Beyond Seduction is only the second Stephanie Laurens novel that I’ve read, so I began this entry in the Bastion Club series with very few preconceived notions. What I found as I began reading was that…well, it was okay, but not much more than okay.
Gervase Tregarth returns home from the Napoleonic Wars to claim the earldom of Crowhurst. As the earl he is responsible for producing an heir – and to get said heir, he must obtain a wife. The most logical place to seek out a wife is, of course, London, where all fair maidens of the ton are on display. His three younger sisters, however, are of a different opinion. They want him to choose a nice, young woman of the local variety because they fear that a London wife would pack them away to live with distant relatives instead of providing them with a Season of their own. Therefore, every time Gervase goes to London to seek out said wife, mysterious circumstances force him to return home to deal with minor emergencies resulting from his manipulative (used in the best sense here) sisters. To prevent further disruption, he makes a deal with them: He will search the local crowd for a lady with whom he is compatible before heading back to London for the Little Season if it doesn’t work out.
Madeline Gascoigne, a 29-year-old spinster firmly on the shelf, is the co-guardian for her two younger brothers, while also acting as regent for her 15-year-old brother Harry, Viscount Gascoigne. She’s been his regent for so long, in fact, that most of the men in the community practically think of her as, well, a man – Gervase included. Gervase, however, decides that it’s time to take a second look at Madeline, and he likes what he sees. She is quite pretty, intelligent, and they work well together. He also discovers they are compatible in other areas as well. He must now convince her that she would be perfect countess for his earldom. The problem he encounters is that Madeline doesn’t want to be considered countess material, yet she agrees to allow him to attempt to seduce her.
Gervase (and the entire community, it seems) set out to prove to Madeline that she would make an ideal countess by demonstrating just how compatible they are. He furthers his quest by manipulating situations that put him in constant contact with Madeline – including of course, various half-siblings, one swindler, one treasonous villain, two kidnappings, and select members of the Bastion Club.
I enjoyed the fact that Madeline is a strong heroine focused on her duties and, while she isn’t necessarily looking for matrimony, she is completely willing to become his mistress. Gervase respects the responsibilities she has and acts on her advice, even though he seems to take over many of her jobs as the story progresses. I also enjoyed the action and momentum of the story once the traitor in a secondary plot begins to carry out his plans.
However, the story is just too long. Laurens puts a great amount of detail into showing just how compatible Gervase and Madeline are – from their working relationship, to their friendship, along with some pretty gratuitous love scenes – yet probably a third of this book could have been left out. I was also confused about the two unconnected villains. I’m not quite sure of the need for two, which seemed unnecessary, and I wasn’t sure until near the end that they were unconnected. I also felt as though I was missing quite a bit of information that I would have had if I had started the series from the start, mainly the relationship between the unnamed traitor and Gervase’s ex-commander. Therefore, if you plan to read this, I definitely recommend reading the earlier entries to the series first.
All in all, I think loyal Laurens fans will enjoy Beyond Seduction simply for its predictability. But for me, Madeline and Gervase’s story, at nearly 500 pages, was too long – not bad, just long. It was almost like a case of too much relationship information. This installment of the series might be one better obtained at the library.