Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Night of Sin by Julia Ross ****

I got this book to read as the last in the Fall 2008 Reading Challenge: read a book because of its cover. I had asked for some help at PBS with this, and had narrowed my choice to 3 books, 2 of which had covers adorned with lovely naked male chests, and this one. As it turned out, the naked male chest covers were in series and not the first - and I'm a sort of stickler on series. This one has a lovely graphic of a garden with a butterfly, and it appealed to me, so - it was chosen.

It's my first book by this author, and now that I'm done, I may put her books in my Someday To Acquire pile, after I've glommed my current favorite authors and finished my large TBR pile from the recent library sale. It's the first in a 3-book series, with Jack's older brother Ryder and his cousin Guy the heroes of the next 2 books.

The basic plot involves a virginal, betrothed country miss (Anne) getting in over her head and inadvertently with a worldly, reckless gentleman (Jack).

Jack is the second son of a duke (St. George), and has been traveling the world, ostensibly looking for his place in it. During his travels, mostly Oriental - eastern Russia, China, India, the Himalayas - he has encountered a fossil, a dinosaur fang, that is being sought by a number of unsavory characters as well as (or including?) himself. The fang represents several things to both him and to the story: scientifically, it opens a world of new thought about the existance of such creatures and their bearing on the Creation story and the potential downfall of religion; spiritually, it seems to be possessed of magic and power, and was leaving a long line of deaths in its path. It's also seen as a dragon fossil, and Jack as a dragon slayer in the reputation of his ancestor, St. George the dragon slayer. For Jack, it represents the one thing that he needs, to trade to get what he prizes most of all: notes he kept to create a new map of China/Russia/India.

Anne is merely an unwitting pawn in his quest to recover the fang, because the sailor who possessed it hid it in her basket as she passed by, moments before he is murdered. Jack observes the switch, and attempts to retrieve the fossil from her. Unfortunately, Anne has already turned it over to her fiancé, coincidentally a naturalist/fossil hunter fellow. Because the fossil is now being sought for its magical powers by ruthless thieves and murderers, Anne's life is in danger until it is found and restored to... well, whoever is the rightful owner.

Jack manages to talk her into accompanying him to his ancestral home where he promises she'll be safe until he can regain the fossil and settle a score. On the way, however, they are forced to stop at a deserted gatekeeper's cottage and wait out a storm. Ah, the deserted gatekeeper's cottage in a storm conceit. Works like a charm every time - and because the only thing she can find to drink is plum brandy and also because Jack has been hit on the head, instead of her remaining a virgin, they have hot monkey sex. In addition to the deserted gatekeeper's cottage plotline, we have the curious virgin plotline: the "just show me what happens so I won't be surprised in my marriage bed with my fiancé" plot.

I truly almost gave up on the book at this point because it was such a stretch for a religious virgin to do this. OK, she did drink 3 glasses of brandy, but she just kept insisting he show her what is done in a marriage bed. I guess we are to buy into her innate sensuality that overpowered her lifelong religious training. Not to mention her lack of fidelity to her betrothed...

I'm glad I stuck with it because by the end, I was enjoying this author's way with words and her story-telling ability. I also found it a page turner as I wondered how in the world they would ever have their HEA if Jack couldn't give up his quest and wouldn't admit to himself his feelings for Anne. Plus there was the intrigue of the fossil, who would end up having it?

Oh, and it's got a notable pet: Horace the gray and white kitten, who plays a lovely part near the end.

Because I lost faith in the book and had to be talked back into it, I give it 4 stars - at the end it was worth the journey.

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