Pub Date: July 2009
Length: 355 pages
FTC: Picked up at RT Convention '10 or '11
This month's TBR Challenge Theme is Lovely RITA. Meaning any book that has won an RWA Rita award or been nominated for one. I had a Rita winner all picked out, weeks ago, but my house ate it. Or I left it in my husband's pick up. Something. It's disappeared. And then, after scouring my TBR, I realized that it was the ONLY book that precisely fit the theme. Oh well.
I had dozens of books written by Rita winners, though. Most either written immediately before after the author's winning book. Figures. So I ended up picking out a Loretta Chase book. I'm a late-comer to Loretta Chase, having only read Lord of Scoundrels (a Rita winner) a year or so ago. And I wanted to see how she handled what can often to be a problematic theme in Regency stories: the Harem Girl.
Zoe Lexham has returned to England after escaping an Egyptian harem where she has lived for 12 years. Having been abducted while with her family was in Egypt, Zoe makes her way back to England. Lucien de Gray, the Duke of Marchmont, Zoe's old childhood friend, learns of yet another 'fake' Zoe impinging on the Lexham family and vows to remove her immediately. But upon seeing Zoe, he knows that this time, this is the real Zoe and not one of the many imposters who have tried to defraud the grieving family.
Meanwhile, Zoe is having a hard time adjusting. She's determined to reenter society, but most of the rules of propriety seem foreign and silly to someone who spent more than a decade in captivity. And the Lucien she knew is not the man she sees now. This man is a shallow, indifferent man who never laughs.
The book is still problematic, even with Chase's skill, but from my limited knowledge of Egypt (gleaned from my fanatical obsession with the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and subsequent inhalation of most popular archaeology books), Chase has at least incorporated a minimal amount of research. None of the Cairo descriptions felt off.
Part of this is a captivity narrative, which tend to have racist overtones. It's pretty much unavoidable, although part of the white slavery/kidnapping plots did happen and there is a historical record to support it. 19th century British mores being what they were, though, this may have some triggers for those who can't stand the subtle, and not so subtle, racism found in the narratives.
I had more problems with the fact that our heroine, Zoe, managed to retain her virginity while in the harem. The entire plot was improbable, but that was pretty much the reality killer for me. I also had some problems with the hero, the Duke of Marchmont, because his characterization was somewhat inconsistent. I just didn't believe that he was that clueless about his feelings and motivations. And there was really very little tension or suspense about whether these two would fall in love. No real obstacles to overcome, which meant that the suspense plot thrown in at the end felt even more off than it might otherwise have been.
While the plot didn't always work for me, Chase's writing is still excellent. A confusing, unique blend of effervescent humor and gut-wrenching emotion.
Scenes like this one (where the couple is caught by Zoe's sister in an "embrace") had me laughing out loud...
"Stop it!"Definitely not the best Chase is capable of, but I enjoyed reading it. It just didn't stand up to any detailed scrutiny.
"Stop it! Heaven help me, it's like trying to separate dogs!"
Thwack. "Get off!"
Something was hitting his back.
Thwack. "Now! Do you hear me?" Thwack. "Get off her this instant!" Thwack. "Get off!"
My Grade: C-