Ravished is an anomaly; a larger-than-life romance featuring elegiac sex, preposterous plot twists and turns, and a hero and heroine who are as close to perfect – and colorless – as those found in any 70’s or 80’s bodice-ripper. In addition, Virginia Henley peppers her story with loads of historical detail, some of which may be glaringly inaccurate or perhaps a wink and a nod to those quite knowledgeable about the period.
Alexandra Sheffield is an accomplished caricaturist, a political columnist, an aspiring novelist and a wealthy noblewoman. She is also flame-haired with an astoundingly curvaceous body. Oh, and she’s seventeen years old. She is about to make her debut in London under the auspices of her grandmother, Dottie, a woman who lives up to her name by making exceedingly ribald comments in polite company. Dottie has a long-standing agreement with a certain Lord Hatton that Alexandra will eventually marry his heir Christopher. Unfortunately, Alexandra has always been enthralled with Christopher’s twin brother, Nicholas.
Nicholas and his brother are nicknamed Hazard and Harm, since Nicholas does not lose when he gambles and Christopher – like Nick – enjoys the ladies. Both brothers are frequent patrons of Champagne Charlie’s, a brothel catering to the aristocracy. Since their father despises Nicholas and pays attention only to his brother, Christopher is weak, selfish, cowardly, and resentful of the high standards to which his father holds him. Nicholas is brave, honorable and spends his life trying to protect his twin from his father’s wrath. When their father dies, the twins’ heretofore close relationship unravels, and their respective personalities begin to show more clearly. Nicholas, Christopher, Alexandra, and Alexandra’s brother Rupert grew up together, and Nicholas and Alexandra have always been close. Now that Alexandra is becoming a woman, Nicholas must fight his prurient thoughts – and explicit dreams – about Alexandra since she is destined for his brother. She doesn’t help matters by constantly tempting him, only to yell “I hate you, Nick Hatton!” when he turns her down. Many, many times.
As Christopher begins to enjoy the life of a wealthy, titled nobleman, Nicholas purchases a commission and sets out to fight against the French. When he returns, he finds that Christopher’s life has gotten out of control, and he must salvage the situation to save his family’s name and honor. Meanwhile, Alexandra has been traveling the streets of London dressed as a man to see the seedy side of London so she can write and illustrate her thoughts for the newspapers. She also, as romance novel heroines have a habit of doing, dresses as a man in the company of, Hart Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, so that she can visit a variety of brothels.
Alexandra wanders all over London dressed as a man in search of seamy adventure, accompanies men without a chaperone to all sorts of functions, and puts herself in perilous situations without a thought for the consequences. In short, a typical teenager. At one point, she’s seen enough, and remarks to herself, “Nor did she like herself and her own prurient curiosity.” Alex, for once we are in agreement.
When Nicholas and Alexandra are finally able to admit their love for one another, it is surprisingly anti-climactic (no pun intended). Poof! All their previous conflicts are as shredded as easily as Alexandra’s clothing. Of course, later on they each doubt the others’ feelings, and set up artificial tests to prove their love. Very sophomoric.
There is a lot – a lot – of plot here, and some of it is an unintended hoot. The dialogue is ridiculously stilted, and each character sounds as if they are speaking purely for exposition’s sake. There are also many mentions of various ladies’ “high mons” (apparently a desirable attribute), as well as the fact that when Alexandra gets mischievous her “wicked juices begin to bubble.” The most hysterical moment is when Hart Cavendish (a real person) is talking to Nicholas regarding something he has suggested to the Prince Regent. Nicholas replies, “I’m afraid your recommendation falls on deaf ears.” In real life, Hart Cavendish was deaf. Instead of being a suave man-about-ton, he was said to be happy as a country gentleman and perhaps homosexual. Henley is known to slip double meanings into her books, so this might indeed be a tongue-in-cheek reference, but I found it out of line – and yes, I do have a sense of humor.
So why, you might query, isn’t this book receiving an F? Because, gentle reader, in spite of everything – purple prose, stilted dialogue, a convoluted and highly dramatic plot, a boring and self-centered heroine, more exclamation points than a year’s subscription of Cosmopolitan, there was something admirable in the breadth and scope of Henley’s story. It was sublimely awful, but it was fun to read, if just to see what ludicrous language and situations occur next. She is not a terrible writer, just a florid one, and it’s hard to fail such joyful exuberance.