Monday, May 27, 2013

A Baker's Dozen of Reviews: Day Nine--A Passion for Pleasure

A Passion for Pleasure
By Nina Rowan
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Release Date: April 30, 2013

Sebastian Hall, brother to Alexander, Viscount Northwood (A Study in Seduction), resigned his position as conductor of the orchestra at the Court of Weimar, apparently in a display of artistic temperament, broke with his high-born patrons, and returned to London. Sebastian’s father, the Earl of Rushton, has never fully approved of his son’s musical career and is eager to see his second-born son settled into an appropriate position and married to an appropriate bride. Rushton gives Sebastian an ultimatum: marry or risk the loss of his allowance and possibly of his inheritance as well. What few people know is that a debilitating weakness in the muscles of his right arm and hand has left Sebastian unable to play the piano. His disability leaves him emotionally wounded and financially burdened by medical bills. When his brother Darius offers him money to find the plans for an encryption machine believed to be in the possession of Mr. Granville Blake, expert in automata and owner of Blake’s Museum of Automata, Sebastian reluctantly agrees to find the plans.

Clara Winter, the niece of Granville Blake, found sanctuary with her uncle when her father cast her out after her husband’s death. It is she whom Sebastian finds when he pays his first visit to Blake’s Museum of Automata. Although he has forgotten her, Clara recognizes him. He may look quite different from the musically gifted charmer who was the darling of London society, but Clara knows this man is the same Sebastian Hall who once gave music lessons to her and her brother in the halcyon days before the death of her brother and mother. What Clara doesn’t know is what this man who seemed the epitome of masculine beauty and grace to a younger Clara wants with her uncle.

She discovers Sebastian’s need for the encryption machine plans just after she learns that her latest effort to gain custody of her only child has failed. Her son, Andrew, according to the terms of his father’s will, is the ward of Clara’s father, Baron Fairfax. The baron, who declares Clara responsible for her husband’s death, charges that she is an unfit parent and has kept Andrew from his mother for more than a year. Knowing her father is facing bankruptcy because of his extravagance, Clara had hoped to offer him property she holds in a life tenancy to sell in exchange for her son, but the courts have ruled that she cannot break the trust. Desperate to have her son restored to her, Clara offers to locate the plans Sebastian needs if he will marry her, sell the property, which he can do legally as her husband, and use his influence as the son of an earl, to help her reclaim her son. Against the backdrop of familial conflict, a mother’s desperation, and an artist’s loss of the gift that defined him, the relationship between these two develops as they learn to love and trust one another and to believe in all they can achieve together.

A Passion for Pleasure is the second book in Rowan’s Daring Hearts series. While her sophomore novel lacks the rich historical and political contexts of her debut book, A Study in Seduction, it continues the intricate presentation of the theme of parenthood introduced in the first book. Rowan weaves the primary thread of Clara’s struggle to be reunited with her son with secondary threads that include Clara’s relationship with her own twisted father and with the maternal uncle who assumes the paternal role his brother-in-law abdicated and Sebastian’s relationship with his well-intentioned but controlling father and the mysterious mother who plunged the family into scandal when she eloped with her soldier lover. The Hall family is an interesting collection of characters, different from one another yet bound together by familial bonds and by the scandal that shadows all their lives. Clara’s story is interesting in its own right, and she is a particularly sympathetic figure as she exemplifies not only a mother willing to take any measure to reclaim her child but also the legal and social restrictions imposed on women of the period.

The chemistry between Sebastian and Clara is powerful, and the love scenes sizzle. I would like to have seen more details of the emotional development of their relationship. As it is, pragmatism and passion seem to be their strongest ties. I need to see the evidence rather than merely be told that they make one another better people. I also thought the fizzling out of the plot point involving the encryption plans was a betrayal of reader expectations. I recommend this book but with the noted caveats. I do think reading A Study in Seduction, while not necessary to understand A Passion for Pleasure, will make for a more rewarding reading experience.

Despite the flaws in the second book, I am intrigued by the world that Rowan has created. At the end of my review of A Study in Seduction, I expressed the hope that Talia and Castleford would get their own book, and I’m delighted that it is the next book in the series. I also look forward to learning more about diplomat Darius and his twin Nicholas. I found 2012 an exceptionally good year for debut discoveries, and Nina Rowan ranks high on that list.

I find that I am becoming more dedicated to reading series in order. I always feel as if I belong to an outer circle of readers when I don’t. How important do you consider reading series books in order?

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