Susan Johnson’s books have always bordered on the erotic - sometimes it works, however, in this case, it really didn’t.
The premise of the story is that a very experienced rake, one Jack Fitz-James, the Marquis of Redvers, has been challenged to take the unconquerable Venus Duras to his bed. The question of “can he or can he not” became moot as the unattainable Venus quickly succumbs to Jack’s questionable charm as they made wild monkey love within the first twenty-five pages. At age 25, Venus is no missish spinster - being an independent woman of means she has had the opportunity to experience her own sexual freedom. Although an effort had been made to point out that her life revolves around her charitable work, mainly building and equipping hospitals, one really wouldn’t have guessed at her dedication as she hurriedly falls under Jack’s sexual advances.
They do get together and their company is obvious to everyone. But some women are more devious than others; in assuming that Venus is a dangerous, albeit temporary, fling for Jack, certain mamas and their daughters aggressively push for his “affections” in hopes of being the future Marchioness of Redvers. Then there’s Jack’s cousin, who also covets his title and sees Venus’ possible permanence in Jack’s life as a real threat to his aspiration.
To be fair, there really is more to Venus than sex - though she seems awfully brazen and experienced for a gentlewoman in that time period, it is her education, work and conversation that sets her apart from any other woman that Jack has known. Jack, on the other hand, doesn’t really develop as a character (not that any of the characters do!) - he just falls in love. Sure, falling in love can bring about fidelity to a renowned rake like Jack, but that’s pretty much a given in any romance novel when a devoted womanizer finally meets the person with whom they’re willing to spend the rest of their life. The dialogue between Jack and Venus doesn’t fare any better; it is hard to imagine that they spoke of sex and sexual parts in a bold manner in 1851. But then again, one can argue that eroticism is timeless….
The story is full of sex, not necessarily bad in a book, but it really doesn’t progress farther than that; there’s also a disturbing scene when Venus insists on a condom and Jack seduces her anyway, assuring her that he’s never gotten anyone pregnant yet. It really doesn’t speak well of the hero when he refuses to respect the heroine’s wishes, especially with something as important as donning a condom! No is no - in any language, in any circumstance, in any time period - and that scene alone gives the book the rating it deserves, a one rose.