by Jane Lockwood, historical (2007)
Signet, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-451-22217-6
Forbidden Shores is an erotic historical romance set in 1800. There is a ménage à trois here, but this is not a typical threesome story churned out regularly by most other erotic romance authors. Forbidden Shores is a story that defies most conventional labeling because it breaks too many rules to be easily pigeon-holed. Conservative readers with rigid expectations of what makes or breaks their romance novels will foam at the mouth, write scathing condemnations on the Amazon page, and lay an egg or two along the way. Readers expecting a three-forever kind of happy ending will also not be happy.
I'm not saying that this isn't a romance - it is - but author Jane Lockwood happily takes a few turns along the path to the happily-ever-after that most readers may not anticipate. It is this memorability factor which this book possesses that make this one a story to remember. Otherwise, it will be a rather uneven story that leaves me feeling vaguely unsatisfied at the end of the day.
How do I give the synopsis of the story without revealing things that will rob the reader of the joy of discovering the twists and turns on their own? Let's see. We have Allen Pendale, the youngest son of the Earl of Frensham who has gone off to the Caribbeans to become a plantation owner. Allen is a lawyer but spends most of his time partying and sleeping around until he causes one too many husbands to become furious with his indiscretions. Allen decides that he may as well pay his father a surprise visit by boarding the Daphne.
Also on the Daphne is Clarissa Onslowe. Due to her own indiscretion in the past, she has been disowned and exiled by her family to an uncle's household, where she served as the housekeeper until this uncle passed away. The heir, Clarissa's cousin, decides to get Clarissa appointed as a governess to the daughter of a plantation owner without consulting her first. So here she is, on the same boat with Allen and bound to... you know, now that I think of it, I don't remember the author identifying this island by name. She has Clarissa making comparisons of it to Prospero's island, though. At any rate, Clarissa is bound for the plantation owner Lemarchand's holdings and Allen is going to be a neighbor. Clarissa, for some reason, also decides to shack up with Lemarchand as her courtesan career debut (don't ask) and asks Allen to give her some pointers on pleasing a man.
Their torrid affair gets complicated when Allen falls for Clarissa, but Clarissa, when she encounters Lemarchand, falls for him. And Lemarchand, or March as he prefers to be called, who turns out to be bisexual, falls for Allen. I'm sure if we look hard enough, there is a country song out there telling a story similar to this one.
All three characters get involved together at a late point in the story. So yes, if you can't stand the idea of a guy touching another guy intimately, stay away. If you don't like non-virginal heroines who like to have sex for fun of it, run away. If you don't like erotic romances, drop this book like hot iron at once. If you find things like mentions of "slavery" unromantic, flee as fast as you can to... I don't know, an Avon historical romance, perhaps, or something else that offers a less "controversial" story.
Now, with that out of the way, let's talk sex. It's hot. It's really hot even if there is a lack of chocolate alley action between March and Allen. Allen feels curious and he does do some touchy-feely here and there, but he's more of a curious straight guy here, if you must know. What I really like about these scenes is that the author tries to set up a convincing psychological basis for the threesome to take place. Allen, March, and Clarissa are no cardboard characters having a ménage à trois. Ms Lockwood addresses in a small way issues like jealousy, which makes sense given how no two characters in this love triangle have acknowledged at that point that they reciprocrate each other's feelings. Because of this, the sex scenes are hot, but they also feel real in the sense that there are believable reasons why the three people are getting it on.
Now, this is going to be quite confusing, so bear with me. While the sex scenes and the dynamics of the threesome feel real to me, the emotions of the characters don't. Am I making sense here? You see, I don't understand why Clarissa will fall for March. March is very much a man of his time - he is not a benign plantation owner and he treats his slaves the way his peers do: inhumanly. Clarissa starts out very firmly against the very practice of human slavery, but the moment she meets March, she's in love at first sight. I am never given any glimpse as to how she reconciles her feelings about slavery with her affections for one of the biggest slave owners in the island. Even after she has witnessed some of the worst punishments inflicted on March's slaves, she is still in love with him, calm as a pond on a windless day. I don't understand Clarissa, I don't "get" her. March is even more inscrutable than Clarissa, but given that he is a slave owner and I believe that Ms Lockwood has no way to make this guy a romantic hero of the year even if she wants to, given the current climate of political correctness, there is no point in creating a believable reason for March to fall for Allen.
Therefore, while I can see why these three want to get it on together, I don't understand why Clarissa loves March or why March loves Allen. The sex scenes feel real, but the love aspects of the story are rather wonky. Why they want to embark on a ménage à trois relationship makes sense to me, but why they fall in love with the other person so much that they reach the stage where they want that relationship to happen doesn't make sense, at least where Clarissa and March are concerned. I really hope I am making sense here.
The only character that feels well drawn here is Allen. I know what makes him tick and I know why he adores Clarissa. His scenes with Clarissa on the Daphne are simultaneously erotic and romantic as there are clearly more happening between the two of them than bedroom activities. His mellowing and embrace of responsibilities towards the end feel rushed, but everything about the last few chapters of this story feels rushed. These last few chapters also hinge on the actions of a main character, but given how underdeveloped this character is, I therefore find these chapters more perplexing than dramatic.
At the end of the day, a part of me wants to give Forbidden Shores a keeper grade so that it will not be lost in the sea of reviews in this site. I feel that this book deserves at least one look from adventurous readers who like erotic romances that are different from many of the erotic romances out there. The sex scenes are erotic, with the author using non-purple naughty words that feel nonetheless right for the people of that time era. She describes sensations as well as the mechanics of the act. Ms Lockwood also tries to go the extra mile to create a realistic psychological basis for the three characters to get involved with each other.
And of course, this story is well written with luscious and elegant prose that manages to remain oh-so-luscious even when the hero is sighing over the fact that he has tasted the residues of his, er, love on the heroine's you-know-what.
But at the same time, I don't feel like giving this book a keeper grade because of the problems in the characterizations of March and Clarissa. These are big problems that really come into play in the last few chapters of this book, unfortunately.
Therefore, all I can say is, if you have read this far, I hope that I have given you the impression that this book may have its shortcomings but it is nonetheless worth a try if you like your stories to be naughty and different from the usual ménage à trois stories out there. This book appeals to me on a more intellectual than visceral level. Rather paradoxically, the intellectual part of me feels that this book deserves a keeper grade so that I can do my small part to tell people who share my tastes in romance novels that such a book is out there waiting for them. The visceral part of me, however, balks at this since this book has some pretty big flaws that I feel should keep it from getting a higher score. Oh, what am I to do?
Oh, what the heck. How long has it been since I last gave a book a keeper grade? Jane Lockwood, this is your lucky day.
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