Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-312-97998-3
I swear, books like this are driving me straight to traditional Regencies (where there’s much less sex, but much more romance).

Amanda Devereaux has eight sisters, including her twin, Tabitha, and all are have supernatural powers. While she loves her family, Amanda longs for a life of staid “normality” and chooses her boyfriends accordingly. Too bad her weird siblings scare off her boring men.

Amanda is contemplating the latest casualty when she is struck over the head and knocked out. She awakens on a cold concrete floor, handcuffed to a leather-clad blonde hunk she’s never seen before. He’s unconscious and, after admiring his physique, Amanda wonders if he’s alive. “Hey, yummy leather guy?” she whispers. “Can you hear me?”

Coming to, yummy leather guy pins Amanda beneath him before realizing she is not Tabitha. This must be good news, because he immediately starts fantasizing about Amanda’s naked breasts, gets aroused and realizes that “it had been centuries since he last craved a woman this way.” Amanda knows she probably ought to be scared but kinda likes having yummy leather guy on top of her.

This tender interlude is interrupted by Desiderius, the Daimon who has captured them and wants both Tabitha and Mr. Yummy - actually a Dark-Hunter - dead. Instead of killing them immediately, though, he’s going to send them off, chained together by handcuffs forged by Hephaestus which can only be opened by a god. Apparently not realizing he has the wrong girl, the theory is that they’ll drive each other crazy until Desiderius hunts them down and destroys them. Hunter, it seems, is an immortal whose job it is to rid the world of evil Daimons and Tabitha is an annoying vampire hunter who thinks Hunter is one of the bad guys.

My first issue with this book was the lust that instantly overpowers both Hunter and Amanda. Lust is not romance. Worse, the fact that both of them are constantly preoccupied by their juices in situations ranging from inappropriate to life-threatening makes them look like idiots.

And - can I say it again? - lust is not romance. I am one of those people who was delighted when romance became more sexually explicit. A physical relationship can immeasurably enhance a romantic relationship - if there is one. When sex replaces the emotional connection it just becomes an inventory of how the body parts fit together and the gynecology is tedious rather than erotic.

To be fair, I did think Amanda and Hunter eventually developed an emotional bond, but the fact that it followed all the untrammeled lechery weakened it, made it seem as though they were justifying their urges by attaching emotions to them. In traditional Regencies, tame as they are, the romance doesn’t get lost somewhere under the sex because the characters simply aren’t going to have sex (not in front of us, anyway).

The convoluted fantasy world of this book also made the Regency’s intricate social conventions look like a game of tag. It took way too much time to explain who all the bad guys were, and all the good guys, and all the bit players, especially since most of them had no important role to play. A ruthless assessment of what actually made a contribution to the story would have done this book a world of good.

There’s also some extremely graphic violence that, while rendered with shocking reality, could only be described as a mood killer in this context. There are genres in which this would be expected, even indispensable to the authenticity of the story. In my opinion, romance is not one of them.

Having said all that, when Ms. Kenyon gets down to simply telling her tale and letting Amanda and Hunter connect with something other than their libidos the whole thing becomes very absorbing and readable. Now, if she could just have enough faith in her story telling abilities to eliminate all the excessive complexity, and give us a hero and heroine who get to know each other a little before they start drooling, we’d have a really good romance. And I’d be less tempted by the genteel stories on the Signet rack.

--Judi McKee

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