20 January 2014

Review: Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia Day

Burning questions:
Him: What she knows of my past is already something that’s too much to accept. If she knows the whole story, will she finally avoid me?
Her: He already has a piece of me that nobody has ever had, not even my husband. Can I turn my back on what has been my entire life and give him the rest of me?
Cover photo: Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia DayThe premise of Sylvia Day’s Seven Years to Sin—a romance that stayed on both the New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists for nine weeks—is one that’s surely part of the conundrums—and horrified fascinations—that women sometimes think about: What will I do if I saw someone I’m attracted to in bed with another woman?

Ms. Day admits that this is the sparky thought that zinged into her mind when the romance behind Seven Years to Sin came to her. I must say, it’s also sparked off a few burning thoughts in mine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First lines

Seven Years to Sin is one of those books that I went in reading blind—something that I rarely do. Because I hate bad surprises in my romance reading.

But I’ve heard so many good things about Ms. Day’s stories, not to mention several romances on bestseller lists, that I took the plunge despite not having read the blurb for this romance.

And the opening salvo only whetted my appetites:
There was something irresistibly exciting about watching athletic males engaged in physical combat. Their base, animalistic natures were betrayed by their unmitigated aggression and ruthlessness. Through their exertions, their bodies displayed a power that stirred a woman’s most primitive instincts.

Lady Jessica Sheffield was not immune, as she’d been taught a lady should be.
And that, there, is Lady Jessica’s problem: she’s been raised a lady, proper manners and good conduct rammed into her (sometimes literally), yet she can’t get over the fact that a show of hot manly forms have her fanning herself (if only figuratively).

It’s a recipe for delicious disaster, if I may say so.

First lines rating: 4.0

Main characters: Lady Jessica Tarley (nee Sheffield) and Alistair Lucius Caulfield

The start of the story sees our two main lovers—Jessica and Alistair—denying the fact that they’re attracted to each other.

Jessica on Alistair (as told to Hester, her sister, who pointed out he was “likely the handsomest man in England”):
Mr. Caulfield has little chance of serving a useful purpose in this life. His lamentable position as the superfluous fourth son practically ensures he will achieve little consequence.
Alistair on Jessica (to Michael, his BFF, who thought of her“Helen of Troy could not have been more beautiful”):
“Or a marble statue more cold.”
Privately though, Jessica is fascinated with Alistair. There’s something about him that calls to her. Partly, I think it’s because he’s adventurous and such a risk taker, two qualities that puts him levels below her in the strict society they move in. Yet those same qualities give him the freedom of movement and choices that she doesn’t have.

Jessica, on the other hand, is your typical repressed female in conservative Regency England—bred to be a good wife to a wealthy nobleman. Despite that, though, we see later on that there’s a streak of wildness in her, sparked maybe by na├»ve curiosity, that her father never succeeded to beat out of her. She’s Miss Manners personified, but given the right encouragement, she’s not afraid to explore the road that her curiosity leads her to.

It is this same curiosity that fuels her attraction to Alistair as they meet seven years later. The same curiosity that sparks their romance.

The way Jessica and Alistair were written, they’re as real as real people could get. Of course, they’re beautiful people but for all that, they’re both terribly scarred. Jessica grew up in an abusive household and Alistair was never accepted by his father for reasons we’ll find out later in the story. However, what you’ll love about them is that they refuse to let their present be defined by their pasts.

Jessica may have been beaten by her father, but she’d stand up for anyone to protect them from abuse even if she’s quaking in her knees. Alistair may have started with nothing to his name and an infamy that set him on the wrong side of town, so to speak, but he’s now a wealthy tradesman.

As protagonists go, I really would envy Jessica. Alistair is honest and takes the time to really get to know the woman that fascinates him. He’s also brave enough to risk wearing his heart on his sleeve. How many men would do that in the face of a woman who has the power to break his heart?

Characters rating: 5.0

Romance arc

Catching a handsome man in flagrante delicto sets Jessica off on her sensual awakening.
The horror she should have felt at finding a man engaged in sexual congress was markedly absent. Because it was Caulfield, and he fascinated her. It was a terrible sort of captivation with which she viewed him—a mixture of envy for his freedom and horror at the ease with which he disregarded public opinion.
Unfortunately for Alistair who was equally fascinated with her, Jessica turns to her soon-to-be husband Benedict, Lord Tarley, for the satisfaction of her sexual curiosity. Something that feeds his envy for the next seven years.

They meet again a year after Jessica, now the widowed Lady Tarley, decides to visit the plantation in Jamaica that was left to her. Alistair learns of it and you’ll have to give props to Alistair for grabbing the chance to slake a sexual hunger that had him in its grips for seven years.

Maybe it’s the attraction of the one that got away but I don’t know if it’s possible to carry a horny torch for someone that long…but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. (Besides that, the last time I saw my first love in our high school reunion—20 years after—there was still that spark of attraction, so I get it.)

Alistair bumps off passengers from his ship so it’ll only carry Jessica and her maid besides that of his crew. It’s a nifty stage for the seduction that he’s planning, to finally scratch an itch that started on Jessica’s wedding day. But how does an absolute rake, who profited from his sexual prowess, seduce the darling of Society who’s known for her impeccable deportment and character?

Apparently, with brutal honesty. Alistair doesn’t spare himself, and Jessica is seduced by his candor. This is one of the few times that I loved the frankness shared by the characters. Withholding vital information between characters just to string along the reader and the character is such a tired trope in Romanceland that it’s a refreshing read whenever I encounter it.

Also, the honesty ups the ante for everyone—the characters, the writer, and the reader—that you’re on tenterhooks how the conflict will resolve given the gauntlets that are thrown in the path of romance and love. Good for Seven Years to Sin, the unfolding of the love between Jessica and Alistair is so organic to the story and to who they are as characters that the reader gets her money’s worth.

Romance arc rating: 5.0

What worked, what didn’t

Seven Years to Sin depends on enforced intimacy between the main protagonists, at the outset, to develop their romance. Jessica needed to go to Jamaica to heal her broken heart, brought about by her husband’s death. Alistair owned the ship she’s going on. There’s a chance for him to seduce her and he seizes that opportunity. Along the way though, two disparate personalities—from extremely different social worlds—learn more about each other, discover the reason behind their fascination, and along the way, get to know themselves a little better.

Reading Alistair and Jessica fall in love and weather the problems that get in their way was a delight. Not to mention the steamy love scenes! The intimacies between them are frequent enough and so scorching hot that you’ll find yourself blowing off air and fanning yourself to cool off, heh.

If there’s one thing I loved about Seven Years to Sin, though (besides the love scenes, hee), it’s Alistair’s brutal honesty. He knew who he is and he’s unapologetic about it. It’s what brought him to where he is. He knows there’s a lot left to be desired about himself, but he’d rather Jessica knew everything about him and suffer the consequences now rather than later.

It's one takeaway from the romance between Jessica and Alistair that'll serve anyone well in the real world. (Me included.)

I had two issues with Seven Years to Sin though.

First, towards the end, Ms. Day introduced a spanner to Jessica’s and Alistair’s love story in the form of a title that, given Regency England’s prevailing mores, would’ve shut down the romance.

I understand that as long as The End hasn’t rolled down yet, the stuff that will drive two lovers apart will ratchet up. It ain’t over ‘til the Epilogue comes ‘round, is what I say. Still, I felt it was quite contrived and the path to idiotic noble sacrifice trope that Jessica was on was so trite it somehow took away from my enjoyment of the romance.

Second, there’s the secondary love story—or triangle—between Hester (Lady Regmont), Lord Regmont, and Michael (the new Lord Tarley).

I don’t know why Ms. Day wrote in this other romance into Seven Years to Sin. It might’ve been a counterpoint to the unfolding of Jessica and Alistair’s love story—where one is progressing, the other one is regressing (between Hester and Lord Regmont). Where one is full of hope despite the challenges, the other is just a plain challenge, period. After all, Lord Tarley is in love with a married Lady Regmont and though her marriage is less than ideal, there’s nothing he can do about it. And the way it was resolved in the end? Again, I felt as if some things were forced.

Like scale: 4.0

Favorite lines

Other men coveted the mystery of her, but Alistair had seen behind the veil, and that as the woman he lusted for. Forever beyond his reach in reality, but a fixture in his mind. She was burned into his memory by the raging hungers and impressions of youth, and the years hadn’t lessened the vivid recollection one whit.

   Already she knew more of his sordid past than he would ever wish to share with anyone…He wanted to be the man she desired above all others, yet he was so far below the heights to which she should aspired.
   “Would you have me still? Can you look beyond it? As much as I wish it were otherwise, my touch will sully you. But it will also pleasure you. Worship you. I want nothing so much as I want you.”

“Never apologize for your desire for me. But let me be clear—I come to you without affectation. You cannot have Lucius, not ever. That man no longer exists, and he never existed for you.”
   She nodded. “I understand”
   Alistair pressed his forehead to hers, miserable at the thought of her wanting a side of him he couldn’t bear to share with her. “You’ve never had him, you know. That night, the moment I saw you, it was just you and me. Lucius serviced Lady Trent. I was with you.”
   She exhaled in a rush. “Good. I don’t want him. I realize now that in offering to pay you, I was asking for him. After you had been the one to ... touch me. I’m sorry.”

“I have wanted you for so long now,” he said roughly, “I’ve no memory of how it feels to be devoid of the craving.”

Book details

Title: Seven Years to Sin
Author: Sylvia Day
Genre: Historical romance
Original Publication Date: 2011, August 30
Themes: child abuse, domestic violence, self discovery, discovering strength
WARNING: Adult themes, explicit sexual language, and profanity. May not be suitable for children under 17
The longer the resistance...

Seven years ago, on the eve of her wedding, proper Lady Jessica Sheffield witnessed a licentious scene no innocent young miss could imagine. Shocked, yet strangely titillated, she’d held her silence regarding scandalous Alistair Caulfield, and walked down the aisle as expected. But through years of serene, unremarkable marriage, Caulfield’s image remained burned into her imagination, fueling very illicit dreams...

...the sweeter the reward 

Alistair ran far from the temptation of the prim debutante with the fire of passion in her eyes–all the way to the West Indies. As a successful merchant, he has little in common with the rakehell youth she knew. But when newly widowed Jessica steps aboard his ship for a transatlantic passage, seven years’ worth of denied pleasures are held in check by nothing more than a few layers of silk–and the certainty that surrender will consume them both...
Have you read Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia Day? What's your take on this romance story? Speak your mind in the comments section below.

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