Pandora's Box

The Captain of All Pleasures

Kresley Cole
2003, European Historical Romance (1850s [Victorian] England)
Pocket, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743466497
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Nicole Lassiter and Captain Derek Sutherland are natural enemies - he hates her father and she hates him. When Nicole's father is imprisoned, she takes her father's ship to sea for the Great Circle Race in hopes of saving his business. A saboteur causes the pair to be thrown together. What follows is a dance of misunderstanding, suspicion and strong sexual attraction.

Linda:   Blythe, it seems lately that all of the new romances coming out are 'pushing the envelope' of the genre - stretching it to include paranormal, SF, mystery. So, it was surprising to find a new author in her debut novel writing a romance that is so old-fashioned I am tempted to call the book a 'retro' romance.

Blythe:   Retro is a good term. The one I thought of was "old school," Woodiwiss, Busbee, early Johanna Lindsey kind of stuff. I am genuinely curious about this. I know there are readers who bemoan the lack of old fashioned, flowery romances. I'm wondering if they'd like this one, and if it's tapping a market made up of people who want to roll the clock back and remember romance's good old days.

Linda:   Well, even though the author used some of my least favorite plot devices: misunderstandings, separation and the hero who is less then honest with the heroine, I found the writing compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. I think what made the difference is that the heroine was definitely not old school. Nicole Lassiter was both likable and spunky without being TSTL, as many of the old fashioned heroines were. Also, the plot twists were not bizarre i.e. going blind and having to be rescued from both pirates and a harem like heroines in books like Sweet Savage Love were. Sweet Savage Love single-handedly kept me from reading another romance book for 10 years, as I had never read anything that bizarre! I also liked the tortured hero, Derek Sutherland. I was surprised I liked this book so much as I usually detest 'captive' books.

Blythe:   Well, it was a little too old school for me. Privately, I thought of Derek as the "Captain of all *ssholes." Not a nice word, but it pretty much describes his behavior for much of the book. It has some of "romance's not-so-greatest hits," including an h&h separation, a misunderstanding (or even several), a hero who thinks the heroine is a prostitute (and that her father is her protector!), and purple prose galore. But I'll agree with you on one thing: this book was not boring. Even with all the purple prose and my utter dislike of the hero, the pages practically turned themselves. I really didn't enjoy it, but I had no trouble reading it. Perhaps this is because the plot marches right along, and though many of the plotpoints are hackneyed clichés, the book doesn't have a sagging middle, or any dead spots to speak of.

Linda:   Funnily enough, I liked Derek especially when the truth about his marriage and horrible wife was revealed. And because of her actions one could also understand his distrust of Nicole. I also didn't think it odd that he thought Nicole a prostitute, when he first sees her she is in the worst kind of wharf-side dive looking for her father and NO lady would have ever been in a place like that. It seemed natural to me that he thought her a prostitute. But, what made him a hero, for me, was the fact that even though he thought her a lady of the night, when she protested in his cabin, he backed off. I did find the misunderstandings a tad annoying, but the plot was moving along so quickly that I found my annoyance level lower then usual to this plot device.

Blythe:   Oh, I thought the secret about his first marriage was no excuse for his behavior. The "I've had a raw deal so I am going to drink myself into the gutter and treat everyone around me like total crap" hero ought to be permanently relegated to a time capsule. I could buy that he might have thought she was a prostitute at first, but when she didn't talk like one he should have gotten a clue. But that didn't annoy me nearly so much as the later misunderstanding, when he thinks she has done something to harm his ship. I thought he had little evidence of this and was very quick to jump to conclusions, which made him a total, flat-out jerk. But while some aspects of the book are complete throwbacks, I did find the great race premise interesting. There aren't that many shipboard romances nowadays, which is kind of a shame, because they can be fun.

Linda:   Well, turn about was fair play - she thought that he had sabotaged her ship too. These are the type of Big Misunderstands that usually annoy me and I can only put it down to the quality of the writing in moving everything along, that kept me from tossing the book at the wall as I have been known to do in the past. I'm assuming there is an audience for 'retro' romances - after all they keep re-releasing all of those old Johanna Lindsey captive books - most of which I detest - and the sales must be decent or they wouldn't keep releasing them . I think for a debut novel this was interesting and I liked it well enough that I would try a second book by Cole. Hopefully, the next one will avoid some of romance's most hackneyed plot devices and make the hero as likable as the heroine.

Blythe:   Well, what did you think of the love scenes? Sometimes the over the top stuff can be fun, but I laughed out loud when Derek "slammed his rod into her."

Linda:   I thought it fun and as I read those I began to wonder if perhaps this book was a tongue-in-cheek retro romance - perhaps Cole was having a bit of fun in this old-fashioned romance. I had the same feelings with Jennifer Ashley's first book, Perils of the Heart, and after meeting Jennifer at Celebrate Romance, I am even more convinced that there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek quality to her story.

Did you like this book enough to give debut author Cole another go in a second book?

Blythe:   No, I don't think so. For me it was eerily reminiscent of Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower. Not in a copyright violation way, or anything like that - just in spirit. I just get annoyed with those brash heroes with the immaturity of three year olds who walk around throwing stuff, ripping bodices ( I mean really - he does this twice!) and slamming their rods into the heroine. He also likes to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about his c*ck, a word I've never been able to stand. It would take some major convincing to get me to give this author a second try.

In fact, you know who he reminds me of? Stiffler from the American Pie movies. His over-sexed adolescent sensibility is the same, but Derek isn't intentionally funny.

Linda:   LOL, I haven't ever read The Flame and The Flower - although it was recommended to me by a friend who loved the hero. Derek certainly isn't as big or stubborn a jerk as the *ssholes in Lindsey's Prisoner of My Desire or Winter Fire both of which I loathed; but then someone DIK'd Prisoner of My Desire, so obviously there are those who love this type of hero. I think what made it work for me was that even though Derek ripped her bodice - it was equally clear that he did not rape her. I can go a long way with 'forced seduction,' but Nicole was seducer here as well as seduced. What saved this book for me was Nicole, whose determination and resourcefulness I admire and to my surprise I did like Derek. Perhaps the fact that no one in the world thought worse of Derek then he did of himself.

I was also intrigued by the obvious set up for a second book with Derek's brother Grant - who was definitely on the surface a more likable individual.

Blythe:   Yes, that's true - Derek is not a rapist at any point in the book (which does set him apart from Brandon in TF&TF, who does rape the heroine). Derek thinks about it, when she's unconscious and he is still convinced that she has done something to hurt his crew. But he doesn't actually do it. And Nicole is definitely spunkier than Woodiwiss' Heather, a heroine whom I thought of as "the bunny rabbit." Still, this was just too retro and over-the-top purple to work for me. It just has a certain brash/lush quality that rubs me the wrong way.

Linda:   Well, judging by all the reprints of early Coulter, Lindsey, and Palmer. I think there is a market out there for an old fashioned alpha male, captive love story. What sets this apart from the old ones is that Kresley avoids the unforgivable sin of making the hero a rapist and totally insensitive. Derek thinks about being cruel or forcing himself upon Nicole who he thinks attempted to kill his crew, but he never actually does it. The so-called heroes in the older books did rape and for me a hero who rapes is completely unredeemable.

Have you read any books that you liked lately? I read Kasey Michaels' absolutely delicious Maggie Needs An Alibi. Her sly wit and pointed satire of readers, agents, authors and publishers sent me to the store to buy the second book in the series - in hardback no less. It is on the top of my TBR pile and I can hardly wait to get to it.

Blythe:   I think that for its type, Cole's book is not a bad one - that's why I'm curious to hear what other people think about it. It's just not my type of book at all. I haven't really read any romances lately that have blown me away; everything has been in the B-/C range. But I did read a very enjoyable nonfiction book for book club. It was called The Prize Winner from Defiance, Ohio. It's about a woman who managed to raise ten kids during the 50s and 60s, mostly on her earnings from various contests. It was a peek into an era and subculture I knew very little about, and I highly recommend it.

Linda:   Sounds interesting, seems like someone could make a very nice romance out of that story don't you think? Perhaps Ed McMahon could be the hero? I am still in the midst of a move, it seems like my house is taking as long as yours did to sell, but hopefully when we meet in September I will be homeless, our new house won't be ready till February at the earliest.

What are we reading for September?

Blythe:   September's choice is the Where's My Hero anthology, with stories by Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, and Kinley MacGregor. All of the characters have appeared in other books, and in this anthology they get stories of their own. This will be something different for us, as we've never done an anthology before.

Linda:   Well, we certainly have promising authors in Quinn and Kleypas. I really enjoyed the Lady Whistledown anthology.

Happy reading; I'll see you in September.

Blythe:   Happy reading (and house selling).

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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