Yes, readers, Jean was able to convince Paul to read another romance! This time, they discuss
Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James (Dell, $21.95, ISBN 0-385-33360-9).
"Once again my dear husband has come to my rescue. I had
agreed to review Eloisa James’ new hardback “Regency historical” and
about 130 pages into the book, I was wandering around the house saying,
“Why, why, WHY? Why was this book by a brand new author published in
hardback? What did the editor who gave James’ a big advance and a
multi-book contract see in Potent Pleasures that I am so clearly
"As I ranted on about the injustice of a world in which my favorite
authors have either just recently made the jump to hardback or are still
languishing in the less remunerative paperback format, Paul got
curious. And it occurred to us both that perhaps a non-romance reader
might better understand what it was that an editor saw in
Potent Pleasures. So, in his ever-supportive way, he agreed to
read the book along with me."
"I should warn our readers that in order to effectively discuss our
respective reactions to Potent Pleasures, we are providing much
more plot description than usually appears in a review."
"Well, here goes:"
"The heroine, the daughter of a duke, attends a “hookers ball” in
disguise where she is ravished by a noble, also in disguise. Ravished
and ravisher alike develop a deep fixation on their unknown partners.
The heroine, considering herself ruined and uninterested in other men
anyway, devotes herself to painting. The hero goes off to Italy, where
he marries someone who reminds him of the ravished heroine. When his bride
turns out to be a slut, he accepts an annulment of their marriage on the
grounds of impotence. He returns to England with the daughter of the
failed marriage to whom he is a devoted father."
"His arrival coincides with the heroine’s decision to turn herself into
the most glamorous young lady of the ton. She recognizes him as her
ravisher; he fails to recognize her as the ravishee. Amid sly jokes
about his supposed condition, he pursues her. They wed. But a
thoughtless remark on her part at the end of the conjugal act convinces
the earl that she is not a virgin. He threatens to have nothing to do
with her, despite her feeble efforts to explain that she is certain that
he is the man at the aforesaid “hookers’ ball” with whom her only
previous experience occurred."
"In due course, the earl’s passion returns. But just when all seems to
be going well, the earl is sent on a secret mission into France. When
he returns, he finds his bride is pregnant amid rumors that his twin
brother had been paying her more than brotherly attention. He leaves
her, threatening divorce. But a conversation with his brother convinces
him that nothing untoward had occurred and that, in fact, the pregnancy
had begun before his departure. He rushes to her side and helps to
deliver their baby. They are deliriously happy. There is a final scene
at a subsequent “hookers’ ball” where they reenact their first
"Gee, Paul, that sure catches the flavor of part of what I found unlikable in the story. I mean, there seems to be almost every plot device known to modern man.
And the behavior of the characters simply doesn’t make sense. Alexander
(our earl) seems like a fairly cool guy in the first part of the book.
Even his ravishing Charlotte (our heroine) is understandable, given that
he thought she was a hooker. (Well, he couldn’t have thought she was a
“hooker” since no one used that term until the Civil War, but he did
think she was a prostitute.")
"Then in the second half of the book, Alexander turns into a real
"Yes, and I didn’t think the author provided any real
motivation for his radical change in behavior. He didn’t seem all that
broken up about his first marriage and he didn’t have any reason to
think that Charlotte was like his first wife."
"But I know that you had other serious problems with the book that had
less to do with the plot and characterization and more to do a lot of
"You are so right! The publisher promoted this book as a“Regency historical.” Well, in my opinion, it is neither a Regency nor
"To begin with, it’s set in 1798 and 1803, long before the Regency
began. But that’s a minor part of my objections. You know, this era is
one of the most popular settings for historical romances and most
readers have certain expectations about the books they read. They
expect that the author will have made an effort to describe the
historical background with at least a modicum of accuracy. And then
there are readers like me who look for a lot of historical accuracy in
their Regency historicals."
"As far as I am concerned, Potent Pleasures displays virtually no knowledge of the Regency era. We can start with the “Hookers’ Ball in the wilds of Kent. We can
continue with characters dancing a waltz a decade before it appeared in
England, or the season starting in August, or the reference to the
Prince of Wales as the Crown Prince, or the use of the term policeman in
1802, or the allusion to nudists migrating to America, or Lady Marion
Lamb and her short hair, or the idea that there were illustrated gossip
papers, or, or, or. And that’s only in the first couple of chapters.
One of my favorites was her description of Charlotte’s friend’s husband
as “a red-coated major who seemed to be on his way to becoming an
admiral.” Oh, and yes, there’s the wedding in Westminster Abbey, a royal
church that is not “rented out” for special events."
"James has little grasp of the social mores of the era and displays no
understanding of British titles. She gets them wrong all the time, like
when she refers to Lord Reginald Peterson “who is only a baronet.” Her
lack of historical knowledge leads to all kinds of improbable events. I
mean, how likely would it be for a British earl to send his valued
eldest son to Italy in 1798, right after Napoleon had conquered much of
the country or keep him there while Napoleon is conducting his second
Italian campaign in 1800?"
"You know, we Regency readers really think things like this are important
and we really know our stuff. James’ disregard for historical
accuracy made me wonder if she doesn’t have a pretty low opinion of her
readers. Since I hoped this isn’t the case, I was much taken by your
suggestion after you had read a couple of chapters that Potent
Pleasures is a parody or a spoof or perhaps a comic novel, but not a
"Well, Jean, I really did look at the book that way, at least
at first. It’s hard to resist the idea that
the book is a spoof when the heroine responds to her ravishing (next to
a statute of Narcissus) by saying, “Thank-you. Good-bye.” Or when
later, having experienced her first orgasm, she composes herself by
reaching for a cucumber sandwich."
"And then there’s the way you could pronounce the
hero’s last name, Foakes. You know, after thinking of this and
remembering all the other strange names and titles that James uses in
the book, I thought of checking them out to see if there weren’t other
cutsey, clever devices here. But I decided it wasn’t worth it."
"But, I did have lots of chuckles reading the book which
I did not feel were inadvertent on the author’s part. Still, the last
few chapters of the book really bothered me. As they are described, the
marital troubles of our hero and heroine can no longer be considered a
spoof of a romance. They are, I regret to say, a spoof of melodrama
which descends into melodrama itself."
"I noticed that while you were reading the book you often
chuckled out loud. I do recall that when you read some of the parts that
you thought were funny to me, I did see the humor. But I also know that
while I was reading the story, I didn’t think it was all that
"Did your attitude towards the book change when you reached the end?"
"I’m afraid it did. The descriptions of the marital troubles
of our couple are pretty unpleasant and the writing felt
"I really didn’t like this book. I knew exactly where the
author was going, and I didn’t want to go there. For all the lighter
moments, I found the entire book pretty unpleasant. But this time, Paul, you
get to have the last word."
"Well, I really have mixed feelings about this book. Eloisa
James writes really well. I truly admire that. But, on the other hand,
the book seems to me to be neither fish nor fowl. It reminds me of much
of new American cuisine. It’s very clever, but when you’re finished
with it, you’re not sure that the ingredients which have been presented
to you go together very well."
"In fact, you’re not even sure you’ve had a meal."
September 10, 1999