The Pirate and the Pagan (Virginia Henley)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Henley is all about plot and sex, and this book has plenty of both. The main characters are so beautiful, sensuous, and powerfully arrogant, that they seem not just larger than life but a bit one-dimensional.  There is plenty happening both in and out of the bedroom – besides the almost gratuitous amounts of sex, there is political intrigue, pirates, highway robbery, secret identities, and even a small war. You’ll never be bored, but it’s hard to really engage or relate with these characters. Our protagonists careen from one tumultuous sex scene to another, and the plot rushes forward at almost breakneck speeds towards its predictable conclusion.  Still, Henley is a witty, articulate writer and there are enough interesting sequences to make this at least a somewhat enjoyable read.
Greater Detail:
Lady Summer St. Catherine and her brother Spider have fallen upon hard times.  The estate they’ve grown up in has been gambled away and there is very little standing between them and complete destitution.  Summer is, of course, very beautiful, and decides to use her charms to seduce and eventually marry Lord Rurak Helford, who is predictably one of the wealthiest, most powerful peers in the realm. Despite the fact that members of the opposite sex have chased Rurak relentlessly, there is enough charm and blatant sexuality in Summer that he falls in love and proposes.

They are married fairly early on in the novel – which of course means that things don’t remain rosy and idyllic for long.  Spider ends up in jail.  Rurak realizes that Summer is actually quite poor and suspects she married him merely for his money and connections, and storms off.  After their initially rosy courtship, there is a lot of overreacting, flared tempers, and, if you like reading that sort of thing, angry sex.  Rurak and Summer have an ongoing power struggle where they lust for one another, yet claim to detest each other.  The fact that they’re married just seems to give them more opportunities to have their power struggles in the bedroom.

There’s a lot happening in this novel – King Charles and one of his lovers have quite a few conversations and sex scenes in the background.  There’s also Rory the pirate Helford (quite obviously Rorak in disguise to everyone other than Summer), who seduces Summer (mostly so that our two main protagonists can have more intercourse, only this time without Summer realizing she’s sleeping with her estranged husband).  Enough time passes that the two even have a son (who almost gets lost in the shuffle).

Henley is really the queen of writing explicit love sequences – and she seems to specialize in the more rough and tumble, as well as the more minutely descriptive in terms of body parts, etc. There’s also a fair bit of cursing and bad temperament.  All in all, it’s a highly charged, passionate story, but not one you’d read if you like your characters to feel moderate, or relatable.  This book is about forward movement, and while it’s certainly not a boring read by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not really a love story so much as an erotic novel, with enough background action to be made into a series of movies.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’m not really sure whom to compare her with – she is by far the most explicitly erotic historical romance author I’ve read.  Jean M. Auel has similarly explicit sexual scenes, but her novels also tend to have a lot more character development, and aren’t really historical romances as much as they are historical dramas, odysseys where the sex and romance is more one element than the main theme.  If you enjoy lots of plot, and lots of sex, as far as I know, Virginia Henley might be in a category all her own.

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