Amalie Peschier was almost permanently on the old-maid shelf when her family arranges a too good to be true marriage to Julian Declouet. Julian is very kind to his young bride, almost too kind as he seems unwilling (or perhaps unable?) to consummate the marriage. Just when Amalie is ready to give up hope of children, her husband visits her room in the dark of night (so dark she can’t see him) and makes wild passionate love to her, but come daylight her passionate lover is gone and Julian’s amiable (and somewhat petulant) persona returns. Since there’s no other way into Amalie’s bedroom except through Julian’s rooms it couldn’t possibly be anyone else, could it?

“Such things did not happen to well-brought-up young ladies. How had it come about that they happened to her?”

The old school cover

So’s not to spoil, I’m not taking that plot line any further, although you will figure it out lickety split. But don’t give up the ship and send the book flying, because after the big ta-dah is revealed things heat up and start cooking. There’s a mysterious disappearance, a murder (or is it an accident?), the obligatory evil slave abusing overseer with a secret agenda of his own, and of course Julian’s deep dark secret (yep, you’ll guess it). All kidding aside, I did enjoy this and despite the predictable beginning Blake does finish it off quite nicely. Amalie and he-who-shall-not-be-named have sex and plenty of it and it really is rather well done. Despite its original 1980’s publication date, you won’t find heaving bosoms, ripped bodices (well there was one time with the bad guy…), or weeping vulvas here. The biggest plus for this history geek is the seamless way Blake portrays the period and Creole society, from the food, buildings, what’s involved in running a large plantation (from the female side of course), the social mores and most especially the clothes (loved watching Amalie and you-know-who taking them off I might add).

“Belle Grove had been built during the early years of the nineteenth century when every closet, chimney, and enclosed staircase was taxed. As a result, the house and two outside staircases, one in back and one in front, but none inside; only two enclosed chimneys, but four fireplaces; and armoires instead of closets.”

That was a new factoid for me.

“Women in the Creole portion of Louisiana did not attend burials, though they might be present at the mass for the should of the dead. They could give birth in a welter of gore, tend the incontinent elderly in their last days, and witness, not to mention clean up after, the bodily degradation caused by most illnesses; but they were, of course, far too delicate to sustain the sight of their loved ones being lowered into the grave.”

Sigh. All in all a good solid read and a nice bit of brain candy for when you’re in the mood for something lighter. As noted earlier, there is quite a bit of sex in this one, but compared to what you’ll see in today’s books (or those OTT old school bodice rippers), it is quite tame and tastefully done IMHO. Just not for the kiddos.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for an advance review copy.