Candice Hern's IN THE THRILL OF THE NIGHT mostly extols the sexual expertise and womanly conquests of its notorious libertine while describing a widow's struggle to overcome her first (and only) love, entirely a passionless affair. The book essentially showcases a libertine initiating a near-virgin with carnal passion. You've seen it before, trust me. I thought the beginning and most of the first half demonstrated great potential and I even laughed out loud at some of the Benevolent Widows' meetings who later discreetly fashion themselves as the Merry Widows. The second half however precipitously shatters in the tiresome pining of its libertine hero. Pining from romance heroes is fine when it isn't egregious, imbalanced (mostly from heroes) or forced. Here, all of this is true. The prose is a bit shoddy, there's actually an attempt at settings and I appreciate that. While the premise of the first half grips, it dissipates later in the face of Adam's egregious, imbalanced and forced pining in the second half. There's one real love scene 190 pages into this 284-page paperback. The sensuality is rather light here. I felt the book indulged on too much repetitive introspection from the hero as he thinks and pines about Marianne endlessly. It was basically regurgitating the same essential idea worded differently over and over!
The "love" here isn't mutual in the least, I'm sure IN THE THRILL OF THE NIGHT is a welcome addition to chick-lit. It's about the experienced and disciplined rake going down on his heroine repeatedly without the least bit of reciprocation from the heroine. I know for a fact womanizers want to be loved at least close to the amount of servicing pleasure they give so freely to their mates. But it should be a matter of the girl wanting or wanting to learn (whichever the case may be) to give and return the guy's pleasure in kind, and we just don't see this earnest desire to reciprocate and give sensually from Marianne. Understandably, our disciplined libertine services the near-virgin during their first time and its all about her, but even during their second and third times, he's the one giving everything, and I mean everything. His servicing attentions simply aren't returned. The hero's thoughts and words here further exacerbate the glaring inequality in love and pleasure. For every 1 word or thought of endearment from the heroine we have at least 20 from the hero. You know it's chick-lit nonsense when you start noticing something like this.
Does the hero Adam love his heroine Marianne a lot more than the reverse? There's little doubt about it. Adam pleasures Marianne, thinks about her incessantly, and voices tender words of affection, at least 20x more than the other way around.
I have to say I liked the premise and some of the first half. The Merry Widows' meetings were actually entertaining, while Adam sabotaging Marianne's potential lovers was rather fun. Marianne punishes him at the end for it and that was good too, and she also subtly sabotages Adam's betrothal earlier. I liked the characters Marianne and Adam independently but I didn't like them together contrary to what the book seemed to force between the two. It was nice to see them tease each other as well instead of the heroine insulting the hero all the time. I thought the book could have made things a lot more interesting, I was thinking of a dozen different scenarios which would have spiced up the second half rather than resorting to incessant romance-hero pining. For example, somehow having Marianne reciprocate Adam's night of pleasuring her when she assumed it was someone else.
When the reputation of a rakehell hero overwhelms the connection between the hero and heroine as it does IN THE THRILL OF THE NIGHT, the book forfeits any claim to chemistry. It becomes less about the two of them together and more about the rake's eminent sexual experience delivering a disciplined sexual service. I'm sure it's flattering when a rake who's conquered countless, nameless women turns his attentions to you. IN THE THRILL OF THE NIGHT introduces our hero Adam Cazenove as a notorious libertine from the opening chapter, and we constantly hear about his sexual conquests. Doesn't he have any bastard children considering the vast quantity of women he's bedded? Provisions can't be 100% back then, hell, it isn't now.
During their first time, Adam services Marianne in a very disciplined manner. Bereft of sexual fulfillment with her first husband, Adam & Marianne's first night is understandably all about Marianne. But the interaction, and even the aftermath where the widows discuss Marianne's mysterious night of passion, becomes less about the connection between Adam and Marianne and more about Adam's sexual skill. I suppose that's ok since the book makes it clear Marianne already experienced a spiritual love with her late husband and now she simply seeks carnal fulfillment. Since Marianne doesn't want to marry anyone, maybe it's perfectly fine that Adam's sexual prowess overshadows everything else, and definitely exciting for the woman.
Regardless, and in spite of Adam's claim that Marianne was/is only woman he's ever truly loved, it wasn't about Adam and Marianne, it was about Adam, his carnal skill with countless, nameless other women, and then Marianne. Earlier, when Marianne reveals to Adam that she never experienced sexual pleasure with her late husband, Adam's carnal prowess comes to the forefront, not their mutual connection. Later, of course, as the widows discuss the list of possible candidates who could fulfill Marianne so deftly on her dark, mysterious night, it again becomes about Adam's sexual prowess with other women. We wouldn't read a romance novel about a woman who enjoys sexual pleasure with an experienced rake and not have the rake return her affections, right? Here, it's actually Adam wanting and desiring more (love, marriage) from Marianne while Marianne still reluctant to do so. And as I mentioned, it's also Adam who gives her everything in bed (he's going down every time, he's coddling, he's caressing, he's touching, he's licking, he's kissing, he's nibbling).
Another problem I had with this novel: if a man really loves another woman as Marianne's late husband David is purported to love her, he would pay closer attention to bring her sexual fulfillment. He would ask others, he would experiment (with her), he would listen and observe her reactions. But apparently, the deep, once-in-a-lifetime "love" between Marianne and her late husband never extends to the bedroom. I just can't believe a man would ignore that aspect so blatantly if he truly loves her. He may not succeed at first if he isn't experienced, but he would keep trying and fulfill her needs. Regardless of the time period.
The Premise (briefly) possible SPOILERS.
The respectable Benevolent Widows mostly organize charity balls for London Society and support each other against another forced marriage. Lady Gosforth shocks its four other members when she announces she occupied her time during the winter by taking on a lover. The youngest trustee, twenty-nine year-old Mrs. Marianne Nesbitt, is amongst the shocked but the more they posture their arguments for and against, the more Marianne agrees for taking on a lover. Marianne has never even considered taking on a lover after her late husband David's death, and now she views such a notion as a possible betrayal. Still, why deny herself a sexual pleasure she never really had with her first husband? She would like to experience the kind of sexual pleasure the other women talk about at least once. However, she still loves her first husband dearly and firmly rejects any notion of remarrying. Marianne reasons she can be the modern widow and take on a lover, not a husband. During subsequent balls, Marianne awakens to a sexual undercurrent with men she's long denied herself since her first husband.
As they discuss a list of potential lovers for the women, notorious libertine, thirty-four year-old Adam Cozenove's name comes up first. Adam is Marianne's dearest friend for years dating back to when her late husband went to Oxford with Adam. Fully aware of Adam's amorous adventures, Marianne has never thought of Adam that way with her, but now she entertains such a notion. Although Adam has always thought of Marianne with David, he's very receptive to the notion of becoming Marianne's lover. Unfortunately, he is now betrothed to a young virgin and too honorable to betray his betrothed Clarrisa Leighton-Blair. Marianne's desire to take on a lover couldn't have come at a worse time for Adam when he's just signed the betrothal papers. Marianne has Adam help her with a list of potential lovers instead. Adam torturously narrows down Marianne's list often rejecting men based on the most eccentric absurdities.
The book continues as Adam cannot help but sabotage the men on Marianne's list of possible lovers. He just can't stand the thought of Marianne being with anyone else other than her late husband David... and possibly himself. This part was actually fun. Although not as calculated as Adam, Marianne believes Adam's young virgin betrothed Clarissa is all wrong for him and subtly encourages Clarissa to pick a new husband.
About three-quarters through the novel, we finally have a situation where Adam gives Marianne her first mind-blowing pleasure on a dark night while she assumes it's someone else. Later, she learns that the man she expected never showed up and is horrified to discover a complete stranger could have made love to her. The book dissolves into a drowning, romance-hero pining from there. Though there's a steady dose of that throughout. I thought the way Marianne finally learns of the identity of her mysterious lover man could have been handled in a much more engaging manner. Why not craft a circumstance with Marianne and any of the rejected or departed candidates Adam dissuades from pursuing Marianne? Would have been more fun, and in fact such a circumstance should have eventually happened and shed light on who is discouraging the men on Marianne's list. Also, I thought Marianne should have retaliated Adam's servicing pleasure and consequent cover-up by giving Adam pleasure and preventing him from discovering her identity or having him assume it's his betrothed Clarissa. She could have managed it by donning a different perfume and possibly blindfolding him. Any number of creative ideas in this regard comes to mind.
Again, this novel could have been so much better without the repetitively egregious romance-hero pining and/or some balance in the sexual pleasuring after the first time. The fulsome references to Adam's sexual exploits and his experience easily eclipsed the connection and chemistry as well. Adam is nothing if not disciplined (almost scientific) in making love to the only woman he supposedly cannot control loving with all his heart and soul.