September 2011, Historical Romance (1800s Jamaica)
Brava, $14.00, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758231741
Seven Years to Sin commences (and concludes) with coitus. At its start, Lady Jessica Sheffield, on the eve of her wedding, is walking her dog on her fiancé’s estate. The pug runs away and, as she chases it down, she stumbles across a gazebo in which Alistair Caulfield, a friend of her fiancé’s younger brother (and “likely the handsomest man in all of England”), is energetically inflagrente delicto with a woman old enough to be his mother. Jessica cannot look away and, as Alistair sees her watching him, neither can he.
This encounter changes them both. For Jessica, it awakens her sexual self; she is so aroused she seduces her fiancé that very night. For Alistair, it is the beginning of an obsession with Jessica, one he is unable to act upon until after she is widowed, seven long years later. Jessica, still missing the husband she loved, then decides to travel to Jamaica to visit a plantation she inherited upon his death. The ship she takes is Alistair’s and, the second he realizes she will be on it, he arranges to sail with her.
Seven Years to Sin is an intensely erotic novel. Alistair is known for his sexual prowess and he uses every skill he has to get and keep Jessica in his bed. Given that the two are on a ship he owns, they have a freedom they’d never have in 1800’s England. They have sex — hot, steamy, constant, detailed sex —over and over again and they talk as they couple. I’ve rarely encountered so many good old fashioned Anglo Saxon words (fuck, cock, bollocks, suck, seed, slit, cunt…) so often.
When Alistair and Jessica aren’t speaking pornographically, they’re speaking psychologically. Both have issues from their pasts to overcome and both are relentless in sharing their feelings. Between all their doting and emoting, it’s surprising Ms. Day found room in the novel for a secondary romance. But she did, and it’s a gripping one.
Jessica’s younger sister Hester, like Jessica, is shaped by her abusive childhood. Where Jessica has found the strength to demand men treat her with care, Hester is trapped repeating the enabling behaviors she learned as a child. Hester is a poignant tragedy of a woman; she is married to the Earl of Regmont, a man she loves for what he once was and hates for the abuser he has become. Jessica’s brother-in-law Michael cares deeply for Hester and is painfully paralyzed by his inability to save her from her spouse. Their story is affecting, subtle, and just flat out beautifully done.
Ultimately, Hester’s and Michael’s story is a better one than Jessica’s and Alistair’s. The very fact Michael and Hester can’t share overt physical or emotional intimacies makes their bond more compelling than that of Jessica and Alistair. The latter two are comparatively diminished by their compulsive prattle and passion. I wish Ms. Day had written her primary lovers with the same nuanced care she did that of Michael and Hester.
Still, this is a good book. The weaving of the two love stories gives each a greater resonance. Happiness hard won is a powerful thing and, in Seven Years to Sin, Ms. Day crafts two tales of true love that, combined, are heart rending and heartfelt.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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