Lessons From a Courtesan

Jenna Petersen
2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061138142

Grade: F
Sensuality: Warm

The back of Lessons From a Courtesan sounded very promising, and I eagerly started reading when the book arrived. One chapter in, though, and I realized I was in for an incredibly painful ride.

Justin Talbot, Earl of Baybary, just entered a marriage of convenience with Victoria Reed. He weds and beds the girl, then promptly leaves her the next morning to return to London. Three years later, a mysterious courtesan takes the ton by storm. She calls herself “Ria,” and all the men are drooling after her. Justin gets one look at her, and is furious: This so-called courtesan is his wife! He confronts her, and she tells him that she will only be in town long enough to find a lover, and then return to the countryside. Justin isn’t convinced, and vows to find what his wife is really up to. It turns out that one of Victoria’s friends has gone missing, and it is up to her to find her. She poses as a courtesan to question her friend’s past lovers. This pseudo-intrigue all happens, of course, as she and her estranged husband “fight” their attraction to one another.

Lordy, I don’t even know where to start. The story is one big anachronism; it’s like 20th century characters have been dropped into the 19th century. The premise is ridiculous beyond belief. We’re supposed to believe that both Victoria and Justin have nurtured a tendre for each other ever since their underwhelming wedding night three years earlier. The consummation scene is short and completely devoid of emotion, yet these two are plunged into Lust the minute they see each other again. He hasn’t seen her for three years, but has supposedly been thinking about her sweet body and her innocent ways all this time. Victoria melts into her husband’s arms the minute he touches her, and then shouts about how he abandoned her. And if you’re wondering, this is only up to chapter three. Justin later decides to become a possessive and jealous freak, which I consider the author’s attempt into making him a winning alpha hero. Doesn’t work. Victoria is a weak girl and a fine addition to the TSTL hall of fame, which makes me wonder how she musters up enough guts to become a fake courtesan to begin with.

The writing. Oh, the writing. It very, very, very strongly reminds me of amateur, self-published work that could do with a tough editor wielding the largest red Sharpie ever sold. It is explicit in the worst way; we are told everything, and I mean everything. By the end of the book, I felt like a priest at a never ending confessional. Not a single thought or emotion that any of the characters experienced remained untold. I didn’t have a chance to feel any sexual tension between the main characters because I was told point-blank that “no other woman had ever made him feel like he did with Victoria. Wild. Out of control. Randy as a green boy. He wanted to have her in every way. Any way.” Yes, I laughed out loud quite a few times. The dialogue is unnatural and stilted, and is reminiscent of the worst soap operas. Admittedly, the prose is not very purple, but I still managed to wince at the contrived love scenes.

Bottom line: There is no way I would have voluntarily finished Lessons From a Courtesan had I not been reading it for a review. I found myself cleaning out my entire refrigerator to avoid returning to this book. Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book unless you are a true glutton for punishment.

-- Emma Leigh

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