2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061491004 Part of a series
If you have longed for a series with a silly but catchy title and like the wallpaper on your historicals to be of onionskin thinness, then To Sin With a Stranger, the first in Caskie's Seven Deadly Sins series, might be for you. However, I have a feeling that most readers will find this read somewhat less fulfilling than the average.
As the book opens, we learn that the seven children of the Duke of Sinclair are known as the Seven Deadly Sins because of their wild reputations. The children each personify a particular deadly sin, and their scandalized father has exiled them to London with only a small allowance until they mend their ways and earn their father's respect. For example, Sterling Sinclair, the hero of this piece, is associated with greed. In addition to the wonderful quotes on greed placed at the opening of every chapter, Sterling cannot resist wagering and making money for himself and his siblings by prizefighting - no doubt an eminently respectable activity for a marquess of the period.
Sterling initially meets Isobel Carington at a fight. She bursts into the ring, upset at the notion of men wasting large sums of money on wagering when the money could be donated to the widows and orphans of the war. Isobel's devotion to her cause leads to the predictable gossip, and Isobel lives in fear of it coming back to her father's ears. Her fears are realized when the Sinclair siblings come to Almack's and Sterling receives a hero's welcome. Sterling recognizes the lady from the boxing ring, and after their encounter in Almack's, the chase ensues.
A wager is placed at White's as to whether Sterling and Isobel will marry. The wager quickly becomes the talk of London and there are many scenes in which backers of the wager (including many common folk - see what I mean about wallpaper?) get into the act, trying to throw things their way. While parts of the story flow quite nicely, the book never really has a Regency flavor about it. It could take place in just about any time period because, aside from the mentions of the widows and orphans of the Napoleonic war, not much ties it to any one time. The characters speak in modern voices, and they don't have many problems with running around and behaving in modern ways as well.
While Isobel's nattering on about her cause can get tiresome, she and Sterling are both likable enough characters. Neither ever really feels real or compelling, but they're not terrible by any stretch. The deadly sins angle makes Sterling a tad more interesting than the average hero, but he and Isobel still feel like standard-issue characters in many ways, making their romantic relationship seem rather ordinary as well. The story raises an issue of whether their relationship is really just a stunt to win the wager, and I found that I could believe that explanation just as easily as I could believe in their true love. Things improve a bit toward the end, but it comes too late to make much difference.
Historical romance comes in many flavors from the gritty and realistic to the fun, frothy romps. While this is obviously meant to be one of the latter, the book lacks the richness of character and the well-timed witty dialogue that make the best light historicals so much fun to read. Perhaps other entries in the series will make for better reading, but To Sin With a Stranger just isn't a book that I can recommend.
-- Lynn Spencer
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