It’s time to talk about sex in romance novels. Not in a prurient way, but in terms of how it works for the story and how it can enhance, or diminish, the portrayal of the relationship. The candor begins after the jump, if you want to head straight there.
A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant is the third novel in her Blackshear trilogy. I have read books one, A Lady Awakened, but don’t really remember it, and two, A Gentleman Undone. The second novel ended with a scandal and book three, A Woman Entangled, addresses the aftermath that occurs when your brother marries a courtesan and your own reputation is scathed by association.
The entangled woman of the title, Kate, thinks Elizabeth Bennet was an idiot to turn down Mr. Darcy when he first proposed as Pemberley would have been more than enough to make up for an unhappy marriage. Kate is beautiful and practices being fetching in the mirror in hopes of leveraging her loveliness to make an advantageous marriage. She thinks this will redeem her family from the isolation it endures because her father had the audacity to marry against his parent’s wishes. Family friend and her father’s protegé, Nick Blackshear, has been in love with Kate for three years. He hasn’t the pedigree to please her, and his family has its own recent scandal to contend with, so he has told himself he is over Kate, even as he watches her to see the kind and thoughtful woman she hides beneath her carefully presented surface.
Kate and Nick move towards their happy ending by dealing with their own individual issues. The story is believable, their motivations logical, and I was glad they reached the happy ending. Cecilia Grant is an excellent writer in terms of both style and structure. Unlike the narrative distance run of the mill historical romances often create, a kind of demi-camp reality somewhere between the 19th century and now, Grant anchored her story in appropriate mores and conduct, until…
This is the part about sex. These are the historical romance genre basics:
- An average romance novel is about 350 pages.
- There is something out there for every inclination.
- The first kiss usually takes place around page 100. I actually said, “If these two don’t kiss soon, my head may explode,” out loud while reading Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas.
- There are generally two or three love scenes, plus some making out.
- Even if the couple has relations at the outset, there will be a protracted period of abstaining.
- The consummation happens around page 200.
- The sex is representative of either the emotional state of the relationship or indicative of the potential intimacy once their emotions get sorted out.
- Very little anatomical vocabulary is used, instead the genre has consistent euphemistic language. Some of it is twee.
- The writer has to balance 21st century sensibilities with the historical period, the level of experience appropriate for the leads, and the tone of the novel.
- When the love scenes are wrong, for want of a better term, it is disruptive to the novel’s tone and, more importantly, my reading.
This brings me back to Cecilia Grant’s A Woman Entangled: What the hell, Ms. Grant? Your preceding book, A Gentleman Undone, had graphic sex scenes that moved towards love scenes with the development of the leads’ emotional relationship, but in that book heroine is a woman who has earned money pleasuring men. It was appropriate. In A Woman Entangled, Kate is inexperienced, the rest of the book closely mirrors appropriate societal conventions for the time, and then there is a love scene in which Kate goes from novice to a double-digit number in the turn of a page. It’s not that what went on was offensive, it just had completely the wrong tone. I was reading along, the historical illusion being spun around me was in place, and then the characters start acting in a wholly inappropriate manner not only for the time period, which is generally expected, but in violation of their emotional lives, thus diminishing the overall effect of a novel which was otherwise very, very good.
[Huffy list of books that make this same mistake redacted.]