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JOINT REVIEW: A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

Dear Ms. Fraser:

I wish I had read this on the Nook instead of the Kindle, because then I would have realized going in that it was less than 90 pages long, and been able to adjust my expectations accordingly. On the other hand, considering that when I looked down and realized I was almost halfway through, I actually worried that I’d somehow only gotten part of the file, perhaps the book would have felt unbalanced or incomplete to me anyway. I certainly thought there would/should be far more story coming.

A Dream DefiantLike previous Fraser books, this is set during the Napoleonic Wars — specifically, Spain in 1813. And also like previous Fraser books, it really is set there; you could not just pick this story up and plant it anywhere. To make it stand out even more in a genre increasingly filled with wallpaper historicals, the main characters are working class, and the hero is black.

When one of his men is fatally wounded while scavenging a ruby necklace after a battle, Corporal Elijah Cameron promises to deliver the necklace to Sam Merrifield’s widow. But he’s aware that such a valuable item could be as much of a threat as a windfall to Rose Merrifield, who will already be very vulnerable as a now unprotected woman in an army camp. Sam’s last wish was for Rose to use the necklace to fulfill her dream of buying an inn and becoming a cook, but if Rose remarries immediately — the safest choice for a war widow with a child — the necklace will legally belong to her husband. Elijah’s has long admired Rose’s beauty and character, as well as her cooking, and he takes on the role of her protector, hoping to help her dream come true.

Despite the title, this is more a story about practicalities than dreams; both Elijah and Rose have had to live their lives on a very practical basis. Elijah, who is not only black but very large, has learned to carefully control the image he presents at all time, playing “Gentle Giant” or “Terrifying Negro” as needed. He’s had to face that he will never be allowed to rise to a higher rank in his chosen career, and to cope with numerous small stings in daily life:

Elijah had been called into that same meal to settle a bet with an officer from another regiment about the mental capacities of the Negro. He hated such performances. It had been one thing when he was a boy, but as a grown man and an NCO, to be called into the colonel’s tent to recite poetry and demonstrate mental arithmetic was humiliating. Yet it would be churlish to refuse…

Rose, too, is used to making the practical choice. Marriage to the good-natured if somewhat ineffectual Sam had been a blessing for her. Remarriage before she’s barely had time to grieve is just one more survival mechanism.

I was conflicted about this aspect of the story. On the one hand, I appreciated the realism. Poverty, sexism, and racism are game changers, no question, and we don’t often see that reflected in romance. On the other hand, I almost got the sense that because of their roles in life, Rose and Elijah weren’t really allowed to have feelings here. Despite several ugly plot points, the book overall is very low on conflict or angst; they’re both just so good at shrugging things off and accepting their fates. Elijah in particular is just a little too perfect. This make sense in context, to a certain extent, because he would never have risen as far as he has if he wasn’t exceptionally intelligent and capable. But he has so few resentments, or desires for himself, and always, always does the right thing.

There is set up for genuine romance between the two. Rose has always admired Elijah’s smile, and thought, “unlike many tall, long-limbed men she’d known, he was all grace and no awkwardness. It was a pleasure to watch him walk across the camp, or to toss little Jake and Fernando high in the air and then catch them in his big, sure hands.” Elijah’s unacknowledged feelings for Rose are even stronger:

“Have you any thoughts of courting the fair Rose yourself, or would you prefer a bride of a tawnier hue?”

Rose Merrifield, his wife? At the mere suggestion of it, all the longing he’d ever felt for her but carefully tamped down because she was already married flared to life. He could run his hands through her tumbling chestnut curls and all down the lush, strong curves of her body. He’d have her to talk to every night, all that clever, practical good sense with the hidden passion and poetry that came out when she talked of food.

Even with this background, an accidental but passionate kiss between them on the very night Rose’s husband died is uncomfortable to read, and their eventual relationship feels rushed and shortchanged, despite little time spent on sex scenes. (Or perhaps that’s because?  I’m not a reader who finds sex scenes necessary in romance, but their abbreviated scene was lacking something.) There’s so much that feels like it needs to happen in this story, both in the characters’ minds and in the plot — it’s not a simple decision they’re making — but there isn’t enough space left for the follow through and so the book never reaches it full potential. I’m happy to see these less typical characters appear in historical romance, and just wish they’d gotten the intense, meaningful novel they deserve. C+

sincerely,
willaful

 

Dear Ms. Fraser,

I agree with a lot of Willaful’s points, including many of her criticisms, but I ended up liking this book a great deal. I did know that it was a novella when I began reading it, and I was curious whether the shorter format would be adequate to tell the story. I think it posed some problems, but more on that later.

A Dream DefiantThe setting is, as always, thoughtfully and carefully conceptualized. The minutiae of everyday life in the Peninsular War is integrated into the narrative, dialogue, and characterization. As someone who reads romance as much for the context as the relationships, it was a pleasure to sink into this world and lose myself for a while.

The story is a fairly simple one, made more unusual and complex by the fact that Elijah, the hero, is black. Elijah has risen to the rank of Corporal because of the patronage and support of influential men, but he knows he can go no further, and he has learned to manage the small and not-so-small slights that are aimed at him by his white subordinates. He did verge a little on the too-good-to-be-true side, but for me he was saved from that by other aspects of his characterization, in particular his self-restraint. I’ve known minority-group men with similar traits, who seem to make a deal with themselves very early in their lives that they will withstand whatever injustices they are dealt with fortitude and impassivity. It’s not that they don’t have feelings, but those feelings are so controlled and disciplined that others don’t see them, and sometimes the men themselves stop consciously thinking about them. For me Elijah was a refreshing contrast to the emotive heroes that currently populate romance novels, but some readers may find him too emotionally opaque.

Rose is the wife of one of Elijah’s men, Private Sam Merrifield. In the looting that follows the Battle of Vittoria, Merrifield is fatally stabbed by a French soldier, but before he dies he entrusts Elijah with a valuable ruby necklace to give to Rose. The sale of the jewels will enable Rose to fulfill their dream of running an inn in their home village. Rose initially intends to leave the army and travel to England with the necklace, but when word of her riches spreads through the camp, the best way to guarantee her safety is to marry quickly. She likes and trusts Elijah, and she consciously deliberates about whether the problems that she might face by marrying a black man are worth risking. For his part, Elijah has been attracted to Rose since he first met her, but he learned to control those feelings and he has trouble accepting not only that she might want to marry him, but that she might also expect a real, lasting marriage.

I found the scenes between Elijah and Rose genuine, affecting, and convincing. I could see why Elijah had fallen in love with her, and Rose’s shift from seeing Elijah as a trusted friend to a potential husband whom she could love was believable to me in the context of the story. She had made a good life with Sam and their son, but Sam didn’t strike me as her grand passion, and the sensible way she settled on Elijah seemed appropriate given her circumstances. I had a little more trouble with the relatively quick “I love you” moment, but their slow courtship was very nicely depicted.

In fact, the book was working really well for me through that period of decision and its aftermath, but then the story shifted into a different context and the pace sped up a lot, and I attribute the sharp turn to the novella format. This is one of many novellas and short novels I’ve read in the last year or two where I felt that if only the author had had a longer wordcount, the story would have been more complete and satisfying. I don’t know whether the length here is the author’s choice or the publisher’s, and for my purposes it doesn’t matter; I’m saying only that the story as presented felt truncated. Elijah and Rose’s life comes with some expected and not-so-expected ups and downs. These ups and downs are eventually resolved and their HEA looks promising at the end. But in contrast to the early scenes, which unfold at a relaxed pace, the later scenes feel rushed, and some key plot and character developments are handled too summarily. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them, but more that I went from being immersed to feeling that I was being told the story, if that makes sense.

Despite these criticisms, I really enjoyed the book overall, and I thought the interracial romance aspect was well handled. My head says the flaws require me to take note in the overall grade, but my heart says this is a Recommended Read. Grade: B

~ Sunita

 

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About seven years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

41 Comments

  1. cleo
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 09:10:52

    I saw this on the Open Thread for Authors and was intrigued by the set up. I’m so glad for the reviews. This sounds like it might work for me.

  2. Charlie
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 09:44:58

    I’ve been thinking of getting this but wanted to wait for the reviews first as I’ve not read Fraser’s books before. For that I love that you’ve got the two reviews here. I reckon I’d fall somewhere between these two opinions (the limits of the novella here sound a problem), but I’ll be giving it a read regardless.

  3. sula
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 09:47:52

    Thanks for the reviews. I am definitely interested and will look into this one. I love historicals, and being in an IR relationship in my real life, I’m always on the lookout for black heros in my reading life.

  4. HelenB
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 10:42:17

    It does seem historically correct for women married or just with, soldiers in the peninsula war, to remarry quickly. Mainly for the reason of protection. I am talking about the lower ranks here. Officer’s wivies were in a different situation. And when I say quickly, the previous husband might just have been buried.

  5. Jayne
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 11:06:03

    I saw this on offer and hoped someone would be doing a review. Thanks ladies!

  6. Shelly
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 12:00:58

    Hmmm, the book sounds interesting, I’m always wary of romances in a historical context with multicultural protagonists… especially interracial novels. Even if the author goes to great lengths to do the subject matter justice and tries to be accurate, it produces a visceral reaction from me. Even reading the excerpts you posted is making me cringe a little. It’s why it took me so long to read novels by Beverly Jenkins, which are amazing by the way. I don’t know. Even after reading the reviews, I’m still hesitant.

  7. Sunita
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 13:36:01

    Thanks, I really enjoyed reading and review this. And I’m glad you like the joint reviews, I find them fun and rewarding.

    Fraser really does her historical homework; in her last book she managed to make the Duchess of Richmond’s ball something other than the standard cookie-cutter description.

    I can’t say that this won’t hit a reader’s hot buttons, but as the product of an IR marriage, I’m pretty picky about what I read and recommend because it’s hard for me not to have my own knowledge and experiences intrude into my interpretation. But I thought Fraser did a really good job with this.

  8. Willaful
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 14:38:46

    Sunita, next time I would love to do a conversational review. :-)

    I’ve been reading that Fraser is working on a sequel to this book, which will be a full length novel. I think it’s about a secondary character, but I couldn’t place him.

  9. JenM
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 17:43:06

    I prefer longer stories, but this one intrigues me enough that I would buy it. I’ve read two of Susanna’s other books and loved both of them. She does a good job with settings and characters that are outside of the usual Regency norm. Unfortunately, it is beyond the limit that I will pay for a novella that is less than 100 pages. Hopefully Carina Press will lower it at a later date and I can buy it.

  10. Willaful
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 18:00:51

    @JenM: It’s coupon eligible, so would be considerably cheaper at Kobo right now. Now, what was that code…

  11. Jeannie
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 19:56:23

    I just finished this one. I bought it before I knew it was a novella, but learning it was one made me open it quicker–lol. I had several other Fraser books on my Kindle, but this is the first I read. I enjoyed it! Read in one sitting. Really appreciated the depth the Fraser put into the story and I felt for Rose. I felt the beginning when the two are getting together stronger than the final wrap-up chapter, but it is always a challenge to somehow fulfill the HEA promise in a non-conventional romance for the genre. Readers tend to be less confident that a non-familiar pairing is actually going to last, you know? So I felt there was a lot of dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s in that last bit. Lovely characters, touching scenes. Will certainly read more. Final thought, I thought Elijah as a hero was constructed similarly to Poitier’s character in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. So perfect that the only objection had to be about race. But Elijah is very conscious of how he has to be exceptional to be considered even competent. That felt like an authentic mindset to me. For this and many other nuances, I’d recommend this story. Oh, and wow that cover’s awesome.

  12. Sunita
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 21:26:49

    @Willaful: I am so there! And next time I’ll get my act together in time for us to do one. ;)

    @Jeannie: Oh my goodness, you’re right. I think that’s what I was aiming at with my comment about how minority-group males suppress their reactions, but I was thinking about real-world people. But Poitier is a great example. And that’s a great point about how the last part is about showing the resolution.

  13. Joopdeloop
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 00:42:14

    I never preorder, but impulsively did so on reading the premise of Fraser’s book. Thankfully I skimmed your joint review before finishing so I knew to expect truncation/ novella. So no regrets for preorder, loved reading this… But it did fall short for me… (maybe b/c I’m still in a bitter funk about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman verdict?) I’m not convinced of a HEA – not so much between Rose and Elijah, as much as between Elijah + family and the village of Aspwell Heath. The reconciliation with Sam’s parents and sister seemed too easy and tidy. And I did feel like both Elijah and Rose were so perfect, never giving the other much reason to pause. I don’t think I always need high angst/ high conflict, but given the interracial romance, this story seems to miss the ways that racism can be both overt and covert and often times from the people you least expected would give you such grief. Even in such a short tale, I just somehow feel the need for a little more bite or venom to ring true. But, after heaping so much criticism, I would love to read more stories that explore such characters, and at greater length. And happy to put my $$ behind this.

  14. Jeannie Lin
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 07:03:40

    @Joopdeloop:

    “Even in such a short tale, I just somehow feel the need for a little more bite or venom to ring true.”

    Not meaning to threadjack, but I was just pondering this sort of thing last night…partly because my reading of Fraser’s novella and this thread here.

    In short, just because I spent WAY too much time blogging at 3am already: Is it harder to envision a happy ending in an alien or “other” culture because HEA is tied intimately to ideas of comfort, safety and familiarity where the “other” is inherently not comfortable, safe or familiar? – See more at: http://www.jeannielin.com/a-historical-perspective-are-my-happy-endings-realistic/#sthash.S6KvRSQr.dpuf

  15. Jeannie Lin
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 07:04:47

    Wow…that automatic linking thing when you copy text from another blog is way cool…is that a plug-in?

  16. Willaful
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 13:29:46

    @Joopdeloop: One of the things I didn’t mention in my review was I felt that expectations were built for something scary/climactic to happen with some of the other characters, and then it never did. It felt like Chekov’s law was broken.

  17. Sunita
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 13:54:16

    @Joopdeloop: I’ve been mulling over your question for while. I think that it’s difficult to get those issues into even a full-length novel in a way that doesn’t undermine the reader’s confidence in the HEA, and in a novella it would really hard. That’s not to say it’s not worth doing, and I did notice that the characters who expressed racist thoughts tended to be the villainous or at least unsympathetic ones, which was awfully convenient.

    I have mixed feeling about how much *needs* to be included in an IR or cross-cultural romance. Yes, couples always deal with that kind of stuff to some degree, no matter what the cultural context. But the way such attitudes affect the relationships vary; sometimes it’s a big deal, sometimes it’s not, and the level of hostility varies too. And it doesn’t always fall out the way conventional wisdom suggests. For example, my mother’s working-class white Catholic family was fine with my parents’ marriage. It was my father’s high-caste Hindu family that was the big obstacle.

  18. Sunita
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 13:59:36

    @Jeannie Lin: That’s a great post! I’m not sure it’s the fact that the culture is alien so much as the expectations readers have about unfamiliar cultures, especially non-white ones. If a reader’s mental picture of a country/society is that it’s very poor, oppressive to women, etc., she’ll have a harder time believing in a full-fledged HEA, just as some readers don’t want to read romances set right before either the first or second world war. My perspective is that *every* era and culture has its share of happy romances and HEAs, but I’ve heard the contrary often enough to know that not everyone feels that way.

    Slightly OT: I am totally befuddled by the idea that your HEAs aren’t realistic or believable. Huh. That never occurred to me.

  19. Janine
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 14:35:49

    @Jeannie Lin & @Sunita: I’ve long thought that endings are the hardest part of any romance to pull off. All the plot threads have to be wrapped up in a satisfying way and it still has to be convincing/believable too. The best ones leave readers with a happy afterglow that makes them want to pick up the next book, without being cliffhangers. Not a short order.

    Jeannie, I wonder if you face an extra challenge, which is that many of us western readers are most familiar with historical China-set love stories from movies like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Yimou’s The House of Flying Daggers and Hero or more recently Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. The romantic subplots in those movies always end tragically, usually with the female character dying. That may set up an expectation that runs contrary to the romance genre HEA.

  20. Evangeline
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 17:34:42

    @Sunita: “I have mixed feeling about how much *needs* to be included in an IR or cross-cultural romance.”

    I think the stumbling block is when an author forgets about or is unfamiliar with internal conflict born from cultural differences as opposed to focusing on skin color and overt cases of racism. 2006′s Sanaa Lathan rom-com Something New isn’t a perfect movie (it actually does a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Brian [Simon Baker], the white love interest, in that he is so perfect that the only conflict could come from his whiteness), but it’s filled with internal conflict born from the various strands of black and white culture in America. Like Kenya’s hair (weave vs natural), the “Black Tax” (Brian could sympathize with her frustration but he could not offer any solution or chime in with her venting), and even the issues of class (Kenya is an upper class black woman raised to “uphold the race” with her education and career and marriage to an equally accomplished black man).

    From the review, it sounds like Fraser did her work to get into the mindset of a black British soldier in the early 19th century, and I’m curious enough to purchase this novella. I’d be interested to see Sunita and Willaful review an interracial historical romance written by a black romance author–how does this perspective (black author and black heroine) change the tenor of how race and culture are used; how does the HEA feel in comparison to the Fraser book; how does the texture and description of the romance read?

  21. Willaful
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 17:49:57

    @Evangeline: You’ve posed an interesting challenge, and I’ll look into finding such a book.

    Your comment made me think of Kathleen Eagle, particularly This Time Forever and But That Was Yesterday. Although white, she’s married to a Lakota Indian and did such a great job of showing those small but meaningful cultural differences when writing (usually, though not always) Indian heroes with white heroines.

  22. Joopdeloop
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 18:41:30

    Thanks for the additional conversation- it’s making me think through why that pea under the twenty mattresses bothers me.

    There is this amazing FB post by Wesley Hall that basically thanks his mom for teaching him “the armor … to get through life as an American black male” (well worth looking up and reading) which echoed through my head when I was reading Fraser’s on-point characterization of Elijah strategically trying to moderate being perceived as’ Gentle Giant’ v. ‘Terrifying Negro.’ Once that can of worms was opened, I felt like it’s hard for me to accept an HEA that doesn’t show Rose learning to bear the sting of associational racism – I kept thinking what’s it going to be like for her when she encounters hurts (to herself or her daughter or Elijah) that can’t be resolved by her husband talking it over rationally and calmly with the antagonists? Checkov’s law, waiting for the other boot to fall… it leave me too squirmy to enjoy or trust the HEA.

    As Sunita notes, conveniently it’s the villains who voice the racism in this case. I deeply credit the theory of unconscious bias (in hero/ines, villains and everyone in between). I think my fantasy IR would capture that, those unanticipated obstacles and hostility from quarters you had not expected and perhaps especially the biases that the main characters might carry within. I want an IR that gets tested and shows that it can withstand these slings and arrows. Then I can sigh my sigh of deep relief and stash it on the DIK shelf.

    In a weird way I feel like doing what my (tigress-before-the-book-was-macked-out-in-the-NYT) mom does to me (She criticizes me more only b/c she loves me so): I’m holding these types of books to a higher standard, because they matter more to me. I need them to be just right. (But publishers and authors, please note: I’m truly willing to shell out the dough on brave experiments until y’all get it right)

    Jeannie: Thanks for the link (gorgeous cover, will mark my calendar for 8/27). It made me think about the essay (shoot I’m pretty sure it was from DA) that compares historical to SF/F/ Urban Fantasy in terms of worldbuilding. Regency mistoricals often don’t tell stories that commonly happened during the Regency, they just benefit (and sometimes bloat) on the convenient shorthand and stereotypes of a commonly-depicted universe. By writing romance set in Tang Dynasty China you have less shorthand to lean on, but I don’t think the issue should be whether your HEA/romance is ‘realistic’ (as if!) or accurate, so much as resonant with and authentic to the world you’ve built up. I confess my my cynical mind interprets that “realistic/accurate” crit as a code for something else (along the lines of ‘hey! Get back into our box of preconceived notions’ or ‘Asians can’t be truly sexy’) . I hope that you keep on proving them wrong.

  23. Willaful
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 19:26:38

    @Joopdeloop: Do you think it would have helped if Fraser had shown a little of that and shown it as something they accept and move on from? Because yes, there will be stings, but being with the person you love is more important, and that’s why there are so many interracial marriages despite racism…

    It’s been a while since I read it so I don’t actually remember if this is something that worked in the book or not, but there was definitely the potential for Rose to find much greater, more meaningful happiness with Elijah than with her first husband.

  24. Sunita
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 22:03:07

    @Evangeline: @Willaful: I’m up for reading and reviewing too. I think having a black heroine/white hero changes the dynamic and the context even without changing the author’s race/ethnicity, though, so it could be hard to disentangle the effects. I also think it matters who the audience for the book is. I’m thinking of Olivia and Jai. A lot of romance readers love that book to bits, but I DNF’d it after 100 pages because it read like just another Raj romance to me. And Ryman was Indian. But she clearly was writing to a western audience and channeling MM Kaye at least a little bit. So the fact that she had the knowledge and cultural familiarity didn’t come through to me.

  25. Sunita
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 22:15:39

    @Joopdeloop: I understand what you’re saying (and I definitely read your comments as critique from the inside, from someone who wants more books like this). I can see why an explicit engagement with the racism the characters are likely to face is something you want to see them deal with in order to buy the HEA.

    I come at it from a different angle: if I feel that the romance has been convincingly depicted and I have confidence in the couple’s feelings for each other, I have confidence that they can weather the stuff that’s going to be thrown at them. I don’t need to see it laid out explicitly. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy (and probably DIK) a book that skillfully explored the issues you lay out. But if I don’t get it, I’m mostly OK with the omission as long as I buy the romance and the characters’ world isn’t an artificial, non-racist paradise.

    @Willaful: I definitely thought that Rose was going to have a happier and more fulfilling marriage with Elijah, even with the problems they were bound to confront. Fraser did a good job of avoiding demonizing or belittling Sam and their marriage while still making me feel that Rose was better off with Elijah. And I agree with your first suggestion; I think that would have addressed some of Joopdeloop’s concerns without making it the focal point.

  26. Willaful
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 23:07:40

    @Sunita: Let’s find a book. Did Beverley Jenkins do any interracial romance? She’s the only black historical author I know off the top of my head who writes black characters. There are probably some small press or indie books out there…

  27. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 09:43:12

    I thoroughly enjoyed this review, and the discussions that have followed. I have a Fraser book on my ereader that I need to try, although this one tempts me too—interracial, interesting setting, working-class hero and heroine, first husband dealt with sensitively…

    It’s a fascinating discussion about non-standard romance periods, including Jeannie Lin’s great post, and how that plays into HEA and believability. It does feel like romance’s Regency time period has taken on a life of its own so that (when the book stays within certain parameters) we as readers are very used to it delivering an HEA—have read so many books where HEAs happen there—that we’re less likely to question a Regency HEA than other less-used times or places or situations. (All things being equal.)

    I remember when I started reading romance (Jo Beverly) and I adored her first Malloren book, but I also was thinking about how life would be tough during this time period. But now, many Georgian/Regency/Victorian books later, these settings = HEA to me. (I realize there are differences among these settings, but they aren’t as great as others and/or I’m not aware enough of the historical differences.) Whereas, if I pick up, say, a Middle Ages romance, I think more about the time period and the difficulties of living at that time.

    I realize I’m generalizing from experience as a reader, which is always a risk.

    Kind of off-topic, but I’ve always found that the heart of the romance (at least when I’m reading) is in the middle of the book. So if the ending isn’t all that I could hope for, I’m okay if the middle was. Not to say a fantastic ending doesn’t make everything even better; or a disappointing ending can’t cast a pall over the book. But still, the middle makes it. As Janine, said, endings are the hardest part. I’m also pretty happy to fill in the blanks if I’m given enough to work with (obviously this is subjective), so I rather imagine I could see this couple in A Dream Defiant doing well if their romance is convincingly solid.

    I too like to see more interracial romances. But I actually don’t necessarily want a big focus on racism. In my experience, that doesn’t have to be a big factor in a relationship. Of course, depending on the setting and how the relationship intersects with that setting, it may be indeed be important and necessary. I don’t want it swept under the rug when the book demands otherwise.

  28. Willaful
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 09:58:16

    @Jorrie Spencer: I was just thinking, after having read The Heiress Effect and A Lady Entangled — which have some similarities in their basic conflicts — that I think many current historical authors are doing really well with choosing their settings and time periods to work with their stories. In this instance, the war make perfect sense as a setting in which a black man can achieve despite racism. In the other books, social change is happening that smooths paths, or makes them at least have the potential to be smoother. This is particularly brilliantly done in THE.

    I like that we’re seeing good use made of the Victorian era, which has long had a reputation of being too gloomy and repressed a period to write romance about, but were also a time when many interesting advances were made. All those periods of upheaval have the potential for good stories.

  29. Joopdeloop
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 11:22:04

    @willaful Yes! (Don’t need it to be center screen, just a bit of recognition) am looking forward to the book review if and when you and Sunita find a good candidate. (Been racking my brain for possibilities but coming up more with near-misses. For some reason, none of the books that floated up were historical- but IRs that worked for me: Major Pettigrew, short story Magic Dreams (Jim and Dali- loved this couple, loved her mom), and 100 Thousand Kingdoms (ok not IR but I loved the way race is handled in this: not explicit, not didactic, but rings true to me). I have to say I was fascinated (tho not entirely convinced) by Mullany/Lockwood’s historical erotic romance Forbidden Shores. Again, looking forward to finding more titles and discussion

  30. Willaful
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 11:29:03

    @Joopdeloop: Major Pettigrew was delightful. Am I right in remembering that he had some issues to work through around her race? Problems with ingrained racism even within a love relationship would be something interesting to see in a romance, and so hard to balance so as to make it work.

  31. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:25:03

    @Willaful Funny, I mean to read both those books, and have read other books by Milan and Grant. I think I came to reading historical romance not too long before Victorian-set novels had made inroads in the genre. But I do remember discussion about how this was new, for the reasons you give.

  32. Willaful
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 13:38:31

    @Jorrie Spencer: Shoot, it was not my own brilliant insight? ;-)

  33. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:00:51

    @Willaful: Definitely. There are a few; Sharon Cullars has several IR romances and Jane reviewed one years ago. Beverly Jenkins has a biracial character in Indigo, but the other character is black, and its set in (mostly) free black society. There is one with a biracial heroine and a white hero set in Louisiana, I think, by a new-to-me author.

  34. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:08:49

    @Jorrie Spencer: It’s not that these periods don’t have their fair share of war and hardship, it’s that the way they’re constructed in historical romance leaves most of that out or sections it off, away from the main characters (unless it’s the Peninsular War). It’s pretty hard to find a period in the 18th and 19th centuries when there wasn’t domestic and international conflict, but since we’re conditioned to expect Almackistan and Ochlassieland we don’t notice as much, or accept when it’s used for local color rather than an integral part of the story.

    I have mixed feelings about romance set in the Victorian era. The economic and political (and even many social) changes that took place in the UK during that period were facilitated and economically underwritten by the spread of colonialism, and British success depended on economic extraction from its colonies and the distortion of colonial economies in ways that continue to shape development in those countries today. So when I read about how great it is to have middle-class and non-aristocratic main characters, on the one hand I’m in agreement, but on the other I can’t ignore that their rise is due to the suppression of economic opportunities elsewhere. Colonialism barely exists in 19thC romance, unless the books are set there, and that opens a whole different can of worms.

  35. Willaful
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:49:36

    @Sunita: I can see how that would be uncomfortable knowledge. Kind of like reading Plantation romance.

  36. cleo
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 16:49:48

    I’ m really enjoying this conversation.

    I think Sharon Cullars’ Gold Mountain (Black woman / Aisan man) was reviewed here. I have it some where in my tbr pile – pretty sure I bought it because of the review.

  37. Evangeline
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 19:39:40

    @Sunita: “I also think it matters who the audience for the book is.”

    Very true! And it is a tricky minefield to navigate.

    This is why I mentioned a black woman/non-black man pairing, as opposed to white woman/non-white man–for the most part, interracial romance is a “genre” targeted to black readers written by black authors. They aren’t targeting the mainstream romance reading audience, and since most are e-/self-published, they aren’t produced within the mainstream AA publisher bubble either (e.g. Kimani Press’s adherence to showcasing “uplifting” stories and characters) .

    I really enjoyed Sienna Mynx’s Buttercup and Harmony–1930s and 1920s, respectively. I’ve also just downloaded Colorblind by Violette Dubrinsky–IR paranormal historical romance!

  38. Sharon Cullars
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 14:31:21

    I’ve noted some readers’ discomfort with reading interracial romance and actually wrote an article for the chicago tribune the other day. Hopefully this convo will phase out as people realize that women and men of color love just like everybody else. You can read the article at the link below

    Interracial Romance Novels – Not a “Fad”

  39. Marumae
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 21:55:00

    Historical AND interracial? I love both but almost never see them together.This sounds intriguing as heck, I am THERE.

  40. Sunita
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 13:03:43

    @Sharon Cullars: Thanks for the link, that was a really interesting article. I haven’t watched Scandal but the connection makes sense.

    I’ve run across quite a few readers who don’t want to read about heroes and heroines of a difference race/ethnicity, who aren’t conventionally racist or bigoted (some are quite vocally liberal and/or supporters of social justice issues). I think they see their attitudes as being about what types of physical characteristics they are personally attracted to, and they don’t necessarily make the connection that their ideas of attractiveness are encoded with racial/ethnic baggage. I’m not sure anything other than time and generational replacement will change that tendency among the readership.

    @Evangeline: Because I tend to read about characters who are quite different from me, I didn’t realize why interracial couples where the heroine was white were so much more common. But for readers who intentionally or unintentionally want to identify with the heroine, presumably that identification is more difficult if the heroine is from a different race or ethnicity.

  41. Sunita
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 13:04:54

    @Willaful: Yes, that’s a good analogy. Obviously slavery is different from colonialism, but there are definitely parallel issues.

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