In between researching the life of Caligula and watching various box sets, since Christmas I have sporadically engaged myself in the task of reading a fairly terrible historical romance by biochemist turned author Stephanie Laurens.
It's called Captain Jack's Woman, and if you're thinking of reading it at any point I suggest you stop reading this post now because there are going to be spoilers.
The story is simple enough. It is 1811, Norfolk, Engerland. A beautiful but headstrong girl returns to her childhood home, having failed to ensnare a husband in London. She disguises herself as a boy and becomes leader of a gang of smugglers. She meets the leader of a rival smuggling gang who happens to be the Lord next door. She doesn't know that, because he too is in disguise. So he can catch some French spies, since you asked. Their gangs join forces. He finds out she is a woman, although he doesn't know she is of his class, and she finds out he is a man, which mightn't be as bad as she previously thought. They fall madly in lust, have sex on a table, and eventually discover that they are the same class and can get married. Hooray!
But wait! There's still about a third of the book to go. For whilst they are married, they still do not fully understand one another. Yawn. So, they have some misunderstandings and some more sex, and eventually he realises she is not merely his wife - she is his friend. Meanwhile she comes to understand that he doesn't involve her in smuggling type activities not because he wants to control her, but because he doesn't want her to die. Which was fairly obvious, given she got herself shot almost immediately after he discovered her true identity.
My problems with this book are twofold. The first issue is that it is overlong - Laurens has got to the point where she's quite a well established romance author so they no longer edit her as stringently as they should. If you've ever wondered how many times is too many for a horse to be rubbed down in one chapter, I am here to confirm that four is right out.
The second issue I have is that heroine Kit is perceived as a scandalously headstrong character by everyone - herself, her husband, family, servants, friends and acquaintances - yet when she goes to tell him something, he only needs to kiss her and she forgets how to speak. I mean literally, cannot form words anymore. Which is mimsy as fuck, frankly. She doesn't once invoke the literary precedent of her red hair and give him a slap for behaving inappropriately, she merely claims to be seething inwardly - then forgets as soon as he forces his tongue between her teeth in a disconcertingly rapey manner.
I will concede that romantic heroines aren't famous for their feminist principles. But this woman's inner monologue is completely at odds with her behaviour, which made her character development feel disjointed and at times clunky. Captain Jack is reassuringly misogynistic and mostly does what you'd expect, so at least he fits into the action more easily.
There are some pretty torrid sex scenes in there, though, which are good for a laugh. Although I'm not convinced that "empurpled" is a proper word. And amusing though these passages are, they don't help my anxiety about April, when I am supposed to be writing a romance for 12 Books in 12 Months. I can't shake the feeling that if I end up needing to write a sex scene, I'll want to put jokes in. I'll probably end up with a satirical indictment of the fact that true romance does not exist in reality and several oblique references to social networking.
Maybe I should email Stephanie for help.