cover image Taboo


Susan Johnson. Bantam, $7.5 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-553-57215-5

The brutality of war and sexual excess are the dominant themes of Johnson's latest (after Wicked). Borrowing historical facts and figures from the decade following the French Revolution, the author fictionalizes a steamy love affair between Russian Countess Teo Korsakova and French General Andre Duras--a character fashioned after real-life General Andre Massena. When Teo is detained in Andre's camp after crossing into enemy territory, she is drawn to the benevolent French officer who is so different from her brutal husband. The courtship isn't exactly an exquisite dalliance, but a rather wham-bam affair (by their second meeting on page 13, she's asked Andre to ""give her a child""). Andre eagerly complies, and then decides he wants to marry Teo--after, that is, he's divorced his wife who's currently involved in an incestuous relationship with her uncle, and then eliminated Teo's husband, General Korsakov. Some scenes, such as the one involving dairy products and orifices, are more erotic than romantic, but there's plenty of solid history to cool down the pages--complete with lengthy footnotes.(Nov.)