On the ship, she meets a lawyer, Allen Pendale, who's the younger son of an earl, traveling to the island to inform his father of his mother's sudden death. He's never been to visit the plantation before, and it's unclear exactly why his siblings choose him; perhaps because he's the youngest, and unattached, as one sister gives birth the day his ship sails. Allen is a lady's man--a cuckolded husband is chasing him as the ship leaves--and Clarissa is attracted to him. Inevitably, she asks him to teach her about sex.
The sex scenes are awesome. They're involving, realistic, and varied as well as fun. The plot, I felt, was weak at points, but I didn't care so much, because it's so rare for me to find erotica that I really enjoy.
On the ship, we also meet the Blights, who are clearly going to be villains later on; at least it's clear about Mr. Blight; it takes a bit longer with Mrs. Blight.
Alas, the ship's journey comes to an end, and Clarissa promptly falls in love with the planter, Lemarchand, known as March, despite her feeling constant conflict with slavery and the conditions of the slaves. My theory is that she convinces herself she falls in love with him because he's the best candidate for someone needing a mistress, and if she doesn't have that kind of status, she's barely above a slave. Too late, Allen realizes he cares more for Clarissa than for any other woman he's ever known, and has revealed more of himself to her. Regardless, she turns down Allen's impulsive proposal of marriage and enters into an agreement with March, which includes some intense sex scenes involving jeweled nipple clips and role-playing. And the plot thickens; we the readers have seen, when Clarissa has not, that March is in lust with Allen. Allen refuses him. Eventually, there are some interesting threesomes, with Allen being a bit skittish about March, but going as far as oral sex with him.
At the same time, from the back cover we know that Allen has "a secret." It was clear pretty early that he is of mixed race, but does not know it. It turns out he is the son of his father and a lightskinned slave woman, who ironically was sold to March after Allen was sent to England to replace a child who died as an infant. Allen tells March this; March rejects him, and Allen is then snatched by Blight, tortured by Blight and his wife, and told he is going to be sold off. Thanks to Allen's real mother, Jenny/Ceres, who brings word to Clarissa, he's rescued, and is quite glad to leave. He pays March for both Jenny and himself, and writes the manumission papers. He's determined now to dedicate his skills to the abolitionist cause when he returns to England with his mother.
Conveniently, March is dying of a heart ailment, and has secretly married Clarissa so she can take care of his daughter once he's gone. Then the slaves revolt, his house burns down, and Allen rescues Clarissa, incidentally rescuing March and his daughter as well. March is dying; Clarissa is pregnant, possibly by March, possibly by Allen; and she agrees to marry Allen. She doesn't claim to be in love with him, which to me makes sense, as her husband is dying, she's mostly alone and pregnant, and she has quite a lot going on in her head. But given the depiction of their relationship on the ship in the first part of the novel, I think she will eventually fall in love with Allen. Which to me, is a happy ending.
I would have appreciated more of the abolitionist plotline, but it does make an odd mix with romantic erotica, and it's clear the author realizes this. The novel felt like a commentary on lurid antebellum historical novels filled with tragic mulattoes, or at least the idea of those novels.
Recommended--I'm curious what others will think.