The Club
by Sharon Page, historical (2009)
Dell, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24490-5


The Club is marketed as an erotic historical romance, but calling this book "erotic" will be stretching the definition of that word way beyond legal limit. Yes, this book is set in the underbelly of London's red light districts where people swing, engage in group sex, and do who knows what else, but these acts are denounced as "immoral" and "sinful" (the author's own words in this book). What's so erotic about this story then? Well, it's like those old sexploitation movies, where people get to watch and get excited over all that nudity and gratuitous sex acts on their TV screen, only to have their conscience soothed at the end of the movie by the fact that the participants in those exciting, er, sinful deeds will all roast in hell for all eternity.

Therefore, if you enjoy such hypocritical treatment of "eroticism" in your stories, you'll have a better time with this book than me. Then again, we have two characters as dumb as bricks and with the personality of a cardboard cut-out as well as a plot full of silliness to deal with here, so I guess it depends on how much you need your "burn in hell, but first show me the shag pile, sinners!" kind of erotic fix here.

Jane St Giles, a widow with all kinds of neurotic ideas about sex thanks to her marriage to a cartoon husband, is searching for her missing friend, a woman who was forced by her husband to take part in group sex and what not in the notorious place called The Club. Of course, it's not like she can actually go through it, unless "go through it" is a nice way of saying "get hysterically stupid because she chickens out at the last moment", so it is a good thing that her friend's brother, Christian Sutcliffe, shows up to save her from accidentally cutting off her own nose sooner or later.

Jane is a wretchedly stupid heroine whose standard mode of behavior is to rush headlong into a situation that she cannot handle, only to go "Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!" when it's too late. She can't lie because everyone can tell when she's lying (the blush, the stammering, and the horrifically awful attempts at subterfuge may have something to do with that), but she insists on playing Nancy Drew. She also makes decisions that either put her in the power of the hero even more or are so terrible that she makes me wonder just how times her maid must have thrown her down the stairs when she was a baby. Not only that, Jane is like a heroine from a Jo Beverley book, only with ten times the hysteria - she overreacts to everything in such an exaggerated degree that I end up fearing that I would experience a nervous breakdown on her behalf. On top of everything, she'll shriek and protest about her precious virtue - being penetrated ruthlessly by monstrous husbands doesn't really count as deflowering, after all - only to shut up momentarily when our hero gives her some manly rogering in the name of sexual healing. Jane is so, so, so, so wretchedly stupid and tedious.

As for Christian, since he's a hero, he has the luxury of making slightly better decisions in this book. Not that he is smart in any way, given that the author spends more time making him strut like a bantam cock and pretend to be cold and all so that he can manfully penetrate the heroine without even a quiver on the lips that form the permanent sneer on his face. It's a good thing that he can tell that the heroine is a sexually inexperienced woman and therefore is a virtuous woman, which allows him to soften up his initial impression of her. Yes, this is one of those "erotic romances" where a woman's lack of sexual experience is irrevocable evidence of her virtue.

As for the rest of the story, it is a pile-up of supremely laughable terrible scenes that only work if Ms Page is writing some kind of mystery story for preteens. For example, on page 19, Ms Page attempts to show how debonair and seductive Christian can be that he makes women swoon at his mere touch. Alas, the end result is something that makes me laugh because Christian is not at all subtle in that scene, barking interrogation questions to the stupid woman and even shouting at her like a mad man. But Ms Page assures me that just because Christian is sucking at this woman's fingers, she's all putty and oblivious to his intention thanks to his "persuasive" methods. It gets better when Jane does her solo investigative stunt - stuttering, stammering, and nearly fainting in front of the person she is trying to "question".

I don't know what Ms Page is trying to do, but I know she's doing it, whatever "it" is, horribly wrong when I end up thinking that the only reason why the wretchedly stupid Christian and Jane aren't dead by page 50 is because the other characters are even more stupid than those two.

With no good erotic elements here - unless you like your dose of sex scenes to be followed by a heavy-handed message about how immoral those sexy antics are - and with a mystery subplot that is so horribly inept, The Club is probably best read by people who have always wondered what a tragic misfire of an effort at copying Robin Schone's erotic romance formula is like. I don't know what the author was thinking when she served up this colossal waste of time, paper, and money, but I do know that she should thought a lot more about her characters and her plot before she unleashed this... thing... on the unwary public.

Rating: 28


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