The Price of Innocence
Susan Sizemore’s book, The Price of Innocence, takes place in late Victorian London. Sherrie Hamilton is an American – a widow with an eight-year-old daughter, Minnie. She has come to London with her cousins, Faith and Daisy and her aunt Dora to find husbands for the girls. Sherrie is very wealthy, and wealthy American women are very attractive to gentlemen with titles.
At a party, Sherrie meets Jack, Earl of PenMartyn. Jack recognises her at once, but she does not recognise him – at first. Nine years ago, Sherrie knew Jack as Cullum, a pirate and secretly a spy for the government. He rescued Sherrie from pirate slavers, and they had a passionate three month affair. Jack sent Sherrie home, in a fit of regret at having taken her innocence, but she has never forgotten him. Their affair resulted in a pregnancy, and Sherrie made a brief marriage of convenience to a non-entity. He died, and ever since then she has not looked at another man – Jack has branded himself so deeply in her.
As for Jack, he has never gotten over Sherrie. He has been celibate for nine years – torturing himself for having had the affair with her in the first place and then for sending her away. When Minnie recognizes Jack as her father (her mother talks in her sleep), she takes it on herself to bring her parents together – they meet again and the pages begin to smolder.
I have seldom read a more passionate book. I don’t just mean passion in the sexual sense, although the love scenes in this book are absolutely incendiary. As a matter of fact, the scene where Sherrie confronts Jack and out and out seduces him to convince him of her love is the most luscious love scene that I have read this year. The attraction between Jack and Sherrie is one of total desire for that which makes the other whole. At one point, Sherrie muses that their attraction for each other was inevitable – if they had met in polite society in a drawing room rather than as pirate and captive, it would have been no different.
There is a complex sub-plot involving a titled gentleman and his introduction to London Society of a mystical Eastern cult – a cult that turns out to be very dangerous to Her Majesty’s government – a cult that Jack was spying on nine years ago when he first met Sherrie. This sub-plot is handled deftly and gives the reader a good look at late Victorian Society. We even see Bertie, the Prince of Wales, in all his lecherous glory.
The only thing I was at all dissatsified about in The Price of Innocence were the secondary characters. Not that they were not interesting, they were so interesting that they deserved a book of their own. May, the Chinese woman, and her American Jewish husband Ira were fascinating characters. But we met them mostly in flashbacks. I wanted to know more about them.
But I’m not going to complain about that too much. The Price of Innocence is such a complex and interesting book that it bears re-reading, and I definitely plan to read this one again.