A Gentleman’s Harlot by Natalie Dae
Publisher: Total-E-Bound Publishing
Length: Short Story (149 pages)
Other: M/F, voyeurism, spanking
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Amaryllis
Pearl longs for something more from her staid life. When her friend Frances suggests they become a gentleman’s harlot for the evening, Pearl’s life changes forever.
Pearl feels trapped by society’s rules and longs to let out the wanton woman inside her. Her friend, Frances, secures them a night of work in a gentleman’s club in Whitechapel, London, where Pearl must act like a harlot and wait tables. With the threat of Jack the Ripper too close for comfort, Pearl meets Seth, who makes her feel all kinds of sexual longings.
Seth has heard rumours of Pearl hating him, but he vows to make her love him. He tells her his name is James, and when she arrives at his club to begin work, he knows he will make her his. As he teaches her the act of lovemaking, he’s also hiding two secrets. One, that he is the man she is supposed to hate, and two, that he knows who Jack the Ripper is…
This story seems to be trying to imitate a real Victorian epistolary novel more than patterning itself after historical romances published today. Much of the story is told in diary entries that come across as flashbacks. So even though the letters are told in first person, there’s a distance between reader and character’s direct experience in these diary parts that most historical romance novels published now do not have. The emotional tone in these diary portions is mawkishly sentimental in the manner of the Victorians rather than a strong and deep emotional aspect as most modern literature favors. I am not saying that is good or bad, that’s just the way the style comes across.
The heroine, Pearl is easy to relate to. She’s repressed but plucky. It’s impossible not to root for her to find a life of her own and stop living the walled off existence that her aunt wants her to live.
The hero, James/Seth, is also easy to relate to, just not as accessible as the heroine because the style of storytelling denies us his real time experience. At the start, there’s an extended sexual scene between Seth/James and a prostitute who is not the heroine. It’s a very mechanical sexual scene without emotional involvement on the part of the hero, to the point he doesn’t even display a lot of sexual passion here. Lots of introspection during this scene that is not connected to what is going on. Presumably this is to illustrate the hero’s disconnection from his emotions. Certainly it is more of a literary erotica feeling here than erotic romance novel feeling. Again, that’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation.
The hero and heroine do not interact in real story time until a third of the way through story. But after they meet, there’s lots of sexual chemistry. Tons. Heaps. Bushels and bushels full. One has to love the juxtaposition of repression and sexual fire when it’s done well and it is done well here. When we’re in Pearl’s real time perspective, the sexual tension is tight. Distance comes in with the use of James/Seth’s diary entries to tell those parts. It can’t be helped, that’s just the nature of the style of telling something in a diary as opposed to showing it in the character’s immediate experience. In Pearl’s perspective, the sex is hot and intense and definitely that of erotic romance. Lots of sex. Lots of emotion. In the sex scenes as in all the scenes, the characters behave, think and feel in ways that are believable for people living in those times. Nothing anachronistic here.
Most of the conflict between hero and heroine centers around them coming to grips with their sexual desires in the face of the times they live in. James/Seth is also holding back some sinister secrets from Pearl. It’s more than enough to keep their interactions tense and filled with understated conflict. External forces pressure them too. A controlling relative and a murderer lurking in the shadows. So lots of conflict, both overt and in subtext. Nothing lukewarm or boring about the conflict.
So in summation, this an erotic epistolary novel that is more Victorian-like, more sentimental than a historical romance novel typically published today. It’s different and entertaining. I enjoyed its difference and I also appreciated the author’s unique perspective.