Seductive as Flame

Susan Johnson
December 2011, Historical Romance (Regency England)
Berkley, $7.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425244903
Part of a series

Grade: F
Sensuality: Hot

I delight in sizzling sex and absorbing ambiance in my romances, so I was sure Iíd love Susan Johnson. Iíve not read any of her other books, but sheís definitely got a reputation, and I was confident her novels and I were bound to be a perfect match. Well, damn my socks, but I was wrong. I didnít like anything about Ms. Johnsonís latest, Seductive as Flame. Not the oodles of gooey sex, not the back story and its implied approval of British economic imperialism in late 19th century Africa, nor the libertine lovers both of who are as removed from reality as is Lady Gagaís wardrobe.

Let me elaborate.

I didnít like the plot. From the moment fabulously wealthy, divinely handsome, sexually exceptional, linguistically prodigal, superb rider, and almost painfully well-endowed Alec Munro, the Earl of Dalgliesh, sees flame haired, multi-orgasmic, violet-eyed, lush breasted, well-traveled, lynx fur coat wearing Zelda Mackenzie, he wants to ravish her in every position possible. She feels the same way about him, and after several dull chapters where the two talk about how desperately and creatively they want to get down and dirty with each other, by page seventy, theyíve had (literally) unbelievable amounts of constant copious coitus and Zelda has fallen in love. Alec, whoís married to a super bitch, isnít quite in love but he wants much much more of Zeldaís curves and crevices, so the two embark on an affair. Alecís slutty psycho wife tries to first break them up and then kill them. Alec, when heís not drinking half a bottle of whiskey for lunch or showing Zelda the joys of bondage with very special knots, works on making vast sums of money from his mines in South Africa and valiantly protecting his step-son from his nasty mom.

I didnít like the characters. Alec is my least favorite kind of alpha-male hero. Heís screwed more women than he can remember, but even thinking about the other lovers who taught Zelda to be so bodacious in bed makes him want to hit her. Heís so cock-sure of himself that, when Zelda compliments his amorous abilities, he thinks to himself, ďThatís what they all say.Ē He lies repeatedly to Zelda ó sometimes to shut her up, other times to manipulate her into doing his will. Heís such a dick ó in so many offensive ways ó I kept hoping heíd suddenly be felled by some horrible, impotence-inducing disease. Zelda is no better. Sheís a whiner, wails when she doesnít get her twentieth big bang of the day, and constantly discounts the needs, schedules, and presence of others so she can have wild screaming sex anywhere, anytime with Alec. Violetta, Alecís evil wife, is so over the top, sheís a caricature. She doesnít have a single redeeming aspect to her ó she makes Cruella DeVil look compassionate.

I didnít like the historical back story. Ms. Johnson clearly knows her time and place but, in Seductive as Flame, the history doesnít enhance the story. Furthermore, Alec is uber-wealthy and much of the history centers on his efforts to become even wealthier. I didnít care about his African mines, his sumptuous travels all over the world, or his near miraculous ability to procure fantastically singular and prohibitively expensive gifts for Zelda at a moment's notice. In good historical fiction, itís not enough that context is detailed and accurate; it must also be interesting. In this book, it is not.

I didnít like the sex and there was loads of sex. In all of it, Alec is the Zen master of orgasm. Zelda comes over and over again while Alec, smarmily congratulating himself on his dick size and stamina, doesnít until he so chooses. He does choose to come in Zelda and rather cavalierly justified this by first saying he canít help himself ó funny how that Zen thing comes and goes ó and then saying, no matter what, he has to have her as his. Alec and Zelda often use bickering and hostility as foreplay and, given that none of it is witty, funny, or appealing, their verbal intercourse debases their sexual intercourse. Their sex is prodigious but not palpably passionate. As their relationship deepens, the two speak loftily about love and happiness; but between the sheets, against the wall, in the chaise lounge, and on the floor, they are just fucking. Not once did I ever feel they made love.

I think most would categorize this book as erotic romance. I found it neither. I found it almost unreadable.

Itís possible I might enjoy Susan Johnsonís prose were I to read another of her books. Sheís earned four Aís, six Bís, seven Cís, four Dís, and seven Fís here at AAR. Thatís quite an assortment. Other than here at AAR reviewers have praised To Please A Lady, Forbidden, Outlaw, and Silver Flame. Each of these books by Ms. Johnson is described as a stellar, blazing historical romance. Iíll have to take that on faith because Seductive as Flame is anything but.

Susan Johnson is a special case of mine since she is the only author to whom I have both given an A and an F, though those As were given to books written long ago. However, I remain hopeful. - Sandy AAR

-- Dabney Grinnan

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