Desert Isle Keeper
The Perils of Pleasure
I am aware that Julie Anne Long has two DIKs under her belt, but as her debut novel has remained in my TBR pile for a year, I wasn’t enthusiastic about being assigned her latest book – The Perils of Pleasure – to review. I had no idea what a treat I was in for, though, as this is the best romance I have read in a long time. To start with, the novel’s prologue and first chapter are brilliant. Within the space of only 18 pages, Long manages not only to start her story story with a bang, but also to introduce two families in such a way that I immediately wanted to read novels about each family member.
The Everseas and the Redmonds, gentry families hailing from Pennyroyal Green, Sussex, have been rivals and occasional enemies since at least as far back as the Domesday Book. Now both families face a great deal of tension because Colin Eversea, the youngest son of his family, is about to be hanged for murder. The charming rascal Colin spent all his life getting into one scrape or another, always to escape with his skin intact – until he got involved in a tavern brawl where a man died by accident, and Colin suddenly found himself framed as his murderer. Facing his hanging, he has used all his remaining energy to meet his fate with wit and style. His family mourns already, the girl he planned to marry has betrothed herself to his older brother Marcus so that her future is secured, and the Redmond family feels that justice is finally done for the loss of their own son, which they blame on the Everseas.
To Colin’s huge surprise, he is rescued on the way to the scaffold and taken to a basement in the slums of Seven Dials. His rescuer is a woman, and her intention is not to free him, but to deliver him to persons unknown. Before she can do so, however, a man enters the basement and tries to shoot her. Colin saves her life, and together they manage to escape.
The woman, a widow, is Madeleine Greenway, who works as an coordinator. With her connections to the London underworld, she arranges for the right people to do certain jobs, all untraceable to the original client. In this case, she has no idea who wants Colin in his power, and now wants her dead. They decide to join forces to discover the truth; Colin, because he hopes he may be able to clear his name and marry the girl of his dreams after all, and Madeleine, because Colin promises her payment if she delivers him safely, and she needs the money.
Julie Anne Long’s writing is excellent. Her style is vivid and full of detail inserted very cleverly, so that you can imagine everything you read about in your inner eye without feeling overwhelmed by lengthy descriptions. For example, the secondary characters are brilliantly drawn and given individuality in just the space of a few pages. Long’s sense of humor is very dry, and the exchanges between Colin and Madeleine are exquisite. She is a mistress of tone, too. As the relationship of the protagonists changes, so does their language and the language used to characterize them. Some sentences are so poignant that they took my breath away.
Colin is a charmer. He is a rascal, without being jaded at all, and at the same time an intelligent, sensitive man. In addition he is deeply disturbed right now because someone actually tried to have him killed, and the truth of who that someone is might be close to home. These different sides to him are at war occasionally, mostly with hilarious results. I liked him very much indeed. Madeleine is very much an enigma at the beginning of the novel. Although we partly share her point-of-view, we get to know little about her save that she needs to do this kind of work to earn her bread, that she excels at it but only wants to do this final job so that she can emigrate to Virginia and start a new life. One quickly finds that she is clever and highly efficient, with a wicked sense of humor, and that her sense of self-preservation has had to mask innate kindness and sensitivity.
The journey that Colin and Madeleine take together is very much one of finding trust – after all, each starts off thinking the other is a criminal. At the same time, the two are strongly attracted to each other, and I loved the scenes where they feel this attraction, but curse the terrible timing. When they finally act on this attraction, the sex is steamy and described in a comparatively original way (without anything kinky going on). But there are, I should point out, just two sex scenes and only a certain amount of lusting. All in all, I would rate the novel warm bordering on hot.
There is only one very, very minor niggle I had with the book, and that is sloppy editing in two places. An object and a small piece of information respectively suddenly appear out of thin air. But as the book is so delightful otherwise, this didn’t bother me much. The book’s ending is particularly marvelous, not least in the way it avoids clichés.
The Perils of Pleasure is a splendid first installment to a highly promising new series. Do yourself a favor, get yourself a copy and enjoy. And make sure that you have nothing else important to do once you have started it. As for me, I intend to pick up my long-neglected copy of The Runaway Duke and thus treat myself to another novel by this author who has just catapulted herself onto my auto-buy list.