All About Seduction
If you like a well written historical with a good beta hero and a couple kept apart by morals, angst, and treachery, you’ll love All About Seduction. I don’t like those plot devices, so while I acknowledge a well written book, I found reading it tiresome in the extreme.
Sold into marriage at age fifteen to a wealthy, old mill owner, Caroline Broadhurst has remained childless for fifteen years, thinking all along that the fault was hers. One day she’s called before her domineering, ruthless, husband and is advised by him that he is infertile and that he expects her to have sex with someone else in order to make a baby he can claim as his own. To this end he has had Caroline’s brother invite a few of his friends for a hunting party, to provide Caroline with a few choices as to the parent of her child. Moralistic Caroline has major concerns about infidelity, but agrees to the proposition under financial pressure and blackmail. If she doesn’t provide a child for her husband to claim, when Mr. Broadhurst dies he’ll leave the mill, which Caroline has been partially managing, to a business rival, leaving her penniless.
Jack Applegate is a mechanic at the Broadhurst mill. He has big ambitions, and has been biding his time while he saves money for a trip to London where he can sell his skills and designs. He’s known Caroline since the day she arrived as Broadhurst’s bride, and although they exchange frequent glances, they’ve never interacted due to their different stations. Jack’s plans are disrupted by a grievous injury caused when he was saving a child from one of the machines in the mill. Jack ends up with a crushed ankle. Caroline has Jack brought to her home for care and insists that he stay to recuperate. Jack ends up an unwilling witness to Caroline’s attempts to seduce her brother’s guests, and although Jack would like to do something to help her, his injury and his low station leave him with little to offer.
Treachery and immorality abound in this book. Caroline and Jack are surrounded by thieves, liars, and murderers, all conspiring in one way or another to either destroy their dreams or keep them apart, or perhaps even end their lives. Caroline finds out that the husband she considers to be simply ruthless and ill mannered, having made something of himself from nothing, may be a complete villain instead. Her family is apparently not so great either, having profited when she was sold into marriage in the first place and then reaping the benefits for years after. Jack’s family proves willing to lie, steal, and take advantage of his hard work, while his father swills gin and has child after child with Jack’s stepmother. Until Caroline’s family proves themselves, which happens very late in the book, Caroline and Jack appear to be the only really decent people in the story.
The “love scenes” left me completely cold. After reading about Caroline’s horrible relations with her husband, and the revolting efforts she makes to attract several of the hunting party guests, reading about Jack and Caroline’s lackluster endeavors did nothing for me. Caroline refuses to find any enjoyment in the act for a long time, which causes Jack no end of guilt, and makes their first few encounters extremely uncomfortable. They eventually get it right, but by then I was tired of the whole ordeal.
That said, I’ll reiterate, if you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably love this book. It’s extremely well written, with well fleshed characters, both main and secondary, great dialogue, and with interesting tidbits about how cotton production suffers at the beginning of the American Civil War. You can see the scenes play in your head as you read, as they’re perfectly described. One scene in particular made me scared for Caroline. Her husband is frustrated with the slow results of his plan and has invaded her bedroom to “discuss” it with her. As he’s speaking to her he’s gesturing with a knife and coming dangerously near her face, and since he’s become more unhinged by the page I feared he would end up cutting her accidentally-on-purpose. Scary.
Jack is a true beta hero. He has a good mind and spirit, but during most of the book he’s on his back and in dreadful pain, worrying about his plans being disrupted by his injury, feeling ineffectual regarding helping Caroline, or having to lower his eyes and back off from confrontation because of his low station in life. He’s definitely not my idea of a romantic hero – perhaps he’s yours?