It isn't often that I've pitched a book against a wall in frustration, disgust, and/or horror but Fallen Angel by Elizabeth Thornton holds that distinction.
First of all, Jason Verney, Viscount Deveryn, abhors"clever" women. He's already ditched one paramour, Mollie Drake, because she had the temerity to cap "one of the viscount's quotations from Shakespeare." Well, how dare she have a brain and use it!
There's his nickname: Fallen Angel. Apparently he has the appearance of one with his "flyaway hair the colour of new minted gold guineas, eyes like aquamarines, or was it sapphires?", his "gold-tipped lashes that fanned those wide-set enigmatic eyes with heart-stopping effect, and finely sculpted bones which gave him the look of an English thoroughbred." But it's his mouth that has all the ladies' hearts and parts fluttering with "full generous lips" and a slow smile guaranteed to "melt the ice in the coldest feminine heart." Puh-lease!
Jason had an affair with Cynthia Sinclair and now wants to end it. So he takes Dolly Ramides, an opera dancer, for a ride in Hyde Park as a message to all the gossips and to the lady herself that it's over. Cynthia, you see, wife of Donald Sinclair and stepmother of Madeleina "Maddie" Sinclair, is becoming a nuisance and though he's not particularly bothered by sleeping with a married woman, he's pissed off that she misled him into believing she and her husband went their separate ways. Splitting hairs much?
Deveryn claims to have fallen in love at first sight with Maddie. Without knowing her name. Without knowing why she calls him "Malcolm" as they engage in a lip lock. Without knowing one single solitary thing about her. Is she married? Engaged? Is she underage? Dying of some dread disease? None of this matters except this one thing: he must put his tongue in her mouth.
Maddie is supposedly a smart woman, a "bluestocking", working on a translation of Euripedes' Medea, and yet I didn't see one iota of that vaunted intelligence in her dealings with Deveryn. So she gives a talk in London on the powerlessness of women, gives a set down to complacent males whose worlds revolve around begetting of heirs, but not once did she exercise her brain to find out more about marriage by declaration or investigate her father's debts or death. She just lets herself be swept along by the whims of dear old dad, by Deveryn, and by her grandfather. Where's the intelligence in that?
Maddie and Deveryn's first encounter was laughable and, frankly, incredible. She goes out in a snow storm, searching for Malcolm, her friend and the minister's son, sees a "halo" of fair hair by the parish gates, leaps off Banshee (her horse), throws herself into "Malcolm's" arms and begs him to kiss her. Really!? She never once suspects she's locked in a passionate embrace with a stranger. Of course, it's NOT Malcolm, you idiot!
Or how about Maddie's incomprehensible, muddled feelings for Jason? She loves him. Wait, no! She hates him! Yes, that's it. Or maybe she loves him a little but she really doesn't like him. That's close to the truth. No, no, she hates him again. Let me settle it for you, Maddie. I hate him. I don't like him, I don't love him, I can't find one single solitary thing to redeem his asshole-ness.
Their first sexual encounter is nothing more than rape IMHO. Maddie has stupidly gone off alone, looking for her dog, tumbled off Banshee into a swollen freezing ford, found shelter in a deserted bothy, and promptly fallen asleep only to awaken to an irate Jason. Jason, enraged that she disobeyed him (yes, disobeyed!) and suspicious that Maddie had crept off to tryst with Malcolm, finds her, calls her a "slut", tells her she can forget his offer of marriage, and strips naked. Maddie plays sultry seductress to lure Jason closer while fielding an empty bottle to cosh him over the head and runs to mount Banshee. Jason whistles for his mount who blocks the path, circles Maddie and her mount like a sheep dog herding sheep, cutting off escape. Of course, Jason grabs her, carries her back to the bothy, dumps her on the floor, and calls forth that age old endearment so many cave men had muttered when meeting resistance from cave women - "bitch".
"There was never any doubt in her mind that his motive was punitive. There was nothing of the tender lover who had seduced her to willingness in the darkened nave of the church. His lips burned, his hands bruised, and he used his body like a weapon to subdue her. (...)
Her puny strength was no match against his. His weight was smothering,permitting her little movement. But what little was left to her, she used to convey her utter contempt for the hurt he was inflicting." (P. 125)
But wait, there's more. As some of his anger abates, she notes a softening of his lips, the relaxation of his muscles, the gentling of his hands. She commands him to let her go. He does not.
Now he's angry again that she is still resisting him when, as he believes, she didn't resist Malcolm. He magnanimously decides he'll "get over" that she's an experienced woman in time. (Isn't he a prince?) He's angry that she's "enslaved" him and vows:
"By God, when he had finished with her, he'd make her his slave!" (P. 125)
Isn't this romantic? It's no wonder he's got such a rep with the ladies.
"He threw himself on top of her before she had a chance to escape him. His mouth closed over hers with restrained savagery, persuasive, pleasuring, unyielding. When she tried to drag her head away to evade the scorching heat of that embrace, his hand grasped her chin, opening her mouth wider, and his tongue forced its way between her teeth to penetrate to the sweet moistness within. That one wanton act of possession had an electrifying effect on him. Deveryn lost control." (P. 126)
When she tries to stop him removing her chemise and cannot, Maddie acknowledges she was mistaken in crediting him with a few redeeming qualities, like any tender emotions for her. Deveryn strips her, and he continues even though he feels her trembling in fear, attempting to cover herself. Despite his doubts about her experience, he forges ahead. Maddie tells him no, flings his hand away. He grasps her wrists.
"'Love,' he said softly, 'forgive me. This will hurt. But only the first time. I'll never hurt you again. I swear it.'
The reassuring words were at first unintelligible to Maddie. A moment later, she grasped the full import of their significance. There had never been any doubt in his mind of her innocence. He had used her friendship with Malcolm as a convenient excuse to wreak his will on her." (P. 128)
When she tells him defiantly that he's not her first, Devryn rapes her. She scratches and claws him without effect. He then tries futilely to "coax her to passion again", but she is unresponsive. (Gee, I wonder why?) Afterward, he isn't remorseful: "How could you do this to me?" are the first words he utters. While Maddie did want him to hurt her as "an antidote to passion", she rightly calls him on what he's done. He's unapologetic, blames his jealousy, her alleged betrayal, blames her.
"I've never had a moment's peace since you forced yourself into my life. You've robbed me of my desire for other women; made me dissatisfied with my lot, (...)you've made me act contrary to my own principles. What more can you do to me?" (P. 130)
Later, many days later, Jason recalls the events in the bothy, and makes an astoundingly appalling assertion:
"The word rape flashed into his mind. He vigorously suppressed it, substituting the far more tolerable seduction. (...) Never, he promised himself, never would he ever again subject her to a side of his nature that made him a stranger to himself." (P. 165)
And there's the consummation scene between Maddie and Deveryn. Jason orders Maddie to "open her legs", but she tightens them against him. He tells her they must consummate their marriage, "male fashion", that she must "close [her] eyes and think of . . . Scotland." A few caresses and Jason is "done with gentling her."
The rest of Fallen Angel isn't any better. There are many more scenes of so-called "seduction" with Maddie offering token resistance and then giving in to "passion." There's a weird dialogue Maddie's and Jason's eyes hold while she gives her powerlessness of women speech. Somehow he has divined just by looking at her that she's pregnant:
"Then Devryn blazed with sudden, heart-stopping comprehension. Is it true? his eyes hotly demanded.
He saw her poise as if to take flight (...)
Her eyes blazed a reply. Yes, it's true." (P. 333)
Weird, don't you think?
At any rate, Fallen Angel was a complete, utter failure for me. There is usually something I can find to highlight as a redemptive quality in most books that don't quite work for me, but not this time.