Pleasure for Pleasure
Pleasure for Pleasure is an adorable Regency-era story, charmingly written, and although it’s the final in a series about four sisters, the reader new to Eloisa James (such as I) will have no trouble following the characters or plot.
Josephine Essex is the youngest of the sisters, and has recently begun her first season. Despite the strong support of her family, her season is turning out to be an unqualified disaster, as a popular gentleman of the ton dubbed Josie the “Scottish Sausage.” While it’s true that Josie’s figure is much more generous than she would prefer, she has unintentionally made the situation worse by attempting to stuff her curves into an unflattering corset that only hides the best parts of her body. She is ignored at every ball she attends except by the dance partners her brothers-in-law force upon her. Miserable and uncomfortable, Josie is about to resort to desperate measures – maneuvering herself into a compromising position with a random gentleman – when her popularity begins to dramatically increase, thanks in part to the Earl of Mayne, a long-time friend of Josie’s family.
Mayne is newly engaged, having finally outgrown the numerous exploits of his younger days, which mainly involved married women. His fiancée Sylvie is a beautiful, poised, and charming young Frenchwoman who seems to be perfect wife material. She is resistant to Mayne’s attempts at intimacy, but he writes that off as simply the proper behavior of a gently raised lady and one’s future wife. Mayne is thrilled to have his heart captured by such a woman. Despite his previous womanizing ways, he is a loyal friend and has helped Josie’s family on numerous occasions. Once he hears of Josie’s societal predicament, he resolves to help her as much as he can.
As the relationship between Mayne and Sylvie cools (she really resists his advances), Mayne and Josie begin to develop an attraction to each other. Their common interests serve to cement their relationship, as well as Josie’s physical transformation as a result of Mayne’s advice and guidance.
Mayne’s widowed sister Lady Griselda, Josie’s chaperone, also plays an important role as she tries to alleviate the “Scottish Sausage” situation, and ends up finding someone for herself just when she has decided she would like to remarry. She also has to overcome the idea that her age is a barrier to her love for a younger gentleman.
Pleasure for Pleasure, despite the silly name, an obvious play on Shakespeare, was an extremely enjoyable story. I appreciated each of the characters, not just the hero and heroine. All of the secondary characters were well thought out and described, and I especially liked that most of the characters were dynamic, apart from the unlikely villain, whose role was really a minor issue. While I call him a villain, there wasn’t any of the usual villainous nonsense like over-the-top kidnapping or attempted murder scenes that are often a part of a contrived conflict. Here, the conflict is internal and realistic, apart from a bizarre plot of Josie’s at the end to force Mayne to realize his love for her.
Although the time period and location were important, the abundant plot and characterization overshadowed the wallpaper setting. I enjoyed the secondary romance nearly as much as the main one and it was told in almost alternating chapters. In fact, this led to what I consider one of the few drawbacks of the story. I was so interested in all of the characters that the writing felt disjointed at times, with the author switching the focus to the other couple just when something important was starting to happen. Because of this, I felt that, at times, that I couldn’t get to know all the characters as well as I would have liked.
I was also surprised and disappointed that there is no grovel or apology made to Josie by the man who started the “Scottish Sausage” nickname. Although he does prove himself to be a better person and everything works out for Josie in the end, the amount of misery and low self-esteem she initially suffers definitely calls for an apology.
However, my enjoyment of the book far outweighed the few points I didn’t like. I found it both realistic and amusing, with fanciful plays on Shakespeare’s works and characters. I also liked that each chapter opens with an excerpt from the fictional but stylized memoirs of the Earl of Hellgate, a debauched rake confessing all his sins, and I was impressed by how this was tied in to the story. The chemistry between Mayne and Josie was believable, and although she felt uncomfortable about her body, the author described very well how men did not see the same flaws as Josie, who eventually came around and learned to appreciate her body herself. I definitely want to go back and read the previous three books about Josie’s older sisters, especially if they are as good as this book was.