Virtually everyone who has ever loved Lucien St. Aubyn has met an unfortunate demise. Indeed, Lucien has inadvertently done in four governesses (one apparently died of a mere headache), a groom, his best friend (killed by a chunk of gravel thrown up by Lucien’s carriage), and both parents. Lucien is such a harbinger of doom that “dowagers all but clutched their daughters to their bosoms whenever he was near.” And then, worst of all, Lucien’s older brother dies, and society has to wonder – did he kill his brother in order to obtain the dukedom? Thus, Lucien St. Aubyn, the new Duke of Ravenwood, becomes known amongst the ton as the Duke of Death.
With all these deaths haunting him, and the concern lurking at the back of his mind that he might, in fact, be cursed, it’s not surprising Lucien has become something of a rake. When he spies Lady Elizabeth Montclair at a party (to which, by the way, he was not invited) he decides to seduce her. Why? “Because you despise me,” he explains cheerfully. Lucien and Elizabeth have a history. He almost ruined her once before, and this time he succeeds, however unintentionally. Lucien is merely having fun with her, but they are found together by their hostess in an intimate situation (he’s brushing her lip with his fingers), and Elizabeth realizes with dismay that this time her reputation will not survive the scandal. Somewhat to her surprise, Lucien does the right thing and proposes. He even goes so far as to actually show up for the wedding, surprising Elizabeth (and society at large) even more.
Lucien is the most urbanely obnoxious hero I’ve ever come across. In modern terms, he’s a jerk, but his insults and jibes are uttered with an oh-so-polite, gentlemanly air. He’s not your standard tortured hero, the kind that adapts to misfortune by becoming a sullen alpha male. On the contrary, he’s something of a clown. To Lucien, everything is a jest, and he refuses to take anything seriously. Lucien is such a card (and such a brainless twit, I might add) that he once actually showed up at a costume party dressed as an executioner. Small wonder society is beginning to wonder if he killed his brother when the man deals with grief by laughing at it so outrageously. It’s obvious there’s more to Lucien – he refuses to touch the money from his ducal properties, calling it “blood money” – but Lucien doesn’t want anyone to know he has any depth at all. He fights very hard to keep everything superficial and light.
Elizabeth is bright, witty, and as outrageous as Lucien himself. Even though she is the daughter of an earl, she is something of an outcast from society, as she is also the granddaughter of a mere cobbler. Once she is wed, however, she refuses to let Lucien get the better of her, and the two of them battle in outrageous ways. For example, Lucien wagers that she cannot seduce his servant and best friend, and when it appears Elizabeth is going to win, he concedes. Unfortunately, that requires him to wear a gown, much to Lucien’s dismay. Elizabeth is an amusing, courageous heroine, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, for the reader to believe that a gently reared Regency miss could possibly remark coolly (and without a trace of a blush) to her new husband: “You may teach me how to stuff my tongue down other men’s throats.”
And that’s part of the problem with this novel. Seduced was quite entertaining, yet my enjoyment was undercut by a general feeling of anachronism. Both Lucien and Elizabeth seem to have a very democratic attitude toward servants, an attitude that felt more twenty-first-century American than Regency England. Elizabeth’s attitude toward sex was similarly liberated. And there were two horribly anachronistic terms that yanked me right out of the story – “mentally challenged” (a 1990s PC term) and “snogging,” British slang that dates from the mid-twentieth century. Obviously this book isn’t meant to be taken too seriously (the author says in her note that her goal is to write “wacky, zany stories”), but a Regency-set romance should more or less reflect historical attitudes and language.
This was a sexy book, although the overuse of two words got on my nerves. In the middle of the book, everything was either wicked or naughty. Elizabeth had naughty, wicked thoughts, and she and Lucien did naughty, wicked things until I wanted to go through my copy of Seduced with a blue pencil and scratch out every last usage of those terms. No, wait… that’s what editors are for, isn’t it? Evidently Britton’s editor liked the words as well as she did, because they’re used a whole lot – I counted almost twenty repetitions of the word “wicked” alone. Naughty, wicked editor.
But the biggest problem with this book was that it had a split personality. The first two-thirds of the book are so light and fluffy they almost read like a sexy parody of a Regency. The last third, where Lucien is carted off to Newgate for the alleged murder of his brother, is much darker and unfolds as a murder mystery. Unfortunately, the two parts of the book don’t fit well together. Most of the book is a funny, light battle of the sexes. The ending of the book is exciting almost to the point of melodrama, but much of the humor and sexiness simply evaporates, so that the bewildered reader finds herself reading an entirely different novel from the one she started. All of a sudden I found myself mired in a courtroom drama and mystery that read like a Regency version of Days of Our Lives. What happened to that wacky, zany book I was reading? What happened to the author’s charming sense of the absurd? Suddenly the characters and the situations become soap operatic and gloomy, and the book doesn’t recover its jaunty humor until the epilogue.
Although Seduced is uneven and anachronistic, it’s also fun, sexy, and features some memorably outrageous characters. While there are too many problems for me to recommend it, it may keep you occupied for a few hours. Just make sure you keep your blue pencil handy so you can edit out all those wicked naughties.