The abysmally congested realm of historical romance repackages and refurbishes so many of the hackneyed stories and trite hero characterizations, you really begin to appreciate authors like Madeline Hunter, Elizabeth Hoyt and Laura Kinsale. Most historical-romance heroes just blur together and the interaction between the hero and heroine constitutes a new version of the same'ole package we've seen umpteen times before. The hero makes all the moves sensually, ably servicing the heroine, while enduring her verbal onslaught at his expense otherwise. A "quick-witted" (romance translation = imprecating, insulting towards the hero) near-virgin heroine is nothing new. That way, the heroine wins both games: the hero conveniently laughs and enjoys the heroine's insults getting her way as a show of "wit," and has her passion adequately serviced by the experienced hero in the love scenes. It's always the arrogant hero that needs to be taught a lesson. SOMETHING SINFUL offers absolutely nothing new from all these true and tried historical-romance formulas.
The prose is horrible, the settings are absent, characters from past novels are too much in evidence, a doormat hero Shay is the romance genre's delight, the "romance" between the lead pair overwhelmingly one-sided, the love scenes (two, after 270 pages) are awful, the ending contrives, and the overall plotting/pacing is terribly dull. Bad? You bet.
SOMETHING SINFUL is anything but, and describes a tamely mundane affair. Aside from the plot with the silks which drags and lasts the entire book, we have an interminable succession of soirees, balls, recitals, luncheons, and plays. Nothing happens, and I mean nothing. The plot dealing with the silks congeals and chokes in the midst of a barrage of ton events. The plot dealing with the "romance" stifles at kisses for over 270 pages! Seriously, the book is just bad in most ways -- plotting, pacing, prose, settings, characterizations, and fun factor. I don't read to wait over 300 pages for something to happen! Not to mention the blatant one-sided giving and showering in the "romance" from the hero to the heroine. You've heard of the doormat heroine, right? Well Suzanne Enoch crafts the quintessential doormat hero in chick-lit, there's no equal ground here. I wanted Shay to find someone who would appreciate him more, which would have been just about anyone else. I'd love to see Sarala cheating him on after they marry so he'd have grounds for divorce.
My first Suzanne Enoch book, and right of the bat, the book flounders horribly. I tend tune out a novel when characters from prior novels (Zachary, Eleanor in this case) or characters for future novels (the Duke, Sebastian) overshadow this story and its characters. Now I haven't read other Enoch books and I'm just guessing here. SOMETHING SINFUL's ending represents the 3rd or 4th novel I've read which has its protagonist(s) concoct a peaceful resolution with the villain only to have the villain return later to terrorize some more. Why do romance novelists persist with this idiotic plot device? Just makes the protagonists look dumber than they already are. And the end is convoluted, the harder the book tries to make it look fun, the more it seems contrived and convoluted.
Suzanne Enoch's SOMETHING SINFUL tediously has its quick-witted heroine Sarala insult the common, regency-romance hero Shay Griffin, all the while having Shay enjoy it. Although Shay's appearance, thoughts and behavior conforms to the mold of a regency-romance hero, I did appreciate how Enoch, in general, downplays appearances in favor of plotting. Still, the h/h interaction here has Sarala outwitting a pathetically besotted Shay at every turn. We've seen all this before. Romance novelists will often elevate their heroines at the expense of their dumb, besotted heroes. The heroes refrain from riposting the heroine's jibes and maneuvers in earnest, but rather, they stir the heroines' passion with kisses and touches, something the heroine enjoys anyway. There's no back-and-forth here, Sarala enjoys victory after victory from every exchange while Shay seems handicapped; in the end, he settles for kisses.
Despite Sarala feigning a dim-witted, maidenly ignorance to extract information from Shay about a shipment of silks, our besotted Shay will not, of course, plot any such dissembling gestures in return. Instead, he whines about being bested in a business transaction over and over. Okay we get it, you stink at business in spite of a reputation to the contrary! Quit your whining and do something about it! A verbal exchange after Shay bestows Sarala with a ruby necklace further highlights Shay's impotence. Towards the end of this exchange about the ruby, lacking anything to say, he kisses her instead. Of course. He simply fails to keep up otherwise, and the kiss only underlines his ineptitude. After Shay observes Sarala actually don the ruby necklace at a recital, he cups her cheek because once again he's too dumb to spar with words.
But alas, the hero's pathetically sensual response to the heroine's insulting imprecations isn't anything new. It is, in fact, romance's way to keep the heroine on top -- in every that matters. What's funny is our heroine Sarala bends over backwards at everything her mother forces upon her: a new English name (Sarah), English gowns, etc. Yet, she won't accept Shay's offer for the silks. Shay supports her preferred birth name Sarala in front of Sarala's mother but this kind gesture isn't even in the least reciprocated as Sarala continues her barrage of imprecations and cold demeanor with Shay. Of course, Shay enjoys bearing the brunt of her superior, snide attitude. All the Griffin men in SOMETHING SINFUL make self-deprecating jokes for their wives' delight. Teasing the women - about anything - is just taboo. Suzanne Enoch's heroines must be put on a pedestal while the men ground to dirt, right?
Sarala in fact lives for showing up Shay. Talking with her father once, Sarala dreams of pilfering Shay dry of all his wealth ("taking every guinea he owns"). Like the disingenuous way she made off with the silks in the beginning? To what end? Why do you live for debasing him, don't you want him to do well? At the end, she wants him to pine and grovel before she accepts marriage. Despite the fact that he's already groveled and pined endlessly by this point. But alas, she wants to hear the word "love," and it's a competition to make him debased first. He's already bestowed compassion, gifts, tenderness and caring on her, and she wants him groveling more. Yep, bitch of a heroine and a doormat hero here. Then again, I guess that's chick-lit at its best.
I thought love was more about giving, so why is it ok for the heroine to take-and-take at every turn? Shay and his family give everything to Sarala while Sarala continues to insult Shay and dream of impoverishing him. I swear, Sarala doesn't deserve Shay or any Griffin generosity for that matter. Because at this point, she's just being a royal bitch and of course the chick-lit that this is, Enoch lets her get away with it.
The plotting plummets to a new abyss when Sarala and Shay are compromised in the midst of an intimate moment. Abiding regency tradition, the public exposure mandates a marriage. All of sudden, the plot conveniently forgets Shay's plight to remove the silks from Sarala's possession for her own protection. I swear Sarala is a complete Bitch with a capital B. I just couldn't take her, debasing Shay for her joy and pleasure (raising the price of the silks on Shay to 12 thousand, silks that place her in danger, and then laughing at his face when he divulges it's for her own security).
At another point in the novel, Sarala thinks at least she had a master strategist on her side (Shay). Are you kidding me? Has Shay demonstrated any acuity for business, negotiations and strategy with Sarala? Any whatsoever? I mean even a little? Nope. Zilch. Nada. He's a besotted boy, and Sarala exploited that from the very beginning when she acted the ignorant virgin. If since that first time Shay had shown anything with her, anything at all to indicate he can "negotiate" and "strategize," I must have missed it. God forbid Shay tease Sarala at all or seem like he's holding his own conversationally rather than having him kiss her when he can't think of anything else to say. Towards the second half of the novel, Sarala thinks she enjoys her "arguments" with Shay because it leads to heat. If you can call insulting, mocking and making the hero look dumb so he has no answer left but to kiss you, then okay, I'll buy the term "argument." Soooo, very, very one-sided here.
When a meeting between Shay and three dangerous Chinese men finally occurs, Sarala of course insists on joining the show! And every dangerous meeting thereafter. Is there a reason why every heroine insists on plunging headfirst into potentially dangerous situation? Is it some Just-Because-I'm-Woman-I'm-Still-Your-Equal-Macho thing? And they say guys are macho? Sarala can't shoot, she can't fence, she's just going to watch the show! Please...
I also thought Sarala's agreement to sell the silks to Shay after she learned they were stolen property was horribly underhanded. She profits off of Shay, and since his family has the money, and since her family needs funds, she really doesn't have any qualms about it. When Sarala and Shay are "trapped" to marry, Sarala frets she doesn't want him to be trapped into marriage. She thinks (and I quote): "she and [Shay] both preferred to deal honestly." What a bunch of crap, she prevaricates from the get-go with Shay posing as an ignorant innocent to extract information from Shay. Then, Sarala actually sells silks to Shay for 4 thousand; silks she knows are stolen, and silks she knows Shay will have to return to the Chinese emperor without any sort of sale. She doesn't think about that? And she's talking about dealing honorably?! If Sarala were serious about honor, she would reveal her "secret" from her past to Shay (immediately) when she learns of his intent to follow through on the marriage instead of "showing" him much later. A secret about her lack of virginity which becomes obvious from its first abstract reference. At another ball, Sarala baits Shay into showering her with more compliments by telling him there's something wrong with her and that she didn't grow up English (even though Shay just finished voicing his admiration of her and lauding her uniqueness). If you were honest about telling him the truth about your lack of virginity, why the duplicitous approach to acquire more compliments and then later just seducing him? Just so you can hear more tender drivel for you? What a bunch of hypocritical crock. Love? There's no giving from her end, it's all take-take-take.
Let's examine how badly one-sided this is, shall we? (the giving entirely from hero to heroine)
- Shay compliments her shrewd business perspicacity and more than once tells her he admires her. In return for his admiration and respect, Shay meekly accepts her insults.
- Shay bestows Sarala with ruby necklace worth a lot more than the silks she deviously heisted.
- Shay's brother Zachary rents some land from Sarala's father which helps her family postpone creditors for weeks
- Shay's prestigious family (the popular "in" crowd) invites Sarala and her family to join them at every ton event. In essence, elevating Sarala's family's status tremendously and helping their image amongst the peerage. Sarala goes from an empty dance card to having all eyes on her at every event simply by association with the Griffins.
- Shay pays Sarala and her family four thousand for stolen silks, a fact Sarala is aware of and has no qualms about collecting.
- Shay makes it a point to call his heroine her preferred name Sarala in front of her mother instead of Sarah.
- Shay defends Sarala from Melbrouke's most remote denigration... constantly.
- Shay gives Sarala a Roman coin, an antique coin from a time period Sarala cherishes.
- Shay invites Sarala to share her past in India even though he has no prior interest for the region. He asks simply because he genuinely wants to know about her. Sure, Sarala asks Shay about antiques and Roman history, but that's because she already harbors a prior interest in such things. Sarala simply doesn't return Shay's genuine interest.
- Shay remembers everything about Sarala.
- Shay's thoughts and words shower Sarala with tender words of love and caring about how unique she is, how he enjoys her "wit" (basically insults and imprecations), how much he loves her business sense, how he hopes she'll be fond of him as much as he is of her, etc., etc., etc. Shay tells Sarala how much loves her green eyes, brilliant mind, breathtaking smile, unique character. Shay tells his older brother Melbourne how much he loves her peculiar differences, and how all those things make her unique to him (her accent, her tan skin, her childhood in India, her business acuity). Both in his thoughts and words, Shay's pining far overshadows Sarala's. And it's Sarala who demands why he wants to marry her. As though she needs him crawling on hands and knees to beg her to accept. It isn't Shay who hesitates to marry, it's Sarala. I understand her past (lack of virginity), but she's just cold and a Bitch with a capital B.
- Even after all this, it's of course Shay tenderly mouthing I-Love-You first. I haven't seen such of a pathetic, debased display of a doormat hero in quite some time.
- Shay is also an interior re-decorator! He refurnishes his town home's furniture with bright colors the way
- Shay desperately worries about Sarala's security after he discovers the silks could endanger its owner.
- Shay goes down on her their first time servicing her desires because he really want to.
- Shay's family must compensate Sarala's family monetarily for "ruining" her in public even though she wasn't a virgin to begin with. Even though she attempts to stop marriage, she goes along with the monetary compensation.