from between poor Ardeth's legs in too much detail. Likewise, Elsbeth is glad that she has her period, which means Hugh can't touch her, and she delights in flaunting her period at his face. And then he decides to call her bluff and clean her up down there with a cloth and I go, "Eeeeuw, too much, Ms Dain, this is way too much!" The scatological way the story revolves around Elsbeth's menses for what seems like half the story will probably thrill readers that have a fetish for this kind of thing (not that there's anything wrong with such fetishes, it's just something that this particular reader find far from erotic, especially when the author goes the whole nine yards on the gory details).
Elsbeth is a strange heroine. No, let me rephrase that: her behavior throughout the story and her abhorrence to being touched by a man hint at there being something really wrong with her and this reason becomes apparent once consummation finally takes place and Hugh learns the horrifying extent to which Elsbeth's psyche is damaged. This part of the story is very readable but it's also a case of the party starting a little too late to do any good.
There are many unresolved issues between the couple by the time the author ends her story, issues that could have been given a better treatment if the author has cut down the really slow and repetitious early half of the story. Not only is there way too much emphasis on Elsbeth's period in the early half of the story, the pace is excruciatingly slow and the characters tend to repeat themselves too much. Because Hugh is only starting to learn who his wife really is by the epilogue, I can't help thinking that I'd rather read about their story from that point onwards than the first bloody (literally) 300 pages of The Temptation. Even if I like reading about periods, the slow pace and repetitious mental chatter suggest that I will have a better time reading what is printed on a box of tampons.
Even if I overlook the overemphasis of a woman's menses in this book, The Temptation is still too slowly paced to provide a decent story until too late into the book. I can only hope that the next time around the author can tighten her pacing and prose. Oh, and keep the whole body fluid fetish thing to some niche erotica line, please? This book makes me want to hug a giant box of Tampax the way a woman on a sinking ship would cling to a life jacket.
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