by Victoria Janssen, historical/fantasy (2009)
Spice, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-373-60536-1
Well, if I want an interesting story that is nothing like what is out there in the erotic romance aisles, I get that in Victoria Janssen's The Moonlight Mistress. Unfortunately, the story turns out to be a bit of a hot mess due to an abrupt switch of focus that takes place in the midpoint of the story.
Set just as World War I erupts in Europe, this story introduces Lucilla Daglish, a 42-year old chemist from Kent. Due to her career and the time period she is stuck in, she is a spinster who is at the same time viewed more as a performing monkey than a serious colleague by her male counterparts. When the story opens, she is in Germany just as Germany and Russia decide to go to war. Trapped without a means to leave town, she eventually meets Pascal Fournier, another scientist, and together they steal a car and race to France. It is an adventure of passion, danger, and, of course, plenty of intellectual conversation. We are talking a scientist and her 30-year old paramour, after all.
But there are also two other plot lines that will eventually dominate the story once Lucilla and Pascal reach France.
Lucilla's brother Crispin is called up to take up arms on behalf of his country, so it's off he goes to join a merry band of brothers, which includes a werewolf, of all things. Crispin, who shares his sister's interest in men, is attracted to the Jewish Lt Gabriel Meyer. Gabriel is a friend with benefits to Noel Ashby. There is another player in this soap opera, but I won't mention this person because I don't want to spoil things for you if you want to read this story, heh.
Oh, and a mad scientist kind of fellow whose path crosses with that of Lucilla and Pascal has been keeping a female werewolf in his lab. This werewolf, Tanneken Claes, will soon escape and she will meet the other players in this story again, even finding a chance at romance with one of them.
I have to laugh at the scientists in this story. When confronted with a werewolf, even for the first time, Lucilla is so sanguine, you'd think someone has asked her for the time instead of turning into a wolf before her eyes. She's more skeptical of the tale he is telling her about a patient in the hospital where she works. But unbelievable reaction to alien situations aside, both her and Pascal have a pretty good chemistry going on in the first half or so of the story.
Which is why it is bewildering when these two are relegated into roles of secondary characters once they reach France, as the author then ramps up the military soap opera of Crispin and friends. Why build up their story when the author isn't going to focus more on them? Crispin and friends aren't well-developed, mostly because there are too many players in this military musical chairs of shag and shoot, and there isn't enough space left in this story for them to shine as characters in their own right. The werewolf plot line is even more underdeveloped, so the less is said of that, the better.
The story is interesting, I have to admit. After all, we have werewolves, scientists, bisexual soldiers, werewolves, and mad scientists running amok in the pages. Unfortunately, the author can't seem to make up her mind which plot she wants to focus more on, and by trying to give all her characters a chance to shine, she ends up shortchanging all of them. The story of Lucilla and Pascal has a very poor payoff because their story line peters out quickly, the Band of Banging Brothers plot has too many players and not enough pages to develop them, and the werewolf plot seems like an afterthought thrown in mostly for some dramatic denouement.
As for the sexual content, well, to be honest, I don't find this story particularly erotic. The characters do sexual things that you rarely see people in non-erotic romances do, such as threesomes and what not, but I remember the overall story more than the sex scenes.
The Moonlight Mistress ends up reminding me of an agreeable dinner that is however somewhat lacking in seasoning and flavor. In the case of this book, the three plot lines never feel as whole and satisfying as they should have been. Maybe another 100 pages of character and story development would have solved this problem, who knows.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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