I remember the first time that I read Dune by Frank Herbert. It took me 150 pages to figure out who was who and what was going on. There were so many characters and intrigues and Hebert just dropped the reader right into the middle of the action to figure it out for ourselves. I sort of felt this way with Kate Pearce’s Simply Scandalous, except for the fact I ended up loving Dune.
This was the ninth book in Pearce’s House of Pleasure series and this book suffered in my hands for not having read the previous books. If I had read some of the other books, this one may have received a higher grade, but I still blame that somewhat on the author. Hook me at the beginning with something! I started this book four times before I finally settled down to read it in its entirety. If I had not promised to review the book, it would have been a DNF for me. However, having said all of that, I did begin to enjoy the story about half way through.
Richard Ross has a very unconventional family. His father is a peer and married to a woman (Richard’s stepmother) who owns a pleasure house/brothel. Her son, Christian Delorney, runs the house. His sister Emily, who is a lady of the ton, visits the house frequently and is in love with a former African slave who also works at the pleasure house. If that is not confusing enough, Richard was a spy during the Napoleonic War and is haunted by the death of fellow spy and his one true love Violet LeNy. Only it turns out that Violet did not really die in France. She faked her own death and has now turned up in England posing as the male twin of her real brother Jack Lennox.
Violet (posing as Vincent Lennox) is in England on a mission to clean up the threads of her spy career for the Royalist cause. Richard’s War Office superior Lord Keyes arranges a meeting with Richard and Jack Lennox and instructs Richard to assist Jack. When he discovers that Vincent Lennox is really Violet, he is disinclined to help. But he has his orders and grits his teeth as he prepares to do his duty.
A side romance between Richard’s sister Emily and the African former slave Ambrose gets as much play time as the romance between Richard and Violet. In addition to the spy mystery to be solved, the Ross/Delorney family must also deal with a blackmailer determined to ruin the patriarch, Phillip Ross, Lord Knowles. In between these convoluted plots, there is a lot of sex going on in the pleasure house. Everyone seems to be bi-curious in their sexual tastes.
There are many problems with this book. As I have already stated, the beginning of the book just did not instill enough curiosity about the characters to keep me reading. Those who have read the previous books might have had an easier time, but I feel as if most books in a series of this sort should stand alone for the most part. Another problem is just sheer believability. I understand this is erotica and there is a certain suspension of belief to be tolerated, but the social interactions were just too outside of the norm to overlook. Emily is a lady of the ton, yet spends most of her mornings drinking chocolate in the pleasure house kitchen. Then she leaves to call on other ladies of the tons and attend balls. What? The pleasure house is an upscale brothel. Who would receive her?
I know, I know…people don’t read erotica for historical accuracy. They read it for the sex scenes. But even those seemed a little contrived to me. After slogging through the convoluted twists and turns of the first 150 pages, I finally began to develop some empathy with the characters, enough to enjoy the second half of the book. I actually liked Emily and Ambrose’s story more than that of Richard and Violet. I never really warmed to her, and the ménage à trois Pearce hinted about between Richard, Violet and Jack at the beginning of the book just seemed to vanish midway through.
This book had both too little and too much. There was too little empathy with the main characters in the beginning and way too much going on. For an erotica, the sex almost seemed superfluous to the action, as if the author felt she had to throw some in every now and then. If I were grading this book in parts, I would have given the first half a D and the second half a B-. I compromised with my C grade.