Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review of Susan Johnson's Seductive as Flame

Title: Seductive as Flame
Author: Susan Johnson
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Format: Mass Market Paperback & ebook
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Publication Date: December 6, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It was really difficult to rate this book. I felt that the writing was polished and professional, and the narrative flowed well. Unfortunately the underlying premise of the book made it difficult to care for either the hero or heroine, and the high level of sensuality (while very well done) and frequent sex scenes didn’t completely convince me of the romance between the protagonists. For that reason, I’m marking this book down to a 3.5, but the strength of Ms. Johnson’s writing has me interested in checking out her other books.
This historical romance begins at a hunting party in the country, where the Earl of Dalgliesh, Alec Munro, is visiting with his shrew of a wife, Violeta, and her 6 year old son, Christopher. Almost immediately upon arriving at the party, Alec is bowled over when he meets the fiery Scottish Griselda “Zelda” MacKenzie, and the two begin a torrid affair. Zelda has recently returned from a trip abroad to Brazil, and she has the reputation of being a witch, no doubt because of her innate sensuality, which certainly bewitches Alec. But the Earl of Dalgliesh has a reputation as a heartbreaker and already has a wife. Can there be a future for the two lovers?
The above paragraph is my short summary of the book, which I’m providing because the official blurb for this book is a bit misleading. It mentions that Alec is fascinated with Zelda and that she returns his regard, but no mention is made of his married state. Frankly, I’ve never enjoyed romances that have one of the partners cheating on the other, no matter how despicable the other spouse is. Zelda is just not a very appealing heroine, because she willingly enters an affair with a married man. In fact, she decides very quickly to see where the affair with Alec will take her, despite knowing that he is married and before fully realizing the extent of his wife’s duplicitous behavior. This is unfortunate, because otherwise I would have really enjoyed Zelda’s character. She’s independent, plain-speaking, and unapologetically sensual, plus a fierce rider and competitor on the hunting field. All of these characteristics make her a heroine I would normally like and root for in the course of her romance with the hero, but her decision to engage in an extramarital affair, while no doubt common enough among the aristocracy at the time, turned me off from the beginning.   
Alec’s wife Violeta is also a problematic character. She’s so over the top as a villain that she’s a caricature, but this doesn’t become immediately apparent to the reader, which makes it difficult for us to sympathize with Alec. When Zelda and Alec meet and it becomes clear that they are embarking upon an affair we have almost no information about Violeta. This makes it somewhat uncomfortable for the reader, since it’s not really all that obvious why Alec’s marriage is failing at that point in the text. Clearly Violeta’s character is meant to create sympathy for Alec and make it easier for the reader to accept the growing closeness between Alec and Zelda, but Violeta is so one-dimensional as to be ridiculous.
While the level of sensuality in this novel is high, it’s tastefully done, and Zelda and Alec’s chemistry is sizzling, to say the least. Unfortunately the frequency of the sex scenes creates little opportunity for us to see Alec and Zelda together as a couple falling in love, causing the romance to fall a bit flat. Alec’s fascinated with Zelda, and nearly all his friends and servants comment on that fascination, but the two seemed to fall immediately in lust, rather than love.
After looking over everything I’ve written thus far, I realize that this review is overwhelmingly negative in tone, which I feel is a bit unfair. The writing is really stellar, and I found myself highly engaged in the book, eagerly turning pages to see how it would end. For those reasons, I’m looking forward to giving Ms. Johnson’s other books a try. But because I was uncomfortable with a heroine so obviously unconcerned with having an affair with a married man, Seductive as Flame just didn’t work for me.

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