What would you get if you forced Barbara Cartland into a room with Susan Johnson and made them collaborate on a book? You might well end up with Beyond Innocence, a delightful blend of Victorian virginity and steamy sexual goings-on! The plot immediately plunges us into the hidden world of Victorian repression – Freddie Burbrooke is about to bring shame and scandal down on the head of his family – and it’s up to his older brother Edward to do something about it.
The word “Victorian” is often used to denote highly proper behavior, and here, Freddie’s inappropriate antics with a footman at a country house party violate the high level of Victorian principles!! Talk about getting to the bottom of a page! (Sorry, atrocious pun, but I couldn’t help it!) Such activities, common though they must have been, were simply not acknowledged, but kept to the dark areas of those gentlemen’s secret lives. Thus Edward, in an effort to cover up the disaster, decides Freddie needs a wife – and lo and behold, here’s our heroine, the innocent Miss Florence Fairleigh, with the dew of the country still on her cheeks, looking for a husband before her small annuity runs out.
No prize for guessing what occurs next – Edward suffers an explosive case of lust-at-first-sight, and the chase is on! Emma Holly, whose writing credits include several novels for the Black Lace series of erotica, has managed to skillfully blend the sensual and steamy desires of our hero with the innocent yet yearning curiosity of our heroine, and they’re both likeable characters as well – no mean feat! Congratulations to Emma! We are very easily swept up in the emotions, feelings and desires of these people, even though there are a few loose areas within the plot (if your demanding aunt is going to be part of the proceedings, she has to continue to be part of the proceedings throughout the book, unless you ship her off to France on vacation!!). The sexual encounters between our hero and heroine become increasingly erotic, and Ms. Holly effortlessly leads us along for the ride. Florence is perfectly written – the magic blend of country innocence, tempered with a dash of spirit and a lot of sensual curiosity. Edward is stalwart, upright (often painfully so) and his desires are mostly kept under rigid control – but when he lets loose, look out!!!
This book was a pleasant and entertaining surprise – just different enough from the average Victorian romance and yet not overtly or embarrassingly sexual. If you’ve found Susan Johnson’s work a little hard to read at times, please try Emma Holly – she’s definitely found the doorway to the lighter side of desire!