Desert Isle Keeper
Then Comes Seduction
When I asked for Mary Balogh’s Then Comes Seduction for reviewing, I had not read the first book in the series, First Comes Marriage. Fortunately my copy arrived soon after, and I read it with great enjoyment. I also read the teaser from Then Comes Seduction, but with far less satisfaction. In fact, by the times I finished those few pages I heartily despised both hero and heroine. He appeared a manipulative, supremely selfish cad, she an utterly brainless ninny. With most other authors, I would instantly have canceled my order at Amazon after reading such a teaser, but this is Mary Balogh, so come on! And what nagging me then was: Why on earth did she make those two so dramatically unlikeable? And how was she going to carry off turning them into proper hero and heroine material after this? Well, she carries it off brilliantly, and I had a most enjoyable journey from hating hero and heroine to loving them.
Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, is a rake who lives for dares and wagers. Because he is actually rather bored with his life, you only need to dangle a challenge before his eyes, the more impossible the better, and he jumps for it like a donkey for a carrot. This is why, very drunk during the celebration of his 25th birthday, he agrees to a wager: He undertakes to enjoy “full sexual intercourse” with Miss Katherine Huxtable, the sister of the young Earl of Merton, a young innocent straight from the country, within the next fortnight. Jasper has admired Miss Huxtable from afar, but never even sought an introduction. He arranges to be included in a party she attends at Vauxhall, and within two hours manages to lure her onto a deserted path and proceeds to seduce her. How does he achieve that? By insinuating to her she longs for adventures and the outrageous – in short, him – and is passionate enough at heart to flout all rules. He is helped by the fact that Katherine is frustrated at her apparent inability to fall in love with a nice man and, within minutes, fancies herself in love with the dashing and dangerous Lord Montford. The scene that ensues is sordid and painful to read, as both characters act in an excess of downright stupidity and brutal selfishness. The scene takes an unexpected turn, however, that proves Jasper has a sense of humor, and Katherine has a sharp tongue at least. By that time I was glad to see anything likeable about them.
They don’t meet again for three years, although neither has forgotten the other. When they do meet, Jasper again proposes a wager. He wants to make Katherine fall in love with him, and in return dares her to try to make him fall in love with her. He obviously hasn’t learned a thing, but Katherine has taken his measure now, and while she enjoys his outrageous remarks and the repartee they engage in, she breaks out of his spell when she wants to, usually by saying out loud what she thinks, completely ignoring the conventions of his practiced seduction. With this shift in their relationship, suddenly Jasper and Katherine were great fun to read about.
Katherine starts off almost incredibly naïve, but she has no fear of taking a long, hard look at her own actions, and her honesty towards herself and others makes her a very sympathetic character. In the typical manner of a Balogh heroine, she combines an idealistic view of love with some very realistic attitudes, and I found her openness refreshing.
Jasper is presented as a man at the crossroads at the beginning of the novel. What he is attempting to do is evil, and while he vaguely understands his sense of honor has become twisted when he feels he must go ahead in seducing a friend’s innocent cousin, he is at first unable to pull himself away from the brink. In addition, he continues to be very blind indeed about his own motives for a long time. He is first salvaged by his own conscience, although he successfully hides this from himself, and later into the story by his irrepressible sense of the ridiculous and his uncanny ability to say either the worst or best thing at any given moment. He remains very calculating, often trying to manipulate others, but he is shown as doing so both selfishly and altruistically at the same time, in a manner that is deeply human and thus endearing – for example, when he furthers an acquaintance between the Huxtables and his beloved younger half-sister Charlotte.
After the deliberately sordid beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Katherine and Jasper’s relationship. They start off lusting after each other, then hurting each other, but soon after they reacquaint it’s clear to the reader (and to their immediate families) that they are in fact kindred spirits. Their dialogues are highly amusing. Although the characters are not aware of it, the novel is a delightful variation of the friends-to-lovers plot, with the leads, in spite of their inauspicious first encounter, moving from laughing together to liking each other to loving with all their hearts, with a healthy dose of sex appeal thrown in. And their declaration scene, if short, is utterly delightful.
While I adored the novel’s characters, I was not entirely happy with the pacing. In the last third, events slow down and culminate in a summer fete that is described in great detail. Although what happens there is pivotal for the characters’ development, the descriptions were just a tad too protracted for my taste.
In spite of that, Then Comes Seduction is a truly charming read, especially if you, like me, love drop-dead gorgeous heroes who are just too clever for their own good. And I liked the forthright, strong heroine just as much as the hero! With these two, I hope you will like the book just as much as I did.