Scandalous Desires

Elizabeth Hoyt
October 2011, European Historical Romance (1800 England)
Grand Central, $7.99, 383 pages, Amazon ASIN 0446558931
Part of a series

Grade: C
Sensuality: Warm

Elizabeth Hoyt's latest is like a glass half filled with water. Some people are able to see redemption, reformation, and the power of love. Others, like me, see Stockholm syndrome, blackmail, lack of character, and honor with no restitution or punishment for past transgressions.

On a whim, “Charming Mickey O’Connor," the most disreputable river pirate in London, destroys Silence Hollingbrooks’ reputation. Her husband William is accused of stealing the cargo from his ship. Desperate, Silence approaches Mickey O’Connor and pleads for her husband. Mickey agrees to replace the cargo, only if Silence spends the night with him. After spending chaste hours in his bed, the next morning Mickey adjusts her attire and hair to make it appear that she participated in a night of debauchery. As a last condition for saving her husband, she must walk home in this state. When she tries to explain that nothing happened, no one believes her - not her family, not her husband, or the neighbors. William can no longer look her in the eyes, and soon leaves on a sea voyage. Six months later she receives word that he has been lost at sea.

After her husband leaves, Silence moves to the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. She finds a baby abandoned there, and soon Mary Darling is like her own child. Almost a year to the day after finding Mary Darling, the baby disappears. A frantic Silence receives a note from Mickey, saying he might have something she wants. Putting her reputation and that of the home in jeopardy again, she rushes to Mickey’s opulent palace on the docks. Once there Mickey informs her that the child is his, and since she is now in danger, he is moving her in with him so he can oversee her safety. When Silence protests that she is the only mother the child has known, he unctuously states that he didn’t say that she couldn’t stay there too. And points out that of course she probably wouldn’t want to do that with her snowy white reputation. Of course, Silence agrees, and soon is causing havoc for Mickey.

To be honest, when I picked this book for review, I thought that I had read Elizabeth Hoyt before, but after checking I realized I had confused her with another author. So while that gives me no basis of comparison to her other works this book does reminds me of the early 1980s books: Hero subjugates the heroine with different types of cruel behavior, but all is forgiven. He has come into great wealth and power by stealing and killing other people. He abandons his child, then uses her as an instrument of blackmail, but all is swept away because he loves the heroine, and the purity of her love has changed him. Love in this type of scenario has no boundaries and doesn’t give the heroine permission to demand any type of accountability for previous actions. Her role is to forgive and reform the hero. Also, the book is sensual from the very beginning, but more in a way of having power over another individual, as the hero delights in shocking and titillating the heroine.

While I find the above scenario disparaging to women, I can easily concur with other reviewers here that Ms. Holt has a very engaging style and a way with characterization. I first noticed this in the opening chapters as Silence confronts Mickey, as well as later in her descriptions and the actual dialogue of Mickey’s men. They come alive, in fact more so than the main characters because I didn’t feel that the author was trying to set up one outrageous scene from one to other to titillate me. I had more of a problem with the voids in Silence and Mickey’s depiction.

After moving to Mickey’s quarters, Silence sets up her own type of protest, refusing to go down to dinner as a way to show Mickey that he doesn’t have complete control over her. Mickey’s rebuttal is to tell her that she will not eat until she gives in. Mickey’s crew then goes behind his back and sneaks her food. Later in the story it is revealed that Mickey knew that all this was happening, but ignored their disobedience. Also, Silence’s brother is completely against her living with Mickey, but acquiesces anyway. Who is Silence and why does she have so much power over Mickey, his servants, and her brother that they all fall in line with her requests or ignore her outburst of rebellion? The only reason I could come up with is that she is just written that way.

As for Mickey, he is educated. He is able to read, and he understands business practices since he has an accountant. And he knows the difference between good taste and bad. I kept looking for an unknown benefactor who had taught him all these things, since he is from the slums. There are many other such unexplained scenarios.

Is the author’s wordmanship, and ability to imbue ambience impressive? Yes. Is this book one I enjoyed? Not really. Is the characterization and plot innovative? For me, not so much, leaving me with a grade of C. Readers who enjoy the above tropes will enjoy it more than I did.

-- Leigh Davis

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