by Julie Anne Long, historical (2007)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61688-1
The Secret To Seduction is also the title of hero Rhys Gillray's bestselling collection of sensual poems in this story. Called the Libertine, Rhys has been happily drinking and sleeping around while consorting with artists and writers until a duel forces him to lay low in the rustic Tinbury in Derbyshire. However, this doesn't stop him from throwing a house party and inviting, among others, the opera singer Sophia Licari, his on-and-off lover, and artist named Wyndham, who I believe is not Rhys' on-and-off lover. Although with these artistic people, one can never tell, especially when they are all under the influence of the recreational drug of the week.
Also present at the house party is our heroine Sabrina Fairleigh, who sneaks away from her vicar father to meet her boyfriend Geoffrey Gillray. Geoffrey happens to be Rhys' cousin and is also a bit of a conman hoping to take advantage of Sabrina's gullibility to get some money from Rhys. Rhys decides that Sabrina will be fun to amuse himself with but those two soon learn, as many couples in Regency historical romances have done in the past, that a lack of privacy when it comes to playing naughty games can be a most efficient plot device to get them wedded.
The Secret To Seduction is a disappointing book because author Julie Anne Long tries to do much more than the length of the story would allow and as a result, the story ends in a most unsatisfying rushed manner. This book in its first half is a cat-and-mouse game between Rhys and Sabrina with Rhys always having the upper hand while Sabrina can only deliver a few jabs here and there, so I can't say I find that half too interesting as a whole. The second half is a Troubled Marriage story, which is where the story is at its weakest because Rhys is such an off-putting asshole here that the rushed reunion with the wife is far from believable.
Sabrina is a very well-drawn heroine. She is a sheltered young woman who really tries to hold her own against Rhys but she's way out of her depths. But most heartbreakingly is how well Ms Long portrays Sabrina as a very lonely person who tries to fill the vast emptiness in her life by helping people the way her father has taught her even as she has no clue where her husband is. He's in London, if you must know, always coming this close to having a happy reunion with Sophia in her bed if the amusing housekeeper doesn't keep summoning him back to Sabrina's side. Ultimately, I feel for Sabrina. I like her. And at the end of the day, I feel that she is way too good for the useless Rhys.
Rhys is also a well-drawn character, although in this case Ms Long is playing with a double-edged sword since I grow to loathe him actively as the story progresses because of how real he comes off as. Rhys is an overgrown selfish brat who thinks he can live on cynicism and ennui - like the pretentious arts undergraduate who could never leave his college days behind. I can't get over my initial impression that Sabrina is just a novelty for him and one day he will tire of her. And poor Sabrina will probably never castrate him like he deserves when that happens because she's too nice a person that way. I'm not always fond of this author's heroes even if I enjoy her stories but this is the first time I would love to see the heroine kick the hero to the curb and go find someone nicer to spend the rest of her life with.
Well-drawn characters are always good, of course, which is why I end up finding this story most interesting. But even then, I find this book interesting as a character study rather than a romance because this book doesn't have the space to allow Rhys to undergo a more convincing metamorphosis from a self-absorbed selfish boy into a dream husband. The romance will probably be more believable if the author has another 100 or so pages to work on, but in its current rushed form, the romance rings too hollow for my liking.
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