Led Astray, by Sandra Brown

>> Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sandra Brown used to be one of my favourite authors when I first started reading romance in earnest. She's gone way too much outside romance for my tastes, so I don't read her latest releases. And also, of course, tastes change, so many of the books I used to love I don't really like, which means I don't even reread my old Brown favourites.

So why did I buy Led Astray last year? No idea. Might have been the Unrequited Love special listing at AAR, but then again, it might not.

After his brother Hal dies, Cage Hendren, trying to overcome his reputation as a womanizer, pursues the only woman he has ever loved, Hal's quiet and serious fiancee, and shows her how to explore the wildness in herself. .
This forbidden love type of story (hero in love for years with brother's girlfriend) has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but this time, the problems I had with the story, and, most especially, with the heroine, overwhelmed whatever pleasure I could take out of it. A C-.

Even the hero, who ended up being the best thing about the book, didn't really start all that well. Since this happens in the first few pages, it can't be considered a spoiler, can it? Anyway, Jenny's fiancée, Hal, is about to go on a mission to a wartorn Central American country (aren't them all, in RomanceLand?). Jenny doesn't want him to go, she wants, for once, for Hal to put her first.

The night before he's due to leave, goaded by Hal's brother, Cage, who's also against Hal going, she decides to go for her big weapons and seduce him into staying. But Hal refuses to be seduced and leaves the room. Only to return and make love to Jenny, who's very surprised the morning after, when she sees Hal's left anyway.

It's pretty obvious from the first that it's not Hal who comes back in the room, and the reader is told soon afterwards, in a scene in which Cage is berating himself for "violating" Jenny. Now, usually, when romance heroes moan about what they did wrong in bed with the heroine, it's something like "Ohhh, I was too rough, she'll never want me to touch her again", while the heroines loved, loved, LOVED the sex. So, most times the heroes are completely wrong to torturing themselves (those yucky rapists heroes in 80s bodice-rippers never repented, so they don't count).

Not here. When Cage calls what he did "violating" Jenny, I'm sorry, but he's right, and it's inexcusable. He's right to torture himself, and he should have tortured himself a whole lot more. And yes, I have liked a book in which the same situation happens, a Susan Napier, but the context was different, and that made all the difference.

At least, though, I approved of how he dealt with his guilt over what he had done. He doesn't go straight out to tell Jenny (what possible good could that have done her, especially after Hal dies?), and when it would have been in his best interest to confess the truth, he doesn't because it wouldn't be the best for Jenny. He only tells her when it's absolutely necessary for her.

Apart from this, I quite liked Cage (everything but his name, which was ridiculous. Brown specializes in horrible names. I still remember the heroine she named "Banner". WTF??). He was a bit too indiscriminate for my tastes, but at least he was kind to his lovers and had some fondness for them. I also liked that this tortured guy didn't try to make other people as miserable as he was. He was decent with everyone, especially Jenny, and that's something that's always a positive with me.

So as I said, he was the best thing about the book, but I'm afraid that's not really saying much. Jenny was a wash as a heroine. Sooo perfect she was perfectly boring. And when she wasn't being Miss Goody-Goody, she was being a judgemental idiot. She lost lots of points with me when she dismissed Roxy as "a slut" when all she knew about her was that she was rumoured to be an old girlfriend of Cage's. And she was so passive! Cage went on and on about the free spirit inside her waiting to break free, but I just didn't see it. She had to be forced into every single change she made.

And I do NOT want to read any more books which have this "promiscuous man redeemed by the love of a pure, innocent woman". I'm tired of this, I've read way too many of them and I've been finding them offensive for quite some time. I would have prefered to see Cage with someone like Roxy, really.

But even this silly twit of a heroine wasn't the worst thing about the book. That was Cage's parents, Bob and Sarah, and more small-minded, judgmental (even more than Jenny), mean people are probably hard to find. I hated the fact that they all end up with a big reconciliation. So what if they're family? Better to lose people like this and make your own family.


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