When I began reading Illusion I thought I would be treated to a meeting between East and West set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. I looked forward to reading about a heroine trained in the erotic arts of India and a hero who had suffered his share of miseries. But my appreciation dissipated quickly when faced with a read more stuffed with clichés than a printing press, and a Get-Over-It hero.
Frances Woodard was raised in India and has spent four years in training in a harem. On returning to England, her lack of virtue consigns her to the life of a kept mistress. In an attempt to uncover a traitor, Nigel, Lord Rivaulx, decides to take Frances away from her lover. Once she is in Nigel’s hands her exotic habits make the tension between them grow, but Nigel has little time for dalliance for he is set on capturing the traitor and in the process discovering who betrayed him years ago and caused the death of his mistress, Catherine. To do so, Nigel, Frances, and some friends travel to Paris to unearth the roots of treachery. In Paris there is deception, more treachery and finally the searing truth – which allows Nigel and Frances to live happily ever after.
Nigel has been tormented by much soul-blighting agony in his life and he bears it nobly – so nobly that he will not correct his malefactors. He suffers from his parents’ deaths, various betrayals, guilt, post-traumatic stress and what-have-you. Nigel is so anguished, wallowing around in it for so long, that his love for Frances becomes less than believable.
Just like Nigel, Frances has experienced things that have scarred her. She has learned that what cannot be changed must be endured. Unfortunately, her tendency to go with the flow puts her in the way of more things to be endured. While I like tortured heroines, self-pitying ones aren’t my cup of tea.
I mentioned an overabundance of clichés. The grand illusion of the book, the story of Nigel’s mistress, was no mystery after the first quarter of the read. Why is it that the reader is expected not to understand anything, when keeping a limited cast is a trick of the trade as old as the Greek dramas? Frances is schooled as a courtesan, but lacks “practical” experience, of course. The brothel-keeping friend of Nigel’s has a heart of gold, his friends are weak but mostly adoring and, despite all that happens, Nigel manages to keep his marvelous horse. I can go on and on, but you get my point.
There is plenty of sexual tension and the love scenes are hot once they appear. The borrowings from the Kama Sutra were intriguing. But keeping Frances a virgin, with all the plot twisting it took, felt like it owed more to publishing guidelines than to the intrinsic demands of the story itself.
What cannot be changed must be endured. That summarizes much of my reaction to Illusion. I put up with Nigel’s self-pity although I thought he needed therapy more than a love life. I gritted my teeth through Frances’ bemoaning the unfairness of the Universe. As I slogged through a string of obvious plot devices, my annoyance at the hero and heroine kept growing by leaps and bounds. Illusion was one read I endured rather than enjoyed.