Remember that movie a few years back called Black Snake Moan, where Samuel L. Jackson’s character chains Christina Ricci up in his house, supposedly for her own good? That sort of happens in Unexpected Pleasures, and I didn’t enjoy it here any more than I did in that movie.
Lady Justina Wincott is our heroine, a woman totally controlled by her guardian. The laws of guardianship were unclear in this book, and 16th century guardianship is not a subject I have encountered before; I am not sure of the guardian’s relationship to her, other than being legally in charge. He sells her body for his own purposes, threatening to do the same to her young son if she disobeys. Something that upset him apparently happened in another one of Mary Wine’s books, and the story begins with Justina’s guardian being very displeased, and ordering her to get cozy with a powerful earl in Henry VIII’s court.
Sir Synclair knows Justina, and has long lusted after her. When he is released from his duties as a knight, he follows her to court, and after he beats up a guy trying to rape her, they go to bed. It is later, when Justina tries to go back to her guardian in order to protect her son, that Synclair chains her to his bed and keeps her there for several days.
The author tries to make this book one about female empowerment in a male-dominated world, but fails miserably. It is only when unwillingly chained to his bed – supposedly for her benefit – that Justina begins to realize she loves Synclair, and thinks things like, “If he was going to chain her to the bed, couldn’t he at least share it with her?” I just do not find anything romantic about physically restraining someone to one’s bedroom for days at a time. Do I think Justina’s better option was to stay with Synclair? Yes. Do I think holding her prisoner in order to get her to bend to Synclair’s will made for great romance? No.
Justina goes from one controlling relationship to another in this story. Now, don’t get me wrong; there is a big difference between Justina’s guardian and Synclair. But I didn’t really believe that Synclair loves her. I believe he is obsessed with her, and that can be a dangerous difference. He is demanding, persistent, and rigid. His affections are almost entirely physical and his intentions seemed borne more out of a need to possess rather than a true affection or desire.
There may be a back story to which I am not privy. This is my first book by Mary Wine, and there are obviously events from a previous book not explained in this one. Maybe, had I read this other novel, I might have seen more nuances of their relationship. But since the author chose not to make these events clear, all I saw was the sex and then Synclair’s need to possess Justina.
Given the subservient position women were in at court at that time, I wanted a relationship on more equal footing, and I don’t think the author gave Justina the power she needed and deserved in her romantic relationship.