Dear Author

CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Forbidden Shores by Jane Lockwood

Dear Readers,

Book CoverJust as I had finished reading Forbidden Shores by Jane Lockwood (a pseudonym for Janet Mullany) and was getting ready to review it, I had a conversation about the book with my good friend Jennie F., who had also recently read it. Jennie’s comments were so insightful and thought provoking, and I enjoyed our chat so much that I thought it might be fun to (after editing it a bit, and applying the spoiler font to spoilers) share the conversation with all of you, in lieu of a more traditional review.
-Janine

Janine: Okay. I finished this book and am ready to discuss it. First, I want to bring up that although Forbidden Shores is labeled “Historical Romance,” it should at the very least be considered an erotic romance, and maybe even straight erotica. There is a lot of sex, and not just between the hero and heroine.

Jennie F.: I just finished it too. I would think it would fall somewhere between erotic romance and erotica. The focus is definitely on sex, but there’s enough other stuff going on for me to hesitate to label it straight erotica.

Janine: I agree with that; it seems like a hybrid of the two to me.

Jennie F.: BTW, I went to Lockwood’s website and she mentions that one of her inspirations was reading Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains, about the efforts of English abolitionists in the 18th century. I read that earlier this year, and it is a very good book.

Janine: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Bury the Chains. Here, for our readers, is a plot summary of Forbidden Shores:

The story takes place in 1800. Allen Pendale and Clarissa Onslowe meet on board a ship called The Daphne. They are sailing to a Caribbean island where a position as governess to the daughter of a plantation owner named Lemarchand awaits Clarissa, and where Allen plans to visit his father, also a plantation owner, and inform him of Allen’s mother’s recent death.

Clarissa is a clergyman’s daughter and former abolitionist who was ruined when she fell in love with a man and went to bed with him. When the rest of her family disowned her, her uncle offered her a position as his housekeeper, but now the uncle is dead, and despite her anti-slavery sentiments, Clarissa is on her way to the Caribbean, to work for a plantation owner, of all things.

Allen is an attorney and the younger son of an earl who has a knack for getting involved with married women. Allen and Clarissa meet when an irate husband tries to shoot Allen and Allen knocks Clarissa down to protect her from the gunshot. Clarissa does not appreciate Allen’s gallantry, especially since Allen lands on top of her. She is irritated with him but secretly aroused, too.

Allen and Clarissa both fantasize about each other and then, one night they end up having sex on the deck behind the chicken coop. They have fun but then decide it’s best to pretend that nothing happened.

Shortly after that, their cabin mates, Lemarchand’s overseer and his wife, become so seasick that the best solution to the problem seems to be for them to share a cabin, and for Clarissa and Allen to share the other one. (Like the AAR reviewer, I was very doubtful that such a thing would actually have happened in the Georgian era).

At this point, Clarissa reveals to Allen that she hopes to become the mistress of some very wealthy man on the island, and to earn a lot of money on her back. There’s just one problem — her sexual experiences are limited, and would Allen be willing to teach her everything he knows about sex?

Allen is plenty willing. So he and Clarissa have lots of different kinds of sex, to the enjoyment of both. Then they arrive on the Caribbean island, and it is time for them to part company. But just as they are intending to go their separate ways, they meet with the wealthy plantation owner, Lemarchand, who goes by the name March, and Clarissa falls in love with him almost right away. It’s love at first sight for March, too. Only the object of his affections isn’t Clarissa — it’s Allen.

After Allen does something that offends her sensibilities, Clarissa sets her sights on March for her wealthy protector (something else that seemed to me like it could be historically inaccurate, since she was his daughter’s governess). Not long after she does so, Allen realizes that he is in love with Clarissa.

So now the focus of the story is a triangle, but not a traditional one in which two men are in love with one woman. Instead, it’s a triangle where each person is in love with someone who loves someone else.

I don’t want to say much more about the book because I’ve already revealed things that happen quite far into it, but it’s tough to discuss it without giving away spoilers, because of the way the book is constructed.

I will add that at some point, there’s a sexual menage in Forbidden Shores, too. I’m mentioning this even though it happens far into the book, because I think it’s the kind of thing that readers like to know about a book in advance.

Jennie F.: Yes – I’ll add that in case it makes a difference to anyone (it was brought up on the AAR thread about the book) that while there is m/m interaction, it doesn’t involve anal sex. I wondered if Lockwood’s omission of any m/m anal sex was a concession to potentially squeamish readers – somehow I don’t think so. Readers who are interested in erotica featuring m/m scenes probably wouldn’t draw the line there. So I tended to see it as more a decision to stay true to the characters rather than go for that extra shock factor, which I respected.

Janine: I agree with you on that. There’s a sense of intelligence and an earthiness in Lockwood’s writing style that appeal to me, so I really wanted to love this book. The characters, especially Allen, had some depth and dimension; the settings, shipboard and Caribbean, were unusual, and I enjoyed that very much.

I also liked the literary allusions to The Tempest and loved that the story had a slavery angle. I really appreciate that Lockwood did not pretty up what slavery was like. The depiction of slavery was very realistic, and that was one of the best things about the book.

Forbidden Shores is clearly above average in many ways, but despite that, I closed the book feeling that it did not live up to its potential.

Jennie F.: I agree that there was a lot to like; it made the flaws that kept it from being a great book all the more disappointing.

Janine: Agreed. One reason I felt that way is that it took me a while to warm up to Allen.

Jennie F.: I liked Allen fairly early on. He had a certain ironic self-awareness that reminded me a bit of a Judith Ivory hero, or of Sheridan from Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.

Janine: Yes, that’s true, but he also had a certain uncouthness that those heroes lacked. Sometimes I enjoyed that (especially in the first sex scene), but at other times, it kept me at arm’s length from his character.

Jennie F.: That didn’t bother me. If anything, it leant a bit more of a realistic edge to his character. Despite his apparent success as a ladies man, Allen ultimately seemed to realize that it wasn’t because he was so suave and irresistible that all those married women fell into bed with him. Ultimately, he was the character I liked best.

Janine: I started out liking Clarissa best, but as the book progressed, I liked her less and Allen more. My feelings toward Clarissa underwent a sea-change when The Daphne reached shore, and she decided she was in love with March.

By far the biggest flaw in the book for me is that I could not understand for the life of me how Clarissa could fall in love with March so quickly. Yes, March was gorgeous, wealthy and elegant, but Clarissa was a former abolitionist, for heaven’s sake, and March’s wealth came from the back-breaking labor of the slaves that he believed in treating with cruelty.

Jennie F.: The instances of love at first sight (Clarissa for March; March for Allen) are what really brought the book down for me. I am not a big believer in love at first sight, and it’s a fanciful notion that didn’t fit into this book, that was to a certain degree more realistic, and as you said, earthy than the average romance.

Janine: Well, I can sometimes believe in love at first sight, but the author has to work double-time to convince me of it, and I don’t feel that Lockwood did that in this book. You’re right that March’s instantaneous love for Allen was pretty inexplicable too, but the insufficient motivation was even more glaring in the case of Clarissa’s love for March, because the gap in their values was so wide.

As I read I kept asking myself how Clarissa could love March. She was upset with Allen for a transgression that, although bad, was nowhere near the level of the wrongs March committed, but she wasn’t nearly as angry with March.

Jennie F.: I really lost the thread of Clarissa’s character even earlier, with her decision to become a courtesan. Her motivations were not sufficiently explained, so it ended up coming off as a sort of porny plot device to get Clarissa together with Allen and March.

Janine: I agree that the motivation for her decision to become a courtesan was not explained but for some reason I was able to accept this much better than her falling in love with March.

Jennie F.: At least her falling in love with March was somewhat unexpected, from a romance POV. Whereas the courtesan thing seemed a bit cliche. Though I agree it was less morally distasteful than falling in love with a slave owner.

Janine: Perhaps if Clarissa had been shown getting to know March more gradually, I might have believed that she loved him, but as it was, I never really did. To sell me on love at first sight, an author really has to lay the groundwork that shows that the lovers have a lot in common before they meet, or else that one complements the other in an essential way. But I didn’t see anything like with March and Clarissa.

Jennie F.: I would’ve settled for laying some groundwork that Clarissa was ready to be deluded; that she could fall in love with the *idea* of March rather than the man himself.

Janine: Oh, excellent point. There was a while when I thought that this was where Lockwood was going. I thought Clarissa would turn out to be merely infatuated rather than in love, and to be deluding herself about March. I think I would have found Forbidden Shores more interesting and more romantic book if I had felt that something like that was conveyed, because the infatuation could then have been merely an obstacle in Clarissa and Allen’s relationship, and overcoming that obstacle would have ultimately made Allen and Clarissa’s relationship stronger.

Jennie F.: I agree. I guess it was it was more unconventional, but not very romantic. By the end, Clarissa at least was saying that she had loved March, past-tense, but again I didn’t feel I got enough of her interior thoughts to really get a feel for when her feelings changed. Presumably when she found out what he’d done to Allen, but that doesn’t make her particularly admirable, that she tolerated his abuse of his slaves but only fell out of love when that abuse extended to Allen.

I ended up feeling that Lockwood really gave Clarissa’s thoughts and motivations short shrift, which was a shame, because she had some potential as a character.

Janine: I too felt that a lot of Clarissa’s thoughts and emotions were missing from the sections in her POV, and this made the book more frustrating. I’m still not completely sure whether Lockwood intended us to believe that Clarissa was merely infatuated or that she felt a deeper love for March than that, although I lean toward the latter. But either way, because I couldn’t believe in Clarissa’s love for March, and because I thought a lot less of when she loved him (or thought she loved him), the story fell apart for me toward the end. I was still interested in Allen and his character arc, but there wasn’t enough in the book to satisfy me.

I also have the feeling that I was supposed to find March sexy and to care about what happened to him. But I just didn’t, because of the way he made his fortune. Maybe it sounds moralistic of me, but I can’t help it — this is the way I feel.

Jennie F.: I think we were supposed to at least understand the magnetism that drew Allen and Clarissa to him. I don’t think Lockwood was entirely successful in depicting that, though again, I think maybe she could have done that through examining the aspects of Allen and Clarissa’s characters that could have made them susceptible to March in the first place, rather than trying to make the reader fall in love with March.

Janine: Yes, good point. What do you think about the erotic aspects of the book? I thought the first sex scene between Allen and Clarissa was mega-hot, and a few others were pretty hot too. There were others between the two of them that I could take or leave. The menage scenes didn’t really turn me on much at all, and I don’t think it was because it was a threesome. I have enjoyed a threesome scene in one of Megan Hart’s books, so I think the issue here was that having so many unrequited feelings flying around made the scenes somewhat uncomfortable to read. I did enjoy one very hot kiss between March and Allen.

Jennie F.: I think this is where the book did succeed for me – I found all the sex scenes pretty hot. I do hope the author writes more erotica, because I think she has an affinity for it.

I did mean to say that I liked Clarissa’s forthrightness in suggesting the menage a trois. That could’ve come off as a porny erotica set-up, but it had a bit of poignancy because of the nature of the triangle.

Janine: It’s mentioned on the back cover that Allen has a secret, and even though it doesn’t come out until quite late in the book, I guessed what it would turn out to be very early on, and even had a strong hunch about what would happen when it came out, which proved to be correct.

Jennie F.: I don’t know if I would’ve guessed; I was bad and read ahead. I think there were some hints, but I’m not sure if I would’ve put two and two together.

Janine: Well, it’s clear from reading Blythe’s review at AAR that she didn’t guess the secret, and I really don’t think most readers would. I seem to (she says immodestly) have a knack for that sort of thing. But because I did guess this secret, I kept waiting for it to come out and when it finally did it seemed like that section of the book, and especially Allen and Clarissa’s reactions, was too compressed and should have been fleshed out more. I think the book needed to be longer.

Jennie F.: I agree with you that the book would’ve worked better had it been longer. I would have liked to have known more what Clarissa thought about Allen and her relationship with him after the revelation of the secret.

Janine: Overall, I felt that there was a lot to appreciate in this book, but also some things to be disappointed in. The ending does point to a HEA, but I didn’t feel the book was very romantic.

Jennie F.: I think I agree that it did not feel very romantic in spite of the hinted HEA – I think because Clarissa’s feelings for Allen never seemed to rise above attraction and liking, and when they were estranged, a sort of nostalgia for him and their times on the ship.

Janine: What grade would you give Forbidden Shores?

Jennie F.: I would give it a B; not a high B – closer to a B- than a B+. Judging it strictly as erotica I’d probably give it a B+; judging it strictly as romance a C. I do give it a bit of a bump for being something different; I’m always looking for that.

Janine: Me too, which is another reason why I wanted to love this book, and am somewhat disappointed that I didn’t. I’m not sure if I’ll be tempted to reread it, but I’m glad I read it at least once and I do think it’s above average. So for me, the B- grade seems to fit.

This book can be purchased in trade paperback format.