Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: The Lady's Tutor [1999]

I read The Lady’s Tutor by Robin Schone because it came up several times in my search for potential 50 Shades of Grey readalikes, and it was one of the few historical romances that appeared on any lists. However, I definitely would not categorize it as a "readalike." It’s a historical romance with some explicit sexual content. I’ll explain further after the review.

The year is 1886. Mrs. Elizabeth Petre is the wife of England’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom she has been married for sixteen years. Though they have done their duty and produced two sons, Elizabeth’s husband has never come to her bed for pleasure. When rumors reach her regarding the existence of her husband’s mistress, she decides to take matters into her own hands and learn the arts of seduction. She selects the “Bastard Sheikh” Ramiel Devington, the son of an English countess and an Arab sheikh, to provide instruction. But as Ramiel begins to teach Elizabeth about the sensual arts, their student-teacher relationship quickly blossoms into something deeper.

After denying her own sexual appetites for the entirety of her married life, Elizabeth is intrigued and aroused by the acts Ramiel describes, as well as by the man himself. However, she risks her reputation each time she visits him at his house, and as the wife of a politician and the daughter of the Prime Minister, she is even more tightly constrained than most women. Her husband--who has dark secrets of his own--holds all the power, and would have legal custody of her children were they to divorce. It is difficult to describe the plot without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that Elizabeth’s freedom, and future with Ramiel, hinges on her husband’s involvement in a secret society called the Uranians.

Grade: B-

Despite the interesting teacher-student dynamic, with its Arabic flavor (Schone quotes extensively from a book called The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefza), and the fact that Schone thanks reference librarians in her acknowledgments, something about this book left me cold. It could have been the way that Schone incorporated homosexuality, or the use of italics, or just that I wasn’t in the mood for it.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth in particular is an interesting and complex character, as severely constrained as she has been by her family and society. Ramiel also has been slighted by society and, like Christian Grey, is troubled by past abuse. The book does contain explicit sex. However, I still wouldn’t class it as a 50 Shades readalike. Ramiel is much more experienced than Elizabeth, and that shapes their power dynamic somewhat, but there are no control issues being played out between them. If anything, she has more power socially than he does, although he is wealthy. Instead, I’d suggest that the book is more closely related to Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened (one of my favorites from last year).

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