Passion, by Lisa Valdez

>> Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An author who wins Best New Author (over Lydia Joyce, no less!), with a book which wins Most Luscious Love Story and Guiltiest Pleasure and gets an honourable mention in Most Hanky Read, but also "wins" in Worst Read and Purple-est Prose... I've got to see what all the fuss is about!

I'm talking about Passion, author Lisa Valdez's debut, BTW ;-)

A woman called Passion. A man who would make her true to her name.

In her second year of mourning, lovely young widow Passion Elizabeth Dare never dreamed she would be with a man again--and certainly not a complete stranger. But amidst the crowds of London's Crystal Palace, Passion finds herself discreetly, yet insistently, pursued by a sensual gentleman who awakens her long-supressed desires. After a loveless marriage of restrained propriety, Passion abandons herself to true bliss for the first time.

Intoxicated by his encounter with the beautiful stranger, Mark Randolph Hawkmore, Earl of Langley, cannot wait to see her again. As a series of rapturous rendezvous follows, he and his mystery lover find something rare and wonderful blossoming between them. But a blackmail scheme against the Earl threatens to destroy everything. As a scandal brews, each will have to choose between duty and desire...their love for their families--and their love for each other.
Oh, dear. This certainly was an interesting read, and a compulsively readable one. But... didn't really work for me. Not the worst read of the year (nowhere near that, actually), and as for the purple prose... hmm, I don't exactly share that opinion, but I do see why people could have voted it. My own grade would be a C, and this is one C that doesn't denote a mediocre read, but an author taking a chance that isn't a hit with me.

The story is simple. Mrs. Passion Redington is a widow whose husband died two years previously. In London for a visit with her aunt, she visits the Crystal Palace exhibition and meets a stranger who sexually fascinates her. They end up having hot sex behind a screen in one of the exhibition rooms. And it's not just a one-time thing: they meet again at the same place in the following days, and once the man finds out where Passion lives, he starts visiting her in her rooms.

The stranger is Mark Randolph Hawkmore, the Earl of Langley, and he was originally at the Crystal Palace to look over the young woman he's being blackmailed into marrying. See, his absolute bitch of a mother was indiscreet enough to put in writing that Mark's younger brother Matthew is actually the gardener's son, not the earl's, and the other bitch she sent this letter to has been keeping it for years, and now she's blackmailing Mark into marrying her daughter, Charlotte, otherwise she'll publish the letter.

Mark refuses to even consider going through with this, but he's forced to pretend to agree to it, all the while plotting ways of getting hold of the letter. Thing is, Charlotte is coincidentally Passion's second cousin (something he doesn't know), and when Passion finds out, shit really hits the fan.

Talking about how the romance was simply requires talking about the sex scenes, because as in the best erotica, Valdez develops Mark and Passion's relationship through what happens between them in bed. And she actually does it quite well. Her love scenes never feel gratuitous; they always reveal something about her characters and push their relationship forward. That's not something that's easy to do, and Ms. Valdez should be commended for managing it.

So if I thought she did it so well, why the low grade? Well, it's just that the way that relationship develops completely icked me out. My main reaction to those sex scenes wasn't "oh, how sexy!". It was "ouch!" and "yuck", mostly. I think what got me was the constant and neverending emphasis on Mark getting his whole massive (ten and a half inches, and we're never allowed to forget it) cock inside Passion. He's perpetually banging against her cervix, trying (and eventually, succeeding) to get his cock through that opening.

I can't say I have personal experience with this, but my feeling is that has got to be painful! Do tell me if I'm wrong and it's a lovely, lovely feeling, but a quick google seems to suggest it isn't. And yet, Passion just goes wild when he does this. It's as if the woman has an extra G-Spot there.

And don't get me started on how Passion allowing Mark to do this is portrayed as a kind of proof of how she's so generous and loving, not like all those other women who didn't let Mark do it. It's true love because she lets him fuck her deeper than other women ever did and because his magic sperm impregnates her when her husband's couldn't.

On the purple prose front, as I said, I don't exactly agree, but I do understand the reasoning behind those votes. Cocks are cocks, not purple-helmeted warriors of love; cunts are cunts (and sometimes quims), not perfumed grottoes and fucking is fucking, not a dance as old as time, so I'd definitely say the prose isn't purple. But the book's sensibility... oh, yes, purple as hell, if you define purple as being over-the-top and melodramatic. Even the language is sometimes that way, with all those streams and rivers and jets of semen flying about!

Ok, so let's go outside the sex scenes. How about the rest of the book? I'm afraid I had plenty of icks there, too. For instance, the way Mark was so perfectly happy to share the details of his sex with Passion with his brother. I don't mean the fact that he told Matthew that he'd just been having sex with a woman behind a screen in the Crystal Palace (after all, as Passion says, she'd been planning to tell her sisters, too, so she can't very well complain). It's the level of detail I object to. Does he really need to share the exact number of inches he managed to cram into her?

Oh, and another ick! That image of Passion and her sisters showing each other their pussies and actually touching themselves and each other... oh, euwww! I love my sister, but I'm sorry, I draw the line at that! Call me uptight, but even thinking of it makes me really uncomfortable.

And I'm still talking about sex, aren't I? Right, something else that bothered me (and something that has nothing to do with sex), is that.... SPOILER AHEAD!!


...if Charlotte hadn't decided not to marry Mark, these two wouldn't have ended up together. Passion was much too ready to give up Mark, and I'm sorry, but what she actually did was decide that Charlotte's reputation was more important than her and Mark's child's. I mean, to all effects, she seemed to think that it was more important for Charlotte not to be jilted (which might ruin her chances with other noblemen, but most probably not with men of her class) than for her child not to be a bastard. Oh, of course she didn't put it this way, but really, that's what the real choice is! And of course, she's also condemning her cousin to a loveless marriage, or else, to a marriage in which the man she loves will never love her back, or even desire her. Yeah, that's a good fate.

And Mark, who was supposedly so all fired up to be with Passion and let Charlotte go screw herself, well, he never even considered other options. How about giving Charlotte a huge, juicy dowry? That would have softened the effects of the jilting, especially if they put it about that she had been the one to jilt Mark! Or maybe finding someone else for Charlotte to marry? Or, I don't know, inventing a story about how they'd discovered they were secretly related (plus huge, juicy dowry, of course)? There are so many other options, and yet Mark doesn't even try to think of anything!

The next book is about Passion's sister Patience and Mark's brother, and I don't think I'll be reading it. I wasn't particularly drawn to it before, basically because their relationship apparently centers on dominance / submission (check out Karen Scott's interview with Ms. Valdez... the very last question), and that's just something that doesn't rock my boat in fiction (nor IRL, but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't work for me in fiction... I mean, look at Emma Holly's polyamorous love stories. I absolutely love those, and group sex would really squick me out IRL!). Maybe if I'd loved Passion I would have given Patience a try anyway, but I didn't, and I didn't much like the glimpses of Matt that we got here. A guy who's got "a penchant for tears"? So not for me, even in fiction!


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