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REVIEW: Forbidden by Susan Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson:

ForbiddenLong before there was Jaid Black and Ellora’s Cave. Long before the rise of erotic romance and the publication of lines like Aphrodisia, Spice, and Avon Red, there were authors like you who wrote historically rich, emotionally deep and impossibly erotic romances. There are three of your books that I re-read with some frequency and this is one of them.

Forbidden is a book full of rule breakers. The book itself is a rule breaker because it features a heroine who is a minority, an Absarokee Indian; a hero who is married and then proceeds to get a divorce; a heroine who lost her virginity well before meeting up with the hero; a hero who actually has adult children and one grandchild; and a long separation; it’s set in 1891 and its in France and America. You would think that all of those things would tend to irritate the crap out of people but Forbidden is still in print today, some fifteen years after its original publication in 1991.

But it is your rule breaking that makes this book so wonderful. Daisy Black is a serious person, not given to frivolity. Raised amonst the Absarokee tribe in the region of Montana, Daisy has been imbued with a sense of purpose and devotion to her people and her land. Her father went to Harvard and when she was of age, Daisy went to Harvard as well. She became one of fifty female lawyers in America and represented her tribe’s land interests in court and out. Her half brother, Trey, begs her to go to France to oversee the succession rights of a member of Trey’s family. Daisy agrees reluctantly.

Etienne, Duc de Vec, is a man of great passion and excess. From the beginning he seems ill suited for Daisy. Daisy views him with disdain as she perceives his life is devoted to pleasure, everything about him as anethma to her. Etienne’s marriage is a dynastic one and since the requisite heir was born his wife and he have had little do with one another. They co exist side by side in society with little common interests. She has never minded his affairs in the past and she really doesn’t begrudge him Daisy. When Daisy and Duc first meet, they are both a bit unimpressed with the other. Daisy because he’s a profligate wastrel and Duc because she’s just another woman who would bed him for his wealth and not much else.

Of course, their passion for life makes them a perfect match; the serious Daisy is evened out by the live for pleasure Duc. Etienne’s life of frivolity is given meaning by Daisy’s love. Their need to be together gives rise to Etienne shocking society and his wife by filing for divorce. What proceeds is one of the nastiest divorce fights I’ve ever encountered, in fiction and real life. The suspense is whether Etienne can actually get divorced. His seeming inability to overcome his wife’s influence with the church and the monarchists (her cousin is the Archbishop) drives Daisy to believe that it isn’t meant to be; that the spirits do not intend for them to be together. Daisy returns to America. Time, distance and her belief that the divorce will never happen leads her to end things with Etienne.

There is a great scene in which Daisy and Etienne exchange frank and heartbreaking telegraphs.

Don’t understand. Won’t understand. Can’t understand. You’re killing me, he added at the last, a wrenching admission for a man of his pride.

I’m sorry. Words of duty, practical words, words that dimmed the sun.

Don’t be. I’m not. Etienne had replied, a prideful man, resentful and frustrated after two hours in the telegraph office at the Bourse under the interested scrutiny of the key operator. Affronted at having exposed his private life to the world, he stalked out of the office and strode to the Jockey Club to drink himself into an oblivious state of disregard for all women, friends or otherwise.

This book is a series of great scenes. There were great love scenes, particularly the ones where Etienne and Daisy make love in his lodge in Colsec. The scene in which Etienne and Daisy’s father and brother meet on the polo grounds in Newport and try to kill each other. Etienne and Daisy’s reunion. The flaw to this beautiful romance is its wordiness. What some authors can say in only 5 words, you use 15. For some reason, because of the lushness of this story, the grand passion, the expansive nature of the love between Daisy and Etienne, the wordiness fit. I am thankful that this is a book I can revisit frequently, particularly in this day of erotic romances, just to remind myself of how a really good erotic romance reads.

Best regards,

Jane

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

18 Comments

  1. Has
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 11:45:52

    This is one of my favorite Susan Johnson book. it definitely broke the rules but it that is waht made it engrossing. I love her earlier stuff where she combines erotic romance and history- I love the footnotes. I just hope she can reclaim her ealier magic. I don’t really like her latest offering it just feels like its missing her old magic.

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  2. Keishon
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 11:46:49

    I hated the ending of this book, as unbelievable as it was, too. Heh. I do like the book. My absolute favorite by her is Pure Sin. :-)

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  3. Jane
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 11:56:39

    Has – I agree. Her recent stuff has been terrible compared to the classics she released in the late 80s early 90s.

    Keishon – how did I know you would be busting my chops over this book. I did think about going with Pure Sin because I love that one too. So many books. So few days.

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  4. Robin
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 11:57:41

    I haven’t read this one yet, although I have it. Like Keishon, I think Pure Sin is pretty unbeatable. But then I like Johnson even at her weakest, so at her strongest, IMO she’s amazing. Just the fact that she can write Native American characters that are not stereotypes makes her an automatic read for me. That she can also write lightning hot erotic historical Romance that has (had?) actual history and romance in it is almost a bonus for me.

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  5. kardis
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 12:00:21

    In the words of Ned Flanders, “Ooo, sounds spine-tingly-dingly”. Ok, that’s not a very appropriate quote, but I still like it. In all seriousness, this sounds like a good read to me, thanks Jane!

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  6. Lizinka
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 15:14:53

    I’ve been forced out of my habitual lurk by this one. I thought it was awful: long-winded, pretentious and – like all Susan Johnson’s books – read to me like it had been researched from ’80s mini-series (though I know this to be far from the case). This is one of the very few books I never managed to finish. I’ve just never seen it with this author.

    I’ll get my coat.

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  7. Karen Scott
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 16:45:06

    I tried Susan Johnson a while ago, and I just can’t get into her books. For some reason I really don’t like her voice.

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  8. Sandy AAR
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 16:58:44

    Jane,

    Forbidden is a favorite of mine, as well. I can’t think of another author who has fallen so far as Ms. Johnson. She remains the only author to whom I have given both As and Fs.

    There is something about this one that reminds me a bit of Judith Ivory. Maybe it’s the unapologetic natures of Daisy and Etienne — they are what they are — or the setting, but I really made the comparison when I reread the book recently.

    My one criticism is that I think it goes on about 100 pages too long. (Wrap it up already, Ms. Johnson!) But, on the whole, Forbidden is magnificent.

    There’s some justice in the publishing world that it’s still in print after all these years!

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  9. LLL
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 20:53:33

    It was Susan Johnson’s older books that were my first exposure to steamy romance. While I am not a fan of her newer books, I will always appreciate her for my introduction to lush erotic romance.

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  10. Jane
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 21:04:29

    Lizinka, I am glad that we dragged you out of lurkdom, no matter the method. Stick around. There’s bound to be more books that I like that others dislike. I am posting one on Thursday that will put me up for much ridicule :).

    KS – really? Well, if you don’t like her voice, you won’t like any of her books. It’s fairly distinctive.

    Sandy AAR – Did you compare it to Untie My Heart? Or some other book?

    LLL – Her newer books make me cry but Pure Sin, Brazen, and Outlaw are some of my fave books of all time.

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  11. Katharina
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 21:48:05

    I tried quite a number of Susan Johnson’s book but like Karen wrote, I too couldn’t get used to her voice. I think I read about seven or eight of her titles (back when I used to choose my next book more indiscriminately), but I could never warm up to her. Her books were considered to be erotic, but honestly I never quite undestood why, most often I had to snort about the ludicrous plot – like that one where the hero was 18, better than Casanova in bed, whereas the heroine was a mature woman of ~31 with five! children (of course she had two more – twins – after they married.)
    I always considered her books to have the right erotic vocabulary but the sum total was always bla, but same goes with Bertrice Small or Thea Devine – the Trium Virat of early supposedly erotic romances.

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  12. Jane
    Nov 21, 2006 @ 21:50:18

    I have to agree, Katharina, that the sequel to Outlaw, How to Please a Lady (?), was awful. I don’t know if I finished it or not.

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  13. Julia
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 06:09:42

    I have read some Susan Johnson’s books, but not this one, and now I have to go looking to see if this is one of hers that I have in my TBR pile somewhere. I haven’t read any of hers in a long time, and even if I read some that I didn’t like much, I couldn’t stop gloming a lot of her books, even if they are forgotten somewhere. A little silly, I know :o)
    Now, I remember liking Trey’s story.

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  14. seton
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 06:57:31

    FORBIDDEN is a typical Susan Johnson book for me. I love SJ’s strong, very educated heroines but dont love her alpha, slutty, jealous-when-they-have-no-right-to-be heroes nearly as much. And I agree with whoever wrote that a lot of her books dont come together for the whole totally satisfying reading experience. I think BLAZE was the only one that did for me although I have a soft spot for a few of her books including Trey’s book SILVER FLAME, BRAZEN, and OUTLAW.

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  15. Sandy AAR
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 07:40:28

    Sandy AAR – Did you compare it to Untie My Heart? Or some other book?

    Jane,

    I was thinking more of Bliss and Dance, both of which took place in languid French summers in almost exactly the same period. Then (to use a favorite Johnson word) the degage (hm, how to do the accent?) air about the whole book.

    As I said, it was more of a feeling, though.

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  16. Rosie
    Nov 22, 2006 @ 11:28:21

    Jane, Jane, Jane…the memories you have evoked this past couple of weeks! I remember reading this book the first time so well because Daisy was so out of the norm for a historical heroine.

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  17. Belle
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 11:30:23

    I haven’t read forbidden yet but I just read Blaze and I loved it!I’m looking forward to reading Silver Flame (which is the second book to the braddock-black series)because that’s Hazard’s (from the Blaze book) son and hopefully the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree…if you know what I mean. lol

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  18. Jane
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 11:43:43

    I think Silver Flame will live up to your expectations of Hazard’s son.

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