June 2012, European Historical Romance (Victorian Era England)
Forever, $7.99, 330 pages, Amazon ASIN 1455505471 Part of a series
One Naughty Night sat on my review pile for far too long. It’s the first book in Laurel McKee’s new historical series, The Scandalous St. Clairs; when I realized the next comes out in just two months, I knew it was time to get reading and writing. The thing is, my initial instinct was right: this isn’t a book I loved. I didn’t hate it but the lack of chemistry between the leads combined with a shallow plot didn’t hold my interest.
For starters, the novel and the series are based on a premise that makes me impatient. One hundred years ago, the Huntingtons, now a wealthy and influential family in the ton — the head of the family is the Duke of Carston - ruined the St. Clairs. The St. Clairs, wealthy but not of the ton (they are successful theater owners and actors), still loathe the Huntingtons, even though for almost a century, the Huntingtons have done nothing to harm them. The two families are like the Capulets and the Montagues without any current drama. This irked me — the St. Clairs are wealthy and happy; their obsession with an ancient wrong struck me as silly.
In One Naughty Night, the star-crossed lovers are Lily St. Clair and Aidan Huntington. Both are somewhat set apart from their families. Lily was raised by a drug addicted whore in a brothel. She ran away from the whorehouse when her mother died — Lily was nine - and was trying to survive on the streets when she was found and then adopted by the warm-hearted St. Clairs. Aidan is the second son of a harsh duke. Aidan has spent his life trying to stay far away from the life his parents want for him; he hangs out in low rent taverns, befriends those in the working class, and secretly writes plays about the hoi polloi.
Lily and Aidan first meet when Lily is (I think) in her late teens. They share a passionate kiss after which she runs away. Three years later, Lily who has since then been unhappily wed and then happily widowed, meets Aidan again. The two recognize each other — they both remember their long ago embrace as something magical. When Aidan comes to the opening of a new high-end gaming club in Mayfair run by Lily's brothers - Lily does the accounts - the spark between he and Lily roars into flame and they begin a furtive affair.
And it’s quite an affair. They have sex, sex, and more sex. They have sex in Lily’s office, in a brothel, in a stable. They tie each other up, play with slightly kinky toys, and have sex. This book has — and I’m somewhat shocked that I feel this way — too much sex. I suppose the problem isn’t the frequency of the couplings but rather there isn’t enough other stuff like character and plot development. One Naughty Night is almost erotica rather than romance in that the novel is so focused Lily’s and Aidan’s sexual relationship. If you are looking for a hot and steamy book and that’s all you’re looking for, this one will satisfy you.
It didn’t satisfy me. I have a list of quibbles. Aidan isn’t richly developed — I never understood his motivations for much of what he does. He and Lily spend so much of their time together either having sex or talking about having sex; they don’t share enough of themselves outside the physical. Their lust blooms into love without the reader really seeing why. Lily’s past is horrific, extravagantly so, and torments her both emotionally and physically and yet she is remarkably unscathed. The bad guy is farcically bad; he’s a villain without nuance. The book’s sense of place is ordinary — although the book is set in the early years of the Victorian era, the setting is interchangeable with that of many Regencies. The last several chapters of the book are rushed and verging on melodramatic.
Ms. McKee’s excellent 2010 novel, Countess of Scandal, has none of these flaws. Ms. McKee, who also writes under the name Amanda McCabe, clearly can produce a more compelling novel. Certainly, technically, she can write. The best thing about One Naughty Night is how polished the language is. Ms.McKee’s a whiz with descriptive phrases; her writing is clean and clear.
Given the strength of Ms. McKee’s earlier works, the vigor of her prose, and the sizzle in her sex scenes, I do plan to read the next book in the series, Two Sinful Secrets. I hope the couple in that tale — Lily’s brother Dominic and Aidan’s cousin Sophia — is presented with more emotional depth and that the St. Clairs' hatred of all things Huntington’s is given more justification.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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