REVIEW: Forbidden by Susan Johnson
Dear Ms. Johnson:
Long 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.