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REVIEW: The Innocent’s Surrender by Sara Craven

Dear Ms. Craven:

Cover Image of Sara CravenI was very excited to see that you had a new release out. You are one of my favorite Harlequin Presents authors. Sure, you have some rape books in your past, but this is 2010, and those are a thing of the past, right? Apparently not. The Innocent’s Surrender started out innocuously. The heroine, Natasha Kirby, is summoned to meet with her foster brothers regarding the failing family business. Her brothers want her to promise to marry Alex Mandrakis, their chief rival. The promise will somehow allow her family to gain enough time and confidence with bankers to allow them to gain financing to support the efforts to revitalize the family business.

While Natasha initially resists, she is assured that it is just a verbal promise and that Alex, a pursued bachelor, would not even be interested in her proposal. She signs the agreement and returns to London thinking nothing more of the situation.

Natasha is summoned yet again and when she arrives in Athens, she is whisked away by a car service. Natasha believes she is headed to her brothers’ homes but instead she is taken to a stranger’s home and marched into his bedroom. There she finds Alex Mandrakis, nude from the waist up, in bed and covered only by a sheet. He orders her to strip and get in bed with him. Apparently another letter was sent, ostensibly by Natasha, filled with lewd suggestions of what she can do for Alex and he wants her to fulfill those promises.

Natasha refuses. She attempts to leave and finds the door locked. She contemplates climbing through a bathroom window. Alex warns her that his guards will only bring her back to his room if she manages to escape. The only way out, according to Alex, is to have sex with him. She begs him to allow her to leave, debasing herself. He is unmoved. Natasha is left with little option. To worsen the matter, Natasha was dating someone and she realizes that this event will negatively impact her relationship with the man in her life.

UP TO that moment Natasha had only really thought about the outrage to her feelings, and the nightmare effect on her life of this unbearable, shameful indignity that was being inflicted on her. It had not occurred to her that her first experience of sex might cause her actual physical pain.

Her taut muscles shocked into resistance, she wanted to cry out to him that he was hurting her, and beg him to stop. To give her unaccustomed body at least a little time to adjust to the stark reality of his penetration of her.

Yet she did nothing, said nothing, determined not to grant him the satisfaction of knowing that anything he did could affect her in any way-‘pleasure or pain

Despite this event, Alex never really apologizes or acknowledges that he has essentially raped Natasha and she herself does not treat this as rape. Alex excuses himself by telling Natasha that he wanted her badly. Alex does treat Natasha better after this incident and somehow Natasha finds herself in love with him, but she believes Alex only sees her as a whore, a prostitute and not someone worthy of making his partner.

I think if that scene had been omitted, I would have enjoyed this story but I found the rape to be offensive particularly when it was, at best, excused, and at worst, unacknowledged. F

Best regards

Jane
This book can be purchased at Amazon
(affiliate link), Kindle, eHarlequin in print , eHarlequin in ebook or other retailers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

47 Comments

  1. Christine M.
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:17:40

    Wow. There’s only one thing to be said: EPIC FAIL.

    Make that two: it should’ve been called The Innocent’s Forceful Taking, based on what you said.

  2. Ridley
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:29:53

    Why are rape fantasies okay by Harlequin, but anal sex or kink is verboten?

  3. TKF
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 14:54:22

    *jaw hanging open*

    Was this a reprint? Please tell me this was a reprint. Please.

  4. Kirsten
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:05:10

    “Sure, you have some rape books in your past..”

    LOL

  5. Dana
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:11:50

    I also usually like Sara Craven’s HPs too, so I bought this without investigating the plot too much. I know that the blurb said:

    sacrifice her virginity, or he will destroy her family!

    However, I figured that was an exaggeration, as I find most Harlequin blurbs to be. But I was soooo wrong. For once the blurb was actually accurate.
     
    Not only was I disgusted by the rape, but I was also really pissed off by the implication that his actions would have been ok if Natasha hadn’t been a virgin. The hero only becomes contrite once he realizes that she was a virgin and didn’t write the 2nd letter. Cause if she had been a total slut, she totally deserved to be raped. /sarcasm
     
    This book made me feel skeevy and I didn’t finish it.
     
    At times like this, I wish I had an actual physical book to throw at the wall instead of an ebook.

  6. LauraBayne
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:22:45

    Wowsers! /shakes head

    You’d think an editor would catch something like this?

  7. Lyn
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 15:28:11

    *major eye rolling*
    Surrender?? At least acknowledge it for what it was later on.

    I’ll pass. Haven’t read anything of hers, and now I won’t.

    I’m all for some reluctance on the heroine’s part, but come on.

    Did this book even deserve a grade?

  8. Ros
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:16:15

    I’m glad you’ve published a review of this, after your comments about it in the irredeemable traits thread. I think it’s important that Harlequin (and Ms. Craven) realise just how unacceptable this sort of plot is. I won’t be buying any more of her books.

  9. Janine
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:29:24

    @Dana:

    Not only was I disgusted by the rape, but I was also really pissed off by the implication that his actions would have been ok if Natasha hadn't been a virgin. The hero only becomes contrite once he realizes that she was a virgin and didn't write the 2nd letter. Cause if she had been a total slut, she totally deserved to be raped. /sarcasm

    I haven’t read this book and I actually have more tolerance for sexual force in romance than many readers, so long as there is a redemption, but I really dislike it when the hero is only remorseful due to the heroine’s virginity. That whole “I thought she was a whore and therefore deserved it” is an absurd excuse IMO, and smacks of misogyny in my eyes.

  10. meoskop
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 16:46:05

    It’s not just the rape, it’s the equally tired heroine participation in the rape. She wants to fight, but she doesn’t – because somehow letting herself be raped takes pleasure away from him – if he knew how much it hurt her he would ‘win’.

    But then! She can discover rape is GOOD for her for without rape, no lasting love!!

  11. Amy
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 18:08:01

    I sort of understanding the acceptability of rape scenes between h/h in “romance” novels from decades ago — too many unenlightened women who accepted the male view of the type of behavior that constitutes “rape.” But for an author, particularly a woman, to write this today in a novel set in contemporary times without having both characters acknowledge that the male’s action was terribly wrong and unacceptable?! I am also disappointed that Harlequin would publish this storyline in 2009. Shame on both the author and the publisher.

  12. HotLikeSauce
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 18:28:00

    Sara Craven has written several rape books in recent years. I wasn’t too keen on the rape but I did find this book more memorable than the Forced Bride or Wife Against Her Will. Those two left me feeling rather dirty and the heroes were unlikable. Despite the poor start the Innocent’s Seduction morphed into a somewhat enjoyable read for me.

  13. Ana
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 18:58:46

    @Amy: I almost expected the next paragraph to the Hero (using the term loosely) sporting an eye patch, donning breeches, and dragging the heroine off to his ship and of course repeatedly calling her a whore, and maybe toss in a wench here or there to change it up a bit.

    Bodice Ripper reference??

  14. peggy h
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 20:20:06

    Actually the last Sara Craven I read was from 2007 or 2008 called “The Forced Bride.” And yes, “forced” is the right word. I was quite aghast when I got to the forcing part. And there was never an acknowledgment of any wrongdoing at all. Sigh.

  15. Melissa
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 21:36:37

    Oh, for crying out loud.

    Just when I thought I might give the Presents line a try again (after three decades), I learn they’re still publishing this kinda thing?

    Forget it. I’ll keep ‘em off my buy list for certain. Thanks for reviewing.

  16. Dana
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 23:01:45

    @Janine: I agree with you, I’ve read some romances with forced seduction that I actually liked (Gaffney comes to mind). But it was the non-virgin=bad thing that made me stop reading. I really dislike it when a heroine’s worth/honor is tied up with her virginity in a contemporary.
     
    I don’t have a problem with rape fantasies, a lot of people have them, and hey, we all have our kinks. But I find I’m more tolerant of them in erotic romance/erotica, since those genres are about indulging in fantasy. I tend to judge romance books differently from ER/E.

  17. DM
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 23:44:05

    Sara Craven baffles me. She’s been writing Presents since the 70s. Her early titles don’t have much sex in them–sometimes the book ends with a marriage and an implied, post HEA consummation, and yet they feel a lot less dated than this book. The heroine has an odd smugness about her virginity that is really off-putting. It’s not just the hero equating her worth with her purity, but her own worldview.

    And while I’m pretty sure there is an audience for sex scenes in which the hero pins the heroine to a wall and engages in insanely skillful foreplay until she decides to have sex with him, I’m not sure there is really an audience clamoring for a hero who abducts the heroine and threatens her until she lies down on the bed like a dead fish and endures painful penetration.

  18. Dana
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 23:55:38

    @DM:

    The heroine has an odd smugness about her virginity that is really off-putting. It's not just the hero equating her worth with her purity, but her own worldview.

    And while I'm pretty sure there is an audience for sex scenes in which the hero pins the heroine to a wall and engages in insanely skillful foreplay until she decides to have sex with him, I'm not sure there is really an audience clamoring for a hero who abducts the heroine and threatens her until she lies down on the bed like a dead fish and endures painful penetration.

    This! You put it much better than I could.

  19. Edie
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 01:49:56

    @DM:
    Her earlier books are soo much better (there are a couple of 80 ones with mild sex IIRC) I haven’t been able to finish any of her more recent titles. They definitely seem much more “traditional” HP than her earlier books :(

  20. Bronte
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 03:32:05

    @DM:

    I agree with you DM. Its intriguing reading some of her older books because the Heroines were in some ways much more up to the moment than the ones she writes now.

    I read this book and it did hit my squick button I will admit. The rest of the book was basically vintage Craven. I have noticed that occasionally she will write a story where the heroine feels if not forced then certainly obligated, and often there is not a “payoff” that she enjoyed it in the end. Having said all of that though I do (mostly) enjoy her stories and I will continue to buy her books. I’m also surprised (maybe I shouldn’t be) that an editor didn’t stop/intervene with that scene.

  21. Mina Kelly
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 04:24:14

    I'm not sure there is really an audience clamoring for a hero who abducts the heroine and threatens her until she lies down on the bed like a dead fish and endures painful penetration.

    I suspect there is, but I don’t think it’s the same audience who normally buy Harlequin books. Like Dana said, rape fantasies are usually an erotica subgenre, with emphasis on the “fantasies”.

  22. Maili
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 04:43:52

    @Janine:

    I haven't read this book and I actually have more tolerance for sexual force in romance than many readers, so long as there is a redemption, but I really dislike it when the hero is only remorseful due to the heroine's virginity. That whole “I thought she was a whore and therefore deserved it” is an absurd excuse IMO, and smacks of misogyny in my eyes.

    YES! It used to be quite popular, and it seriously drove me nuts. Like you, I’m quite tolerant of rape / forced seduction fantasies, but I couldn’t and still can’t accept that piece of ‘rape is only bad if the heroine was a virgin’ crap.
    As if the message was that only bad girls (e.g. non-virgins) deserved to be raped. It’s such a repulsive message.

  23. Katie
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 07:37:10

    I would like to see a thread about books where forced suduction/ rape is done well. I am by no means a fan of this. Not even a wee bit. I just want to know which authors have pulled it off and in what context.

  24. Lane
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 10:55:43

    What I really hate about books like this is that it reinforces the whole ‘there’s no point to fighting rape’ myth. That by pulling the ‘dead fish’ routine is the only method of objection she has.

    I don’t know exactly how progressive Greece’s assault laws are, but really, all she needs is to incapacitate him long enough to walk out like she owns the place and then get to the American Consulate.

  25. Lisa Hendrix
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 11:15:23

    @Lane – Thank you for including the link to the self defense video of how to escape a rapist who attacks when you’re sleeping. Terrific demo.

    It brought to mind an elderly black woman who was assaulted in bed several years back. When her attacker tried to force her to perform oral sex, she grabbed him by the gonads and twisted (according to an interview she did on TV), then marched him, balls in hand, to the front door, twisting harder every time he gave her any grief. Sent him packing naked into the street.

    Craven’s “hero” clearly needed the same treatment-‘esp. since he was apparently a serial rapist, as he had his guards trained to return escaping women to his bedroom. Gad. Crap like this gives romance a bad name.

  26. Janine
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 14:28:57

    @Dana & @Maili: We are in agreement. And yeah, that “I thought she was a slut/prostitute/loose woman” excuse used to be quite common. I think Kathleen Woodiwiss popularized it in The Flame and the Flower, which was a runaway bestseller.

  27. Sally
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 14:49:06

    The Flame and the Flower was published in 1972. Surely, attitudes have changed since then!

  28. Janine
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 19:35:48

    @Sally: I think among most readers, attitudes have changed, which is why we don’t see it nearly as often in today’s books.

  29. Clarissa Yip
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 21:15:03

    Wow. I’m rather shocked. I always thought rape was a taboo. harlequin couldn’t emphasize them enough in their guidelines and blogs. It baffles me to see some of the things they choose to publish over what not.

  30. Sabrina M.
    Feb 24, 2010 @ 04:13:47

    Great review and I have to totally agree with you.

    I was so shocked by the rape scene and really disgusted that a woman in todays time would think something like this belongs in a romance. Rape is a serious crime and should be treated that way.

    I will definitely think twice before buying another book by Sara Craven because there is no excuse for rape.

    I’m even thinking about writing harlequin about it because publishing such a book without a clear warning is not ok.

  31. TraceyL
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 01:56:41

    Personally, I’d like some sort of response from Craven and/or Harlequin. Are we missing something? I remember reading “Tess of the D’urbervilles” in high school and not knowing she had been raped until the teacher asked about it. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, but what is their rationale for this type of story in a contemporary setting?
    Avoiding a rape charge and conviction should be good enough motivation for any HP hero to open the bedroom door!

  32. Ros
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 06:27:57

    @TraceyL: Alex isn’t worried about being convicted of rape. He charmingly informs Natasha beforehand that the charges will never stick. His word against hers, after all.

  33. Meljean
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 08:28:09

    @TraceyL: For that kind of response, I’d suggest e-mailing the publisher and/or author. Just speaking from one author’s POV, I would never feel obligated to make a statement justifying the choices I made while writing a story, but if I was contacted personally by a reader, I’d do my best to explain.

  34. Sami
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 18:35:39

    I think the term WTF? was invented for books like this. I don’t get it at all.

  35. Emma H
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 03:50:41

    HARLEQUIN MILLS & BOON

    RAPE!!!

    The editors lost the plot years ago in pushing romantic slush with underlyng sexual crime, and if rape is surfacing again in contemporary settings then all hell should be unleashed on the publisher. It is they who are responsible for publishing unsuitable material.
    The author irresponsible in writing a criminal act within a contemporary novel.
    Perhaps it is a revised old historical script the author trawled from a dark cupboard.

  36. Anonymous
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 22:11:18

    Okay I’m going to step in it here but… if you don’t like it, don’t read it. (And I’m not addressing Jane here, I think it’s responsible for her to write a review like this in order to let people know what they’re in for. I’m talking about the rest of the peanut gallery in the comments section.) Stop pushing your own personal likes and dislikes on others and acting as if a book with rape in it just should not EXIST unless everybody is appropriately sorry and/or imprisoned and/or neutered.

    If you read the description and know the author’s history, you know what it is. Rape fantasies are a common fantasy. If it can’t be explored in fiction, where CAN it be explored?

    So you don’t like bodice rippers? Don’t read them? So YOU think some “bodice ripper” type books are sexy, but not other ones… then don’t read the ones you find appalling. Don’t read it and then get morally indignant.

    It clearly wasn’t written for that audience. Some people DO find it hot, because it’s FICTION, not real.

    I understand it’s appalling to some, but borderline endorsing censorship isn’t the answer. Finding other reading material, IMO is.

  37. Ros
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 08:44:17

    @Anonymous: You say, ‘If you read the description and know the author's history, you know what it is.’ Maybe you did. I read the description, but I knew nothing of the author’s history before I paid good money for this book. And indeed, googling afterwards, I didn’t find any helpful sites telling me that Sara Craven writes rape stories. Since Harlequin brand their novels so heavily, I think they can and should be held to account for everything they publish within a particular line, without expecting readers to research individual authors before making a purchase. ‘If you don’t like, don’t read’ doesn’t work, unless you tell people beforehand what is going to be in the book. If Harlequin want to start warning for rape on their blurbs or their website, that would be fine by me. But unless they do, there’s no way of knowing which books to avoid until it’s too late.

    So, here’s the thing. If people want to read rape books, they can. But if Harlequin continue to publish rape books as romances, they will have lost me as a customer and, judging by the responses to this book here and on Amazon and elsewhere, I won’t be the only one.

  38. Jane
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 08:50:37

    @Ros I’ve read Craven before and I don’t recall a bunch of rape-y books by her, particularly recently. This was a real shock to me and I read the HP line pretty heavily.

  39. Lindsay
    Sep 14, 2010 @ 22:34:51

    I realize this is an old thread, but I hope someone can answer me. I just bought His Convenient Marriage without looking at the author first. When I downloaded it and saw that the author was Sara Craven, I remembered this post, and now I’m afraid to read it. Can anyone let me know if there is any rape in His Convenient Marriage? I don’t really want a nasty surprise.

  40. Jane
    Sep 15, 2010 @ 09:58:54

    @Lindsay: I don’t remember anything like the rape scene in His Convenient Marriage.

  41. SteelMagnolia
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 13:46:49

    I also innocently purchased this book and was sick when I read that scene. Up to that point I kept thinking “something” was going to happen before an actual rape took place. At that moment I had such a strong distaste for the H—I mean, seriously, what kind of a “hero” in this day and age thinks that’s acceptable behavior towards ANY woman???? I was already so annoyed with the heroine for so stupidly going along with her family’s “plan” and not having any better sense when she knew the kind of people they were that it was difficult to like her or have any respect for her. Don’t get me wrong—I felt horribly sorry for her.

    This isn’t what I expect from an HP and if they had labeled the book as a rape (that would have been fair and given me, the reader, a choice) I never would have purchased it. I will never buy another book by this author.

  42. Linda
    Mar 10, 2011 @ 23:49:11

    This is where the romantic erotica/erotica publishers have the right idea. Each book is clearly identified as containing material that may be disturbing to some people and then they identify the types of material. If it’s m/m you know it and if that isn’t your thing, you don’t buy it. I’m not a fan of out and out rape. I don’t find it sexy. I don’t mind a little tussel but I want to hear the hero saying loud and clear…say yes or it ain’t happening. Forced seduction is a whole other thing…someone mentioned that whole up against the wall with some serious-ahem-foreplay until the receiver begs for it…that’s okay with me but I’ve been in that dark place where my consent didn’t matter and I am not titillated by reading about it…unless it’s a non-fiction book like Against Our will. But I can still appreciate both sides of the argument…censorhip bad, warning good. IMHO.

  43. What’s Wrong with Mama? - Dear Author
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:50:48

    […] There is an implied insult that the mother’s romances were some how terrible. It’s true that the 70s, 80s, and some of the 90s, book covers show a nearly naked woman with a long haired man looming over her. Who can forget these iconic Johanna Lindsey books with the heroine placed at the foot of the hero, like a supplicant. These days, we just get the nearly naked woman. It is also true that there were rapetastic books publishing in the early period of mass market romances and probably a greater number of them that are generally published today (although it seems like we will never completely escape them). […]

  44. Anne
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 13:46:38

    Isn’t it by now a condition that rape be written so it is not nice and doesn’t titillate?

    Possibly the author just wanted to write a rape fantasy without breaking her publisher’s rules.

    Rules which are a pity, I wished there was a way to get well-written, well-edited rape fantasies somewhere.

  45. Zelle
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 01:52:58

    Ohhh… rape… i havent read the book but it sounds erotic eh

  46. Vassiliki
    May 07, 2012 @ 20:35:31

    I am intrigued by Sara Craven’s latest books. I am a fan of her book, particularly her 70s and 80s publications but like most readers, I can’t bear forced seduction/rape scenes. A month ago, I read her 2008 publication “One Night with His Virgin Mistress” in which the heroine is a young woman who is writing a romance which includes a rape scene. When told by her editor that it was no longer PC to write these, Tallie (the heroine) demures “but it’s just a fantasy’. The actual romance between the hero and heroine was lovely and engaging yet the book felt as though it was written as a reply to critics of rape in romances. I also find it interesting that she continues to write these scenes and, due to the scene I’ve just mentioned, I think that she is deliberately pushing reader boundaries.

  47. Jane
    May 07, 2012 @ 20:41:58

    @Vassiliki – what an interesting observation. We’ve had a lot of discussion on the blog about forced seduction and reader consent.

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