Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lessons of Desire by Madeline Hunter

Phaedra Blair is an author and publisher whose father has recently died. His last legacy to her is a memoir of her father's life and many of the famous and powerful he knew. He made her swear a deathbed promise that she would publish the memoirs as is, with no cuts or annotations.

This presents a problem for Lord Elliot Rothwell, whose father, while not named in the memoirs, is slandered within as causing the death of an officer who seduced the elder Rothwell's wife. Elliot and his brothers would rather the whole manuscript, or at least the part that slanders their father, be excised and disappear. One of his brothers suggests that he bribe Phaedra to cut out that part of the manuscript, or that he steal the entire manuscript and destroy it. But first he must find Phaedra, and that means travelling to Italy, where she is currently under arrest.

Phaedra was mainly raised by her mother, who was an advocate of free love and friends who made no demands on each other. Phaedra's father never married her mother, but his manuscript made mention of an affair she had in the years before her death the led to her disgrace and being made a fool of. Phaedra's mother was notorious for her salons and the way she supported artists and painters who later became famous. Many of her former aquaintances now live in Italy, and Phaedra has gone in search of the man who dishonored and disgraced her mother. But a duel between two men battling over her affections, one of whom is a member of the royal family, has made the Sherriff of the town throw her in jail.

Elliott wins her freedom by agreeing to look after her and control her, something Phaedra will never put up with, until Elliott tells her she will be returned to jail should she demur. She ungracefully acquiesces, and he uses this goad to make her follow him around Italy, where he may also find a man who can deny the story about his father. But Elliott is tormented by his lust for Phaedra and is determined that she be his.

Finally, in a small town, she once again incites the leader, and he wishes to arrest her for witchcraft. After Elliot goes to her rescue, he is forced to spend the night with her in a lonely tower. They become lovers and the next morning, the two are forced to marry by the town's women. They get away without signing the papers, but their possible married state plagues Phaedra even as they go on being lovers while looking for the answers to their own mysteries. But their travels in Italy must end eventually, and their return to England brings dangers of its own. Can each get what they want without destroying the other?

I didn't like this book. It left a bad taste in my mouth after it was done. Phaedra Blair is presented as a woman able to take care of herself... she thinks. But then Elliott arrives and her carefully cultivated ability to take care of herself seems to go out the window like so much rubbish. I hate that kind of story, where the heroine becomes a blithering idiot upon the appearance of the hero, and I disliked that by the end of the story, Phaedra had to give up all of her former beliefs and attitudes towards men, whereas Elliot never had to do so with Phaedra. Essentially, he is always, always right and she is always, always wrong vis-a-vis the relations between men and women. And in the end, she ends up liking his point of view. Blegh!

I had a sneaking suspicion where this was going about a third of the way into the story, and I really should have stopped reading right then, but like a fool I kept at it, hoping that sinking feeling in my stomach was just gas. But no, the conclusion was forgone and by the end of the book, I was cursing the three hours of my life (more or less) that I would never get back after spending it reading this book.

If a book where the heroine is forced to make all the concessions while the hero essentially pats her on the head and has the attitude of "Look at how forbearing I am being towards your eccentricities that are keeping us apart and therefore keeping my man-stick from your hoo-ha" turns you on, by all means, go for this book. You won't be disappointed. But if that leaves just as bad a taste in your own mouth as it does mine, avoid this one like the plague. You'll be glad you did.

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