Literature professor Gabriel Emerson embarked on a clandestine affair with his graduate student, Julia Mitchell. The two have fallen in love and spend a romantic holiday in Italy. While there, Gabriel is a guest speaker at an art exhibit, but after hours, they explore the sensual side of their love. Everything seems to be going perfectly, but upon returning home, they face the wrath of another student whose advances Gabriel spurned. Her troublemaking stirs up a hornet's nest of academic politics that threaten to either end Gabriel and Julia's burgeoning relationship or Julia's academic career, along with all her hopes and dreams for the future. When Gabriel does the unthinkable to protect her, will Julia understand and keep their love alive or will she fall into the waiting arms of her good friend, Paul?
Before starting the Gabriel's Inferno series, I'd heard many good things about it. Readers were likening it to the Fifty Shades series, which I love, so I figured it would be a good bet for a great read. Unfortunately two books into the series, it simply hasn't captured my heart and imagination in the same way other romance novels have or in the way I would have liked. Gabriel's Inferno, the first of the series, was an OK read for me, but at times very frustrating. It ended well enough that I would have been fine with not reading any more of the books, but since I already had Gabriel's Rapture on my TBR pile, I decided to give it a try in hopes that it would be better. In all honesty, it was marginally better, but not enough to make me bump it up to a higher rating. It got off to a pretty good start with some nice sensual interactions between Gabriel and Julianne as they continued their trip to Italy that had begun toward the end of the first book. Other than being rather bored by the author's inclusion of Gabriel's entire speech, which was his original reason for going to Italy, the first quarter or so of the book was holding my attention well. Then, as they returned home, there was a bit of a lull for a little while before Julia's nemesis stirred up a whole lot of trouble for her and Gabriel. This part was good and kept me engaged, but then, due to the villain's manipulations, our happy couple are separated for a period of about four months, during which they have no contact with each other whatsoever. This part slowed things down considerably, but I was still invested in what I assumed would be their eventual reunion. Unfortunately said reunion wasn't nearly as exciting as I would have hoped. I know that Gabriel hurt Julia badly, but once she heard the truth about what had really happened and that he had broken off contact to protect her, I expected her to be more forgiving. It does happens, but it takes some time, and she's still not entirely happy about what he did. Plus Gabriel maintains some distance, as well, not wanting to make love again until she marries him. This didn't ring true to me, which I'll discuss shortly. At the very end, they finally get their HEA, but by then I had lost a lot of my enthusiasm for it. Up until the rather weak ending, I was prepared to give the book at least four stars, but after that, I dropped it down to 3.5.
In the first book, I was about ready to smack Gabriel upside the head for the first half of the story, but then he got a personality transplant during the second half that made him an almost dreamy hero. For the most part, he didn't get on my nerves in this book nearly as much. Overall, I'd say that he was very loving, kind, patient, and compassionate toward Julia. There were only two of his actions that bothered me here. The first was when a man makes unwelcome advances on Julia early in the story and Gabriel goes off on a jealous streak. I don't have a problem with a hero not wanting another man to encroach on his woman, but instead of being angry with the guy and protective of Julia, I felt like he took it out on her by being sexually aggressive, which didn't sit well with me. The other thing is that he tends to be rather stuck up and uncharitable toward those in need. Considering his own background and not being brought up in any kind of wealth (his money is something he inherited), I felt like he should have been more empathetic rather than being such a snob. I'll allow, though, that he does change somewhat in this respect as the story progresses.
The main thing about Gabriel that didn't ring true, though, is the way in which his sexual past is presented as this sordid, dirty part of him and the author's seeming need to sanitize it by turning him into a completely different person, sexually speaking, with Julia. I never really understood what the big deal was. Lots of guys sow wild oats during their twenties, although granted Gabriel seemed to sleep around quite a lot and often took part in kinky sex games. But again, I don't really have a problem with any of that as long his all past encounters were consensual and he's faithful to his heroine after they meet. On the flip side, I also don't have a problem with a hero having guilt or regrets about past sexual encounters and wanting to change as long as I understand why. The disconnect for me with Gabriel is that I didn't feel like he had good reasons. The author seems to indicate it's because he was a selfish user in the past, but this isn't borne out in his interactions with Julia, at least not after he realized who she was and what she meant to him. When it comes to their love-making, with her, he's magically transformed into a tender, generous lover. I felt like the author needed to dig much deeper to show me what's bothering Gabriel - Was he in a bad place and seeking escape in meaningless sex? If so, why? - rather than simply telling me about his drug addiction and guilt over the way he treated his ex, Paulina, and the loss of their child. I just wasn't allowed inside his head enough to feel like I fully understood what was happening here. I will say that I admired him for metaphorically falling on his sword to save Julia's future, even though she didn't appreciate it in the way I thought she should have, yet the author still seems to paint him as somehow selfish for doing so, which I never understood either.
When the story opens, I felt that Julia's characterization was very uneven and far too changeable. One minute she finds her backbone and stands up for herself, but other times, she's completely lacking in confidence and practically curling up into a ball. One minute she's being compassionate and supportive of Gabriel and the things he's gone through, and the next, she's extremely jealous of his past lovers, despite his repeated reassurances that she's the only one for him now and that what they share is very different than anything he's experienced in the past. One minute she makes a slightly daring sensual proposition, and the next, she's practically a prude. It was just really hard to get a read on her. Luckily, as the story continued, she seemed to find surer footing, so this did improve. However, when everything hits the fan, Julia still lacks confidence in her relationship with Gabriel and takes his actions the wrong way. At least Gabriel tried to leave her a hidden message to reassure her, even though she didn't receive it until he'd already returned. It wasn't either of their faults that the message didn't get through, and I can see how it might be easy to think the worst under the circumstances. But when he came back and revealed the truth, I felt like she should have been more OK with it than she was. Instead, she accuses him of taking away her choices. In the strictest sense that was true, but it was more the fault of their circumstances and their nemesis causing trouble than anything Gabriel did. It wasn't like he had any time to consult with her on the matter. He had to act immediately or risk her entire academic future. While Julia was easier to understand in this book and I mostly liked her, she could still be a tad frustrating at times.
I'd have to say that my biggest frustration with these books, though, is the author's writing style. Every time I read a book, and most especially romances, I want to feel something and be engaged with the characters. Unfortunately the way in which Sylvain Reynard writes leaves a lot of distance. I feel like I'm an observer looking through a window to watch these characters' lives play out, when what I want is to be invited inside to live with them, and breathe with them, and feel what they're feeling. I don't get that with these books, because the author doesn't give me deep POV. She (? No one seems to really know if this author is male or female.) tends to head-hop a lot, even to secondary characters' perspectives, instead of staying in one character's POV for a longer time. She (?) also engages in a fair bit of passive narration. There were a number times I found sentences that could have been reworded more actively to make then really spark off the page. IMHO, the author spends a little too much time philosophizing and sometimes even editorializing in her (?) own omniscient voice. The art history and classic literature references mostly eluded me, because rather than explaining or describing them in an accessible way, it feels like the author expects the reader to know these things already. This gives the series more the feel of literary romance. I often got the feeling that the author wants the reader to parse its hidden meanings, and if that's your thing, I suppose this might be an awesome read. But it isn't really my thing. I prefer my romances to be a little more straightforward without all the philosophy and higher literary references. Still for all its literary leanings, the writing itself can occasionally be a bit rough around the edges, as in the examples I mentioned earlier. Also once again, the parenthetical asides nearly drove me crazy. As a writer, I've looked this up more than once and know that parentheses are generally frowned upon in fiction, and yet I've never seen as many in a fictional novel as I have in these books. And also once again, to my way of thinking, they were mostly irrelevant or stating the obvious, and in the cases where they weren't, they could have simply been incorporated into the narrative prose. Also "for" as a conjunction is way overused. In nearly every case, it could have been eliminated altogether to make the prose snappier, and it also tended to give the narrative a pretentious feel.
Lastly I want to mention that some online book sites have this series categorized as erotic romance, and there are numerous comparisons to the Fifty Shades series. As such, I went into reading it thinking that there were going to be some very sexy times ahead, but that isn't the case at all. I can't stress enough that these books are merely sensuous contemporary romances, not erotic romances. The door is closed on some of the love scenes, and the ones that the author does write out in a little more detail are only moderately descriptive. There also isn't a large number of them, so they never overwhelm the story. I mention this, not because it bothers me, only because I want to warn others who are expecting lots of steam and might be similarly disappointed as I was or conversely for those who might choose not to read them thinking they would be too steamy.
I know I've had a number of criticisms of Gabriel's Rapture, but I did find some enjoyment in the story. As I said before, it was on track to be a four-star book until the events in the last quarter or so of the story lost my attention. The characters were mostly likable, and if I could have connected with them more deeply, it would have been the great read for me that so many other readers already seem to believe it is. There is currently one more book in the series, with mention on the author's GoodReads profile that there's another in the works, but to be honest, I feel like Gabriel and Julia have already found their HEA. In my mind, there isn't much more story to tell beside perhaps Julia graduating from college with her PhD and hints of them wanting children. These events could have been summed up with a nice epilogue, so I'm not sure what the author found to write even one more book about, much less two. After reading two books in a row that were all right but not particularly spectacular for me, I'm not sure if I'll continue. After reading the cover blurb of the third book, Gabriel's Redemption, it sounds more like the author is stirring up artificial conflict that is unnecessary to drag the story out, leaving me even more disinclined to keep reading. All I can say is that we'll see, but since I have no more of the books on my TBR pile, I most likely won't.
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