Ritual of Proof
Ritual of Proof features a sheltered but willful young virgin, an inescapable arranged marriage and an evil villain hell-bent on destroying the couple’s blossoming rapture. Is that a snore I hear? So, you think you’ve read this story a few hundred times already? Why would you even consider paying hardcover price for this tired old plot when you can find it in any used bookstore for a fraction of the price?
Why, indeed? Well, Dara Joy wrote it, but if you have been as disappointed by her last few releases as I have, that may not be enough to entice you. What if I tell you that Dara Joy is at the top of her game here? Back full-force with a creative, sensuous, fun, page-turning story? Not enough, you say? Well, what if I mention that the pampered, defiant young virgin just happens to be the hero. . . .
Enter a twisted Regency-like world where women hold all positions of power and men born to the ruling class are coddled, protected, and taught to cherish their virginity or face social disgrace from the “Top Slice.” These young men have a “come-out” when they reach maturity and do their best to charm the influential women (“name-givers”) of the Select Quarter. The women make a bid for their favorite and, if it is acceptable to his family, an unbreakable alliance is formed. He’ll then spend the rest of his sheltered existence raising their children. Most men accept this as their lot in life, but like many a feisty young heroine, our hero has different ideas.
Jorlan Reynard, at twenty-five, is nearly on the shelf. This is his final season to catch the attention of a name-giver before he officially becomes an unclaimed male. His doting grandmother and his reputation for being difficult and headstrong have helped him remain a free man and he intends to stay that way. He has grand and dangerous dreams of equality and freedom and refuses to spend the rest of his life living by society’s rules.
Marquelle Green Tamryn is thirty-five (yes, an older heroine!) and a high ranking member of the Select Quarter. She enjoys her life and has no interest in settling down and taking on a name-bearer. She has a kept lover (“pleasure-giver”) who meets her needs without demanding any ties and complications. To satisfy the Top Slice she attends her first soiree in two seasons and is drawn to the wildly attractive Jorlan. After a dance and an unforgettable kiss, Green resolves to steer clear of him.
When an unscrupulous and cruel member of the Select Quarter coerces Jorlan’s grandmother into an agreement for Jorlan, Green is forced to take action. She appreciates Jorlan’s wildness and sacrifices her freedom to save him from a miserable fate. But she’s no saint either – she also desperately wants him in her bed! An arranged marriage with a twist quickly follows along with lots of fun steamy sex, battles of will, scandal and adventure.
Although not as humorous as Joy’s Rejar, Ritual of Proof caught my attention and never let go. It’s written with an incredible sexual energy but there is more to its appeal than sex. Before Jorlan and Green begin their boink-fest it’s apparent that they enjoy and respect each other and are equally matched. And, much to my relief, both were likable characters. Green is a compassionate, strong, and intelligent woman; this is shown in subtle ways that don’t beat the reader over the head. One scene, when she ends her relationship with her pleasure-giver, even managed to bring me to tears. And Jorlan? Well, he’s a hero only Dara Joy could create; impossibly larger than life and beautiful beyond belief with a sexual innocence and out-of-this-world sensuality that makes him all the more charming.
I suspect this story will make a few readers uncomfortable. It places men in a terribly helpless and submissive position, but for me this fantasy was simply irresistible and sexy beyond belief. How many books have you read where the heroine is a powerless virgin, forced into a marriage against her will? I know I‘ve read far too many.
The story is not perfect, however, and those looking for a solid plot and a seriously earth shattering romance may want to look elsewhere. Once the couple discover sexual pleasure, Ritual of Proof‘s plot often takes a back seat to the lovemaking. One adventure in particular quite obviously became an excuse for the couple to indulge in a creative bout of lovemaking. All dire worries are quickly set aside when Green glances into Jorlan’s aqua eyes. But, hey, I’m willing to sacrifice a little plot when a book is this much fun!
If you’re a fan of Joy’s paranormal novels, you really shouldn’t miss this one. She has taken what she does best and created another unforgettable world whose vivid imagery will linger with me for years to come.