Once upon a time I was a dedicated historical romance reader. Remember back when heroes were big, aggressive, noble, dagger-wielding, larger-than-life alphas? The sort of hero only an actor like Russell Crowe could play in a movie. I loved those guys.
I stopped reading historical romance when authors started turning heroes into sheroes. Now almost every hero from the past is sweet, gentle, considerate, and apologetic, even when he shows up in full armor at his enemy's castle, an invading army of ex-mercs at his back. Today's historical romance hero doesn't charge the drawbridge. Oh, no (hand pressed to throat) he would never charge the drawbridge. He knocks now. Then he gets down on his knees to beg the enemy's daughter (the other heroine) to please give him her hand in marriage to avoid a lengthy and unpleasant siege in which someone might actually, you know, die. P.S., the marriage is always in name only -- absolutely no sex until undying love has been declared, usually on page 568.
Babe, if I want something that beta, I'll go to the pet shop and watch the fish spawn.
I didn't smell any flounder when I read Vanessa Jaye's wicked post about a controversial historical romance. First sign of a good book: it offended a bunch of the hen parties. The more they squawk, the more I know I'm going to like it. Vanessa's personal rec interested me, too. She sounded like she had a great time reading it.
That's why I picked up Lisa Valdez's Passion, my third terrific read. Ms. Jaye, you were right. This novel is wild, reckless, and shamelessly outrageous, exactly the way a great historical romance should be. Ms. Valdez does precisely what she wants with this story, and the result is gorgeous. It is not politically correct, as the hero is not a knee-bending apologetic fishstick, and the heroine doesn't spend 9/10's of the book shrieking at him for some imagined wrongdoing while guarding her virtue. Thank God.
The erotic content of Passion is high, constant, and quite graphic, but nothing I found at all offensive. There is a definite dom/sub aspect to the relationship, but I didn't have a problem with that, either. As for those cackling about How No Decent Person Did Those Things back then, you should read real erotica written from the time period, like My Secret Life, if you want to know how frisky people actually were. If you're not uptight, and you'd enjoy a story that tangles two strangers-as-lovers in a white-hot physical and deeply emotional relationship, get Passion. I read it in one sitting because I could not put it down until I found out what happened to Passion and Mark. The excerpt of the next book is also in the back, and promises to be just as much fun.
After finishing Passion, I figured I'd been blessed with far too many terrific books in a row, and now I was going to pay for it. I went back to the TBR pile anyway, hoping my luck would hold. The fourth book was a paranormal romance, a sub-genre I only read for quotes and market analysis now. I did put the fourth book back for a couple of days, promising myself I'd get back to it, but then a blog post by the author made me grab it and jump in.
If reading great books were wishes, I'd just had three very nice ones granted -- but I wanted more, as in more novels just like them. Monica Jackson must be a precog, or a genie, because it's as if she gave me the fun and warmth of Key of Sea, the tense thrills of Gettings Hers, and the constant heat of Passion, all blended beautifully together in her novel Love's Potion.
My mother loved the old TV show I Dream of Jeannie, and from the cover art I assumed Love's Potion would be an updated version of that. Why do we do that, judge a book by its cover art? I know better, but I formed an impression off the cute cover. I immediately liked the idea of the guy being stuck in the bottle (I suppose him wearing a skimpy harem costume was too much to hope for.) The book got off to a fast, rollicking start, and I settled in, pretty confident of how the story would go. Paranormal fluff.
Well, Love's Potion didn't fluff out the way I thought it would. Don't get me wrong, it's fun, and often laugh-out-loud funny (classic moments: Raziq's opinion of flying in airplanes, the scents of protective charms, and when Jasmine catfights Susie) but it goes nowhere near fluff. Forget the cover art; the story delivers all kinds of serious tension from the beginning -- plot tension, sexual tension, character tension -- and Monica layers and builds this in fine, very deceptive increments. That's also the way she does her worldbuilding, magic system and crafting the djinni, demons and humans caught up in a not-so-classic struggle of good against evil.
Love's Potion also turns up the heat, in degrees from low simmer to steamy boil, and I entertained much lust in my heart for Raziq. The man is just too much. Yet again, that didn't go as I'd expected. Raziq and Jasmine didn't follow the standard linear progression of a romance; they were too much like real people. When we fall in love, we don't know it's forever by chapter nine. We live with doubts, reservations, distractions coming at us from all directions, and no matter how strong your love is, you always have to deal with some form of that (or you do for at least twenty-two years, to use my most successful relationship as a yardstick.) Raziq and Jasmine convinced me they were in love because they had to keep dealing with that love, and its consequences, and not knowing how it would work out. As we all do. [End of anti-HEA mini-lecture.]
There is fast-moving adventure and meaningful romance and a skillfully spun web of plotlines in Love's Potion, and I am very grateful for the short epilogue, because if Monica had ended it at Chapter 23 I would have called her many bad names. But after going through everything with Raziq and Jasmine, I really needed those last two pages -- so much for my disdain for HEA. I know, I can be such a girl sometimes.
I think what impressed me the most about my fourth terrific read was again how much Monica was able to put into this story. It was everything that I wanted but didn't expect. The book is not that long, only 218 pages, and it moves like France's TGV trains: you fly through the chapters. You shouldn't be able to do that with a book that has all that Monica Jackson offers in Love's Potion, but you will. And that, my friends, is very real magic.