At Her Service

Susan Johnson
March 2008, European Historical Romance (1850s Crimea)
Brava, $15.00, 293 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758209401

Grade: C
Sensuality: Hot

Well, it doesn’t suck.

Let’s call this one yet another in the series of Susan Johnson-Lite historicals featuring a jaded and daring aristocrat infamous for his legendary sexual escapades (not to even mention his girth) and an experienced woman only slightly less jaded and experienced. As in the many previously published Johnson-Lites, they come together in a burst of sexual combustion unheard of in its intensity (except in other Johnson-Lite entries, of course) that both believe to be a brief affair and then – voila! – the romance novel HEA is awkwardly introduced in the book’s final pages. We have so-o-o-o-o-o been there already.

The plot involves the English noble hero who is, of course, also some sort of spy, meeting the noble heroine who was born and bred in the Crimea, in the midst of wartime. He assists her in removing her injured brother to safety and they have hot sex. Lots of hot sex. And that's pretty much it.

A further complication is that Ms. Johnson chose to set her novel in the midst of the Crimean War, a period most romance readers these days know absolutely nothing about and, without the help of footnotes (insert fond sigh in remembrance of Johnson's footnotes), the ins and outs of the French and the Russians and the English and the Tartars peppering the novel in a cursory way are virtually incomprehensible. Context in the form of footnotes or – gosh golly! – brief explanations of the political complications are required when an author expects readers to follow a story set in a sad time in a history that isn’t much written about. The author provides none of it here – that’s right, none.

But, you know what, fellow readers? Ms. Johnson knows this. Oh, yes, she does. It just takes more time to write a book like Forbidden, her richly detailed historical novel (plus footnotes!) featuring an unforgettably beautiful and sexy love story about two individuals who never expected to find love. But if you set about writing a book like that one, it means you can’t crank out a few historicals and at least one contemporary every single year. Clearly, Ms. Johnson has made her choice and the loss is the readers’.

I keep trying, though, every few books. So, am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but I also live in hope. And as I said, at least it doesn’t suck.

-- Sandy Coleman

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