Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell

I stayed up until 3:30am reading this book on Friday. It was just that good. Certainly not a book that is light and fluffy, but so excellent that you feel as though you have eating a ten course meal instead of a sweet, tasty cupcake. Erith is not what I would call a nice guy. He's selfish and blunt and doesn't work too hard to observe social niceties. He lives for his own desires, and goes where he wants to go, always drifting, and leaving nothing behind that he regrets despite the many mistresses that he's cast aside. He's abandoned his children, out of grief when his wife died, but abandoned all the same for sixteen plus years. He's had more mistresses than he could count, and he doesn't have honorable intentions towards our heroine, Olivia. The interesting thing is that his behavior is consider more socially acceptable than Olivia. It's one of the hypocritical aspects of society that never fails to irritate me. A woman is no good when she is forced to take lovers to support herself. Yet a man can have as many lovers as he wants and no one blinks an eye, as long as he's semi-discreet and doesn't marry a woman who has a past.

I must admit it took me a long time to warm up to Erith. I felt he was a selfish man who didn't really understand what loving was, or he forgot when he lost his wife at a young age. He thought that his desire to give Olivia pleasure and trinkets was a act of generosity to be thanked for. He doesn't understand that his actions could make things even worse for Olivia when he decides he's had his fill of her. On the other hand, I loved Olivia from the beginning. I find it heartbreaking that a woman would have to sell her body for a living. The thought of it just sticks in my craw. But I would never hold that against a woman. Olivia was a strong, capable, likable person. She hated men, and she had a lot of reason to hate men. Yet you never get the impression that she's deliberately cruel or even thoughtless. What was done to her was pretty lousy, and it was done by a person who should have taken care of her and cherished her. And even Erith, who declared his love, had to almost lose her to do the right thing by her. That's why I just about washed my hands of him. But the truth is, we don't really get to choose who we love. We are ordained by fate to love people, more than we want to. That's what happens to Olivia and Erith. He didn't want to fall in love again after his wife died. He just wanted to exhaust his obsession and lust for Olivia, who he hears is the greatest courtesan of all time and who he must have because of her reputation, but he does end up falling for her. And that's not the end of his journey, for this man has to learn that love is about giving up one's self and putting another person's needs first. That's what true love is. It's not just giving when it's easy or when it costs little. Love is giving up things that a person considers most important for the person who is loved.

Dark and compelling, this is a book that isn't a fun read. But it's a wonderful story that will stay on the mind, challenge the reader to explore different kinds of characters whose motivations aren't pure or demure, and don't exist in the pretty ballrooms and sitting rooms of a Jane Austen novel. These characters live on the fringe of that same society, where the light is dimmer, and their choices are drearier. Perhaps Olivia could have been Emma, or Elinore, or Jane, or Lizzy, yet she doesn't get to live in protected circumstances or genteel poverty. Instead she's a woman who received a very poor hand of cards to play, and did the best she could under the circumstances. And Erith is no Darcy or Captain Brandon. But still, I am glad that Ms. Campbell told us their story.

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