by Suzanne Enoch, historical (2005)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-054327-2
Suzanne Enoch's An Invitation To Sin is a tedious story featuring a heroine who is determined to be unhappy even as she insists that the world bend over to accommodate her. The author follows the bestselling Regency historical romance formula in this book but at the same time she follows the formula without pausing to see whether her heroine is coming off like a sensible woman or a psychopathic sour-faced prune determined to be wrong as much as possible.
Caroline Witfield has a charming philosophy on marriage:
Marriage meant gossiping, doing embroidery, buying clothes, anything to fill up the waste of useless, endless days. That might be what the rest of her sisters wanted for themselves, but she would rather die.
I suppose one can say that clearly Caroline Witfield has read too many of Stephanie Laurens' historical romances, but there is nothing in her parents' marriage to allow her to come to such a melodramatic conclusion about marriage. Like many things about this story, Ms Enoch follows the formula to a tee (in this case, the heroine is always supposed to be against marrying) but she doesn't always check to see whether such formulaic elements make sense in the context of the entire story.
Our hero, Zachary Griffin, wants to join the army. As the third son of the powerful Griffin clan run by the eldest brother Sebastian (who seems to be a big fan of Danelle Harmon), Zachary is a man who is constantly bored because he doesn't have the concentration span to stay focused on his latest projects. Knowing that Zachary sees war as a dashing game rather than, you know, a war, the Duke of Melbourne sends Zach off to accompany a gout-ridden aunt to Bath. The aunt drops by the Witfield household to meet an old friend (Caroline's mother) and Caroline starts viewing Zach as her perfect model. And maybe more.
You see, Caroline fancies herself an artist and she, happily, has been conditionally accepted as an apprentice to an artist in Vienna. Since marriage is clearly not her thing - remember, she'd rather die than to live a life of idleness and torture by embroidery - she decides to stay focused on her future career. As much as I respect a heroine with dreams, in Caroline's case she also decides that she must have sex with Zachary. Just one time. Naturally she has to pay the piper and lay on the bed she has made, but all the way to the last few chapters of this book, she spends her time very hard to avoid sleeping on that bed.
Perhaps it would have helped if Ms Enoch made Caroline a heroine with genuinely convincing aspirations but in this story Caroline is an utter mess. She keeps going on and on about how Zachary is the nicest and kindest man she has ever known but no, she will keep driving him away or acting like a childish brat denied her candies so that she can be a big grand artist in Vienna. Zachary starts off as an irresponsible and flighty man but he ends up being the reasonable person in the relationship. Caroline also makes it painful for me by having no sense of humor or even a sense of joy. Even when Zachary is being inventive when it comes to foreplay, she's having fun but she still protests painfully all the way to the grand finish. What does Zachary see in such a woman who is determined to be the most unhappy frigid hag in the world?
Yes, she definitely needs his intervention, his mouth on hers, and his hard cock inside her.
Yes, I suppose I can see where Ms Enoch is coming from, but is that love? Zachary's feelings for Caroline seem more like someone offering a sad and confused loser of a woman some pity shag rather than a happily-ever-after.
Naturally at the end of the day Caroline realizes that Vienna Sienna whatever, she's happier being a "professional portrait artist" with her reputation protected by her husband's family name. I wish I can tell her, "See, dear, that wasn't so bad, was it?" For a long time, Caroline is like that kid who is kicking and screaming as her mother drags her to get a vaccination only to go at the end of the day, "Hey, that doesn't hurt!" It's nice that she eventually learns that it's more fun to give up her dreams to be tutored professionally for a lifetime of happy sex and popping up happy babies, but that doesn't cover the fact that I have to follow her tedious kicking and screaming for a long time.
I'm not annoyed about the whole "screw dreams - gimme my man!" angle of this story because Caroline is clearly depicted as a wrongheaded ninny from the start. It's to be expected that she will pick Zachary over Vienna. My issue is that, dear heavens, Caroline is a complete pain to follow as she does all kinds of stupid things to avoid coming to her conclusion until Ms Enoch has met the necessary word count. Is a heroine behaving so annoyingly in a clearly wrong-headed manner supposed to be enjoyable?
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