Deadly Affairs

Deadly Illusions

Deadly Pleasure

A Lady at Last

Perfect Secrets

The Rival

The Third Heiress

Dark Seduction
by Brenda Joyce
(HQN, PG-13, $7.99) ISBN 978-0373-77233-9
A prolific and versatile writer, Brenda Joyce is best known for her medieval romances. Her production is inconsistent: reviewers on this site have awarded her with two-, three- and four-hearts. After reading Dark Seduction, which I take to be her first venture into paranormal historical romance, I am heading for the lower end of the scale.

Claire Camden, a bookseller in modern New York, is surprised one night by a woman who demands the missing page from a lost book on the art of healing. Claire doesn't know what the woman is talking about. After a short skirmish, Claire faints and the woman disappears. Not long after Claire comes to, another mysterious stranger shows up with a similar request. Instead of clobbering Claire on the head, he takes her back in time to fifteenth-century Scotland.

The man is Malcolm of Dunroch, whose historical existence has always interested scholarly Claire. None of the records and accounts she examined revealed he was a Master of Time, one of a band of select warriors (which romance hero isn't these days?). Endowed with paranormal powers, including the ability to travel time, Masters fight against demonic forces. In their times, these come in the shape of Moray, a former Master gone rogue. Keen to increase his followers, Moray had once challenged and tempted Malcolm with an extreme form of sexual pleasure. Malcolm almost succumbed: his innocent sexual partner died before he could stop himself. He doesn't want a repeat of this experience. Which is why he won't allow himself to have any sexual relations, no matter how attracted he is. And he is very attracted to Claire.

This makes things extremely difficult for Claire, who has a hard time making sense of everything, including her feelings for Malcolm. To her credit, she tries hard to get her bearings, enlisting the help of other Masters to understand her role in this bygone world. The rest of the time her behavior is a checklist of the most stupid things a romance heroine can do. She protests too much about her lack of interest in Malcolm even as she has an irritating tendency to be ferociously jealous of every woman he approaches. She runs straight into a trap, despite all the alarm bells warning her not to. She refuses to see obvious clues about an important mystery. The list could go on.

A discredit to alpha males everywhere, Malcolm didn't earn too many points with me either. Being the leader of the pack doesn't mean thumping your chest and proclaiming ownership and dominance over women. It means having qualities that make people look up to you, It means balancing your domineering tendencies with an ability to listen to other people's wishes and needs. It means delegating responsibility rather than hogging it. Malcolm has few of these qualities. Which made me as interested in his quest as I would be in the antiques of a drunken frat boy.

Of course, my disappointment with the plot could also be because it was incoherent and confusing. The obsession with the missing page fades very quickly only to make an unexpected re-appearance in the last fourth of the book. Perhaps the characters (and the author) suddenly remembered their objective? Most of the intervening episodes tug the reader in a variety of different directions. There is the mystery of Claire's family origins and of Malcolm's strange fear of pleasure. There are also the confusing interludes where we are introduced to other Masters of Time. Much of this reads as if Joyce were trying to set up the series and not enough of it contributes to Claire and Malcolm's romance.

Joyce relies on her historical knowledge to draw a credible world, and her alternative universe has some potential. There are also one or two interesting secondary characters, including Malcolm's half-brother Aidan. Although these elements are not enough to salvage this book, they might eventually persuade me to give some of the forthcoming ones a try.

--Mary Benn

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