by Angela Johnson, historical (2009)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0857-6
Angela Johnson's debut medieval romance Vow Of Seduction could have been a different kind of story - at the very least, the story line is not the typical hellion and alpha male knight affair usually found in stories of this kind. However, the execution is nonetheless laden with many familiar tropes. The end result is still disappointingly familiar.
After spending four years experiencing up close the best hospitality one can find in a Saracen torture chamber, Sir Alex de Beaumont is finally back in England, eager to be reunited with his wife Katherine... only to arrive and find his wife just finished exchanging vows with another man. The marriage is rendered invalid, since the husband has returned from the dead. But Alex realizes that Kat is not ready to accept him back in her life.
You see, six years ago, Alex abandoned Kat after their wedding night with just a note. They both didn't want the marriage, but Alex, being a man, had the privilege to run off to the Crusades to avoid being a married man. While Alex believes that four years in a torture chamber have opened his eyes to the true value of Kat as his wife, he realizes only now the true extent of the damage he has wrecked with his thoughtless abandonment six years ago. With no evidence that the marriage was consummated, people speculated that Alex abandoned Kat because she wasn't a virgin. Being King Edward's cousin protects her considerably, but the damage to her reputation is done. And Kat isn't so willing to forgive just because the man decides on his own time that he wants to give them another go. Alex decides that he will seduce her into changing her mind, so the game begins.
Meanwhile, Alex also wants to discover as well the people who set him up years ago and betrayed him to the Saracens.
First off, if you want historical accuracy, you may not find the story to your liking. It's 1276, but everyone seems able to read and write, for one. The issue of marriage - the dissolution of one - is treated pretty lightly. Then again, this is another atheist medieval romance that just happens to feature the Crusades, so readers shouldn't expect too much in terms of historical accuracy. I mean, the hero calls the heroine by the unfortunate nickname of "Kit-Kat". Time for a break, nitpicking historians!
Alex is pretending to be a modern gentleman here. He talks about wanting to give Kat time to know him, blah blah blah. This is nice since he is trying to woo her back and convince her that he's a changed man. Unfortunately, his actions are typical of the Gallant Molester stereotype, talking about how much he respects her while he's pawing at her chest. There is way too much emphasis here on sexual attraction as the basis of the interactions between these two characters, to the point that I have to wonder whether the author is using lust and love interchangeably here. Okay, so Kit-Kat here is too weak to resist Alex's randy hands, but that's not love, right? If the author has spent more time showing her two characters interacting credibly on a non-sexual level, I may buy this romance. As it is, there is too much pawing and grabbing with not enough loving for my liking.
The author also sabotages her story by inserting many tropes that are actually unnecessary. [spoiler starts] The biggest one has to be the guy Kat almost married turning out to be the villain. This one only serves to negatively reinforces my opinion of the already unbelievable romance. It is bad enough that the whole thing seems more like lust than love, but now it turns out that Kat, the poor thing, has no option other than Alex. The author attempts to subvert this trope by having the bad guy being a victim of love - he's manipulated by the Evil Whore. But it doesn't completely work, plus, it brings us to the other trope, the Evil Whore... [spoiler ends] The story doesn't have to contain these tired clichés, I'm sure.
Still, despite my issues with this story, I find Vow Of Seduction a clean and easy read. It could be better, but it could also have been worse.
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