Every once in a while you read a book that transports you. After reading TEMPT THE DEVIL I was transported, but I also had a period of mourning. It was hard for me to read another book because this one stayed with me long after I closed the last page. The prose, the characters, the dialogue, the ambiance is magic woven together in a seamless and masterful way. Anna Campbell is a virtuoso with words - and the words come together bringing incandescent and vivid images that create a sumptuous world that keeps you feasting for hours.
Ms. Campbell's third book, TEMPT THE DEVIL, is a tale of love between a man and a woman, and one of the most romantic books I've read in a very long while. As you read the first page you'll find yourself in late Regency England where we meet Olivia Raines, London's most sought after courtesan and Julian Southwood, Earl of Erith who has just returned to England to reconcile with his children. Olivia is in the throws of ennui and looking for her last lover with an eye towards retirement. After the first few pages you already know that Olivia and Erith will become lovers; or rather Erith will become Olivia's newest and perhaps last patron. Simple enough plot - but here is where Ms. Campbell is at her best. She brilliantly and slowly uncovers and reveals, layer by layer the façade these two people have built around themselves. And it's only when Olivia and Erith come together that these layers will be revealed.
Olivia is a woman with a past and much to hide - but Erith has decided that this is not how the liaison will play out. He wants it all, everything Olivia has to give and this becomes his imperative; to break past Olivia's barriers so she will truly and honestly give herself to him. In many other books it is usually the heroine trying to break down the hero's defenses, not so in TEMPT THE DEVIL. Here we have a hero who will stop at nothing to gain the trust of the heroine - even if it means revealing his own inner demons.
"He didn't understand his violent need to know the real Olivia under the spectacular façade. But in some obscure way, the challenge she presented seemed to him the last chance to save his soul. And he suspected, illogically, foolishly, obstinately, that in the process he might just save her soul too. "
This book is intensely character driven and you become invested in Olivia and Erith's desires, angst, fears and hopes. You learn that Olivia has shaped her life exactly as she needed to in order to survive. Getting involved with Erith threatens the very safety of the protective walls she has built.
"Even as Olivia spoke the words to place her in Lord Erith's bed, her instincts screamed to deny him. Her mind told her she risked no more than she'd risked with any other keeper. Her deepest self insisted the earl threatened everything she'd created since she'd accepted harlotry as her inevitable fate.
Unreasoning fear tightened every muscle.
Fear was her oldest, most insidious enemy. More powerful than any man. "
The slow peeling away, layer by layer of these two characters, until you get to the very heart of who they really are, is the beauty of this book. And in a rare combination of both erotic and romantic interludes you can feel how each revelation shapes and defines these two people as individuals and as a pair.
This is not a book about young love, both Olivia and Erith are cynical and world weary. It is perhaps their cynicism and definitely their life experiences that make them such rich characters. Their journey together is hard fought and challenging. It's the fight and the challenge that makes their story so very engaging.
It's very early in the year, but TEMPT THE DEVIL is one of my top picks for 2009, a rich and evocative repast.
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Marisa is Vice President of Programming at Romance Novel TV