Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
As I read Ritual Sins, I mentally shuddered thinking about the times I’ve heard women say thing like, “It’s easy for men to find out what women want — just read a romance novel!” God forbid any man should read this particular romance novel in search of dating tips.
Rachel Connery visits the spiritual retreat of “The Foundation of Being” after receiving a letter claiming her mother was murdered there. Rachel can’t help wanting to believe the letter — if her mother was seduced and deceived, then cutting Rachel entirely out of her will in favor of the Foundation isn’t the final maternal “eff you” it seems. She’s determined to expose the group’s leader, Luke Bardell, as the charlatan — perhaps murderer — he is. What she doesn’t expect is that Luke’s powers of seduction will work equally well on her.
Although similar in basic pattern to many of Stuart’s darker books, Ritual Sins stands out for its creepy plot, and for Luke, who could be considered the predecessor of the fascinating anti-hero Bastien of Black Ice. An almost supernaturally charismatic man, he has no trouble emotionally overpowering the vulnerable Rachel, and he does some pretty messed up things to her: first molesting her while she’s drugged and sleeping, and then essentially raping her, romance-novel fashion. (That is, it’s really hot and exciting, as long as you aren’t easily triggered and don’t think about it too hard.) And unlike some other Stuart heroes, Luke has actually done many of the crimes he’s accused of.
What makes Luke interesting and even somewhat sympathetic is that despite his conscienceless facade, he’s struggling not to become becoming more of a monster than he already is:
“‘Don’t you have any fears?’
She was surprisingly disingenuous when she asked that question, and he almost gave her a truthful answer. That his fears were all inside him. That he’d killed, and he was terrified he’s learned the taste for it. That he’d find a reason to kill again. And again. And again. Till he couldn’t stop.”
Luke irked me a bit, because after presenting himself in the worst possible light, he got annoyed at Rachel for thinking badly of him. And there’s the magic of Anne Stuart right there: I got a little exasperated with the hero’s quirks, while being almost completely okay with his seriously casual attitude towards consent.
For its gripping storytelling and scarily, compellingly hot hero (safely ensconced within the page of a book,) I gave Ritual Sins 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. It’s out of print in paperback, but available for Kindle here.