2002 reissue of 1999 release, European Historical Romance (Victorian England)
Brava, $14.00, 360 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758203926
The buzz on Lady's Tutor is that it is sexually explicit, a very hot book. Romance is often a derivative genre and I wondered, as I opened it, what form this sizzling story would take. Would the writing be romantically sexy like Dara Joy? Would it border on erotica like Beatrice Small, Thea Devine or Susan Johnson? Would I read it compulsively and but feel depressed?
Silly me. The Lady's Tutor is a beautifully written and original story that takes its cues from no one. If you need a comparison it has more in common with Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels (which follow the career of a Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister in Victorian England) or D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover (for its daring portrayal of women's sexuality in a repressed time) than any recent romance novel. I swallowed it whole, sat up til 2:00 AM and would have been up until 4:00 if I'd been able. This is one terrific book.
As the story opens, Elizabeth Petrie, wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and daughter of the Prime Minister, has decided to try and repair her loveless marriage. The Petrie's have not shared a bed in twelve years. Edward, her husband, has been seen with a mistress and, though she is insecure about her appeal, Elizabeth is determined to seduce him. She seeks the help of Ramiel Devington, the reputed Bastard Sheik, who is said to possess much skill in the bedroom. Ramiel agrees to help Elizabeth with daily lessons, during which the two will discuss The Perfumed Garden For The Soul's Recreation, a four hundred year old tome on the art of lovemaking.
Though Ramiel is initially insulted by Elizabeth's request (thinking that she does not respect him) he is aroused by the idea of a woman bold enough to seduce a man and "take him" in a way that is totally unrestrained. He agrees to help her. The subsequent lessons in lovemaking, which involve talking, not touching, are the basis for the story.
This is one of the most creatively erotic books I have ever read. Elizabeth is committed to fidelity in her marriage, yet Robin Schone avoids the "I will seduce you my dear," storyline and Ramiel is not a predator. What is sensual is the conversation. Ramiel shares personal preferences on the way he likes to be touched and fondled. Fantasies, especially Ramiel's private thoughts and fantasies, are mingled with seemingly clinical questions. The prose is direct, lyrical and erotic, never purple. Robin Schone takes the trouble to think of how every act feels and to describe it in her own words. Elizabeth, for a substantial part of the story, remains committed to her marriage and one is not repulsed or depressed by her thoughts of infidelity, as one usually is in such a book.
Adultery in romance is controversial and, unless the story is about reform, I'm usually on the "nay" side. Infidelity is sad and not romantic, no matter how much a hero and heroine love each other. In spite of this, The Lady's Tutor never offended me. The Petrie marriage is not a contrived device to keep the hero and heroine apart, nor is Edward a failure as a husband for the sole purpose of making adultery less repulsive. Edward Petrie's failings, his dishonesty and wickedness are an intrinsic part of the external plot.
This plot contains so many surprises that I will not reveal it here. Nevertheless, I hope you trust me. You will not feel, even slightly sorry that this marriage ends or that Elizabeth finds happiness with another man.
Elizabeth Petrie's courage, her battles with insecurity and her painful attempt to satisfy her husbands needs touched me far more than the trials of a typical romance heroine. Her terrible loneliness made me want to shelter her from the people around her, all of whom wish to use her to aid Edward's career. Elizabeth is the kind of woman who has never had anyone, not even her mother, care that she had a headache or worry that she was tired. At thirty-three she assumes that a few gray hairs and childbirth scars make her impossible to love.
Ramiel Devington is equally tortured. The son of an Arab Sheik and his English courtesan, he is the object of scandal due to his "bastard" status. For a long time Ramiel is something of an enigma, but the longer he knows Elizabeth the more protective of her he becomes.
This book is not as intensely romantic a love story as many keepers, perhaps because the real romance develops late in the story, after you are completely convinced that the marriage must end. It compensates with wonderful period feeling, a compelling plot and outstanding secondary characters. These characters include Ramiel's mother Lady Devington, Elizabeth's cold and selfish mother and her ruthless Prime Minister father. The internal and external conflicts work together seamlessly, a rare achievement. This is Robin Schone's second book. Her unique voice had me yearning for more. I think I'll be hunting up some Trollope before too long.
-- Robin Uncapher
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