Seductive as Flame
I delight in sizzling sex and absorbing ambiance in my romances, so I was sure I’d love Susan Johnson. I’ve not read any of her other books, but she’s definitely got a reputation, and I was confident her novels and I were bound to be a perfect match. Well, damn my socks, but I was wrong. I didn’t like anything about Ms. Johnson’s latest, Seductive as Flame. Not the oodles of gooey sex, not the back story and its implied approval of British economic imperialism in late 19th century Africa, nor the libertine lovers both of who are as removed from reality as is Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.
Let me elaborate.
I didn’t like the plot. From the moment fabulously wealthy, divinely handsome, sexually exceptional, linguistically prodigal, superb rider, and almost painfully well-endowed Alec Munro, the Earl of Dalgliesh, sees flame haired, multi-orgasmic, violet-eyed, lush breasted, well-traveled, lynx fur coat wearing Zelda Mackenzie, he wants to ravish her in every position possible. She feels the same way about him, and after several dull chapters where the two talk about how desperately and creatively they want to get down and dirty with each other, by page seventy, they’ve had (literally) unbelievable amounts of constant copious coitus and Zelda has fallen in love. Alec, who’s married to a super bitch, isn’t quite in love but he wants much much more of Zelda’s curves and crevices, so the two embark on an affair. Alec’s slutty psycho wife tries to first break them up and then kill them. Alec, when he’s not drinking half a bottle of whiskey for lunch or showing Zelda the joys of bondage with very special knots, works on making vast sums of money from his mines in South Africa and valiantly protecting his step-son from his nasty mom.
I didn’t like the characters. Alec is my least favorite kind of alpha-male hero. He’s screwed more women than he can remember, but even thinking about the other lovers who taught Zelda to be so bodacious in bed makes him want to hit her. He’s so cock-sure of himself that, when Zelda compliments his amorous abilities, he thinks to himself, “That’s what they all say.” He lies repeatedly to Zelda — sometimes to shut her up, other times to manipulate her into doing his will. He’s such a dick — in so many offensive ways — I kept hoping he’d suddenly be felled by some horrible, impotence-inducing disease. Zelda is no better. She’s a whiner, wails when she doesn’t get her twentieth big bang of the day, and constantly discounts the needs, schedules, and presence of others so she can have wild screaming sex anywhere, anytime with Alec. Violetta, Alec’s evil wife, is so over the top, she’s a caricature. She doesn’t have a single redeeming aspect to her — she makes Cruella DeVil look compassionate.
I didn’t like the historical back story. Ms. Johnson clearly knows her time and place but, in Seductive as Flame, the history doesn’t enhance the story. Furthermore, Alec is uber-wealthy and much of the history centers on his efforts to become even wealthier. I didn’t care about his African mines, his sumptuous travels all over the world, or his near miraculous ability to procure fantastically singular and prohibitively expensive gifts for Zelda at a moment’s notice. In good historical fiction, it’s not enough that context is detailed and accurate; it must also be interesting. In this book, it is not.
I didn’t like the sex and there was loads of sex. In all of it, Alec is the Zen master of orgasm. Zelda comes over and over again while Alec, smarmily congratulating himself on his dick size and stamina, doesn’t until he so chooses. He does choose to come in Zelda and rather cavalierly justified this by first saying he can’t help himself — funny how that Zen thing comes and goes — and then saying, no matter what, he has to have her as his. Alec and Zelda often use bickering and hostility as foreplay and, given that none of it is witty, funny, or appealing, their verbal intercourse debases their sexual intercourse. Their sex is prodigious but not palpably passionate. As their relationship deepens, the two speak loftily about love and happiness; but between the sheets, against the wall, in the chaise lounge, and on the floor, they are just fucking. Not once did I ever feel they made love.
I think most would categorize this book as erotic romance. I found it neither. I found it almost unreadable.
It’s possible I might enjoy Susan Johnson’s prose were I to read another of her books. She’s earned four A’s, six B’s, seven C’s, four D’s, and seven F’s here at AAR. That’s quite an assortment. Other than here at AAR reviewers have praised To Please A Lady, Forbidden, Outlaw, and Silver Flame. Each of these books by Ms. Johnson is described as a stellar, blazing historical romance. I’ll have to take that on faith because Seductive as Flame is anything but.