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GUEST REVIEW: OW- To Have and To Hold by Patricia...

Wow.  Okay.  So, this book sort of ripped out my heart, threw it around a bit, tore it to shreds and then tossed the wreckage to the small purple flowers.  I should probably warn you straight off that this review/article/column/discussion/thingy will be low on lulz and contains absolutely no pictures of pandas, sad or otherwise.  I’m sorry about that but To Have and To Hold is srs business.  It is problematic and brilliant and I still don’t know entirely what to think about it.

NB: This review from AJH is the third in his series of “I’m getting to know the romance genre.” His introduction is here. You can buy the book with these links. Intermix, the Berkley/NAL digital first publishing arm, will be releasing the digital title this summer. ( A | BN )

So the plot: Rachel Wade has just been released from a ten year prison sentence for the murder of her husband.  Unable to find work because of her past, she eventually finds herself taken up for vagrancy in the village of Wyckerly. She is brought before the magistrate, the new viscount, a world-weary rake called Sebastian Verlaine (and our hero, ladies and gentlemen).  He is sufficiently intrigued and titillated to offer her a position as his housekeeper.  And by housekeeper I, of course, mean non-consenting mistress (who keeps house on the side).  As Rachel settles into her new life, Sebastian avails himself, err, of her and uses her to entertain his vile London friends.  Eventually he realises that he is a bad person and is sorry, so sets out to be a better one, winning Rachel’s heart in the process.  Mean people, as ever, attempt to cause trouble, the true killer of Rachel’s husband is finally revealed and Rachel and Sebastian live happily ever after.

Oh dear me.  What an absolute trainwreck.  Everything about this book should be beyond objectionable but it is testament, I think, to the sheer dazzling skill of the writing that it is not only bearable but very close to beautiful.  This probably makes me the worst human being in the world but I found the first half of the book significantly stronger than the second.  The portrayal of Rachel’s suffering and Sebastian’s cruelty is just so goddamn deft.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  They both have real depth and sophistication and, whether you like what what’s going on or not (you won’t, by the way), they’re both so profoundly understandable that sympathy for them flows naturally. Even for Sebastian. Even though he really shouldn’t deserve it.

 

To Have and To Hold Patricia GaffneyThe second half of the book is an equally detailed exploration of them being nice to each other and falling in love. It’s lovely and, after the anguish of the first half, very much needed but it’s also noticeably less nuanced.  I felt a bit perverse for not being more engaged with it, since I also recognise how seriously it was needed and I appreciate how much effort goes into repairing (or, at least, attempting to repair) the preceding damage.  Reading this book is, frankly, a minor exercise in personal sadomasochism: first the whip, then the balm.  But most of the tension after the midpoint comes from slightly lacklustre external sources.  It is consequently far less gripping than the initial power struggle and felt, to me, just a little bit artificial after the devastating emotional authenticity of everything that goes before it.  Also there’s a high degree of what I am coming to think of as Romantic Faffing About – neither of the lovers wants to be the first one to say ‘I love you’ (oh come on, seriously?) and this leads to a couple of stupid, easily avoidable misunderstandings, including Rachel nearly getting herself sent back to prison.  Jessica Trent would not stand for this nonsense.  And can I have that on a badge or a bumper sticker please?

 

While we’re on the subject of potentially problematic reactions, I was much more drawn to Rachel in the first half of the book than the second.  Since I felt the same way about Heather, I’m starting to worry I’m some sort of psychopath who enjoys seeing women in distress. But Rachel is utterly mesmerising early on, strong and shattered at the same time, with an unflinching core of integrity and a heartbreaking sensitivity to beauty.  Her journey back towards selfhood is so well-observed and exquisitely portrayed that I was with her all the way, celebrating every triumph, wanting to tear down every setback and practically on the verge of weeping for her lost innocence.  When she’s brought before the Magistrate in the book’s opening scene, Sebastian casually asks what she was before she went to prison:

She hid her confusion by keeping her eyes on his knees.  “I was … a girl.” (p. 25)

That just … broke me.  It’s barely four words, but it expresses with devastating simplicity the inconceivable ruination of Rachel’s life.  All her hope and all her potential reduced to nothing as she was cast from the world before she really had a chance to be a part of it. Ye Gods, it hurts just thinking about it.  And, don’t get me wrong, I was happy for her happiness, but the final third of the book seems to be mainly preoccupied with whether she can come or not.  And, yes, I can see why that would be important to her, of course I can, but there was a part of me that uncharitably wondered if it was less about her than about Sebastian’s vanity.  His ‘make Rachel feel better’ goals are very explicitly make her come and make her laugh.  And I’m sure that’s very nice of him but shouldn’t he maybe have discussed it with, well, with Rachel?

 

Responses to sexual abuse are various and complicated, and living with it is an intensely personal matter.  A Rachel who can be brought to orgasm by some dude is not more whole or less abused than a Rachel who can’t.  Also, I know we’re in romancelandia here, where sex and love are deeply interconnected, but sex is something you do, it’s not something you win at. Nor, for that matter, is sex necessary to be a complete person living a complete life (lots of people are really into it, but that’s not the same thing).  To put it another way, I felt that Rachel began the book as a person.  A damaged, terrified, courageous, compassionate, complicated person.  But she ended the book as a romance heroine, complete with lovely hair, orgasms on tap and a goofy dog.  And perhaps that was meant to be her triumph but she was already a heroine to me, and I felt I lost her a little towards the end.

 

Sebastian is, if anything, even more difficult.  Unlike the other heroes I’ve encountered, he’s not a dickhead, bellend, pillock or wankbucket.  Or any of the other charming terms I have previously deployed.  Frankly, he’s on a completely different scale of moral repugnance.  He’s a rake in the truest sense of the word, not just somebody who shags around a lot (like Dain, for example). He is driven solely by selfishness and self-indulgence, sex is about power, not about passion, and pleasure is gradually losing all meaning for him.  This sort of rakishness makes for an interesting hero, I think, not because it’s an even remotely admirable or attractive quality but because it’s a kind of tragedy.  Though the rake ruins others, he first and foremost ruins himself.  It’s a kind of Faustian bargain: the harder one lives, the less life satisfies, the more pleasure one seeks, the less one finds.  Despair lies always at the heart of hedonism, loneliness just beyond excess.

 

I also know he’s an adult man who chose his own life and there’s only so much sympathy you deserve for deciding to not give a damn about anyone.  Even if your parents were mean.  But, for me, there’s something mythically archetypical about rakehood (history is scattered with rakes after all, being splendid and awful and then self-destructing) that transcends the literalities of behaviour and Sebastian, damn him, is shockingly likeable.  If I was feeling glib, and with apologies if this sounds like I am drawing a comparison between two acts that should not be equated ever, I might suggest he non-consensually seduces the reader as much as he does Rachel.

 

But, truthfully, I found him infinitely more bearable than any hero I’ve met so far.  Perhaps it’s just because being a petty little dickhead is a deeply unattractive quality whereas being morally repugnant is weirdly hot and glamorous, at least up to a point. Or perhaps it’s something more complicated.  I’ve been pondering this for a while and my working theory is that it has to do with reading against the grain of a text – in an unintended, rather than deconstructionist way.  Whereas there can be something quite compelling about fictional characters who are damaged, angry, intense, morally dubious or faintly frightening, I can’t readily imagine many authors setting out to deliberately write someone who’s just a bit of a knob.  We meet enough of those in our real lives, amirite?

 

So when a hero acts in a manner that comes across as knobish, it damages the compact between writer and reader.  Obviously reading is always an act of interpretation but when your interpretation clearly runs contrary to the narrative, you’re going to come away feeling a bit cheated.  I don’t mean to draw generalised conclusions about a genre I’m still not very familiar with but it seems to me that a romance, by its nature, only works if you buy into the notion that these two characters are worthy of happiness and worthy of each other.  I’m sure Ms Woodiwiss wasn’t trying to write a book about the unhealthy relationship of a deranged, emotionally inarticulate rapist and a girl with no personality and no spine, but that’s basically what I got in my party bag.   However, even if your interpretation of a character is deeply negative, as long as it’s consciously supported by the narrative, you’re still reading with the text instead of against it.  And, although you might feel uncomfortable, you don’t feel emotionally unsatisfied, jarred out of the story or distracted with worry that the author might be writing with the wrong end of their body.

 

And that’s the thing.  With one notable exception (I’ll get onto this later), there’s nothing bad you can think about Sebastian that he hasn’t already thought about himself.

 

But he’d seen a change coming in himself for a while now.  Out of boredom and cynicism, he was starting to become nasty.  He didn’t approve of it but in some ways he saw it as inevitable. (p.60)

 

His positive traits (his wit, his intelligence, his self-awareness, his perceptiveness) are extremely attractive.  Again, he’s the first apparently charming hero who I’ve actually felt charmed by.  He’s supposed to be charismatic and he genuinely is.  If he was a stranger in a bar, you’d want his attention.  If he gave it, you’d be his.  I’m not quite sure how to respond to this other than to say: well played, Ms Gaffney, well played.

 

have HatTip(1)

 

Like Rachel, Sebastian’s complexities are depicted with an unerring, unflinching eye for detail.  And, in his case, a certain, terrible honesty.  His internal monologues are like sloshing about in the oily, unspeakable depths of your own soul and watching all the loathsome monsters come out to play.  It’s equal parts comforting and horrifying.  To return again to that first scene in the court room, which is an incredible piece of writing beginning to end, Sebastian has been watching Rachel with curiosity, much as the reader has.  The melodrama of her life (murder! imprisonment! abuse!) contrasts so strongly with the frozen, subdued reality of her person that it’s hard not to be drawn into prurient speculation.  It’s hard, frankly, not to find the whole thing inappropriately erotic.  So you can imagine my shock and discomfort when Sebastian’s thoughts mirrored my own almost exactly and in the worst possible way:

 

Against all reason, she interested him sexually.  What was it about a woman – a certain kind of woman – standing at the mercy of men – righteous, civic-minded men, with the moral force of public outrage on their side – that could sometimes be secretly, shamefacedly titillating? (p. 23)

 

I think this encapsulates the very heart of Sebastian’s effectiveness as a character.  Watching other heroes blunder around, behaving in bizarre and outlandish ways, it’s impossible to imagine yourself ever doing, or thinking, something like that.  But Sebastian articulates and, to his discredit, often acts upon the sort of thoughts and impulses we all must surely have (at least, I hope we do or I’m a monster).  For example, when he brings Rachel home and she naturally assumes he’s going to have his way with her, his internal monologue goes like this:

 

He hadn’t planned to do anything with her tonight, but her blasted fatalism was insulting.  She seemed to have come to an extremely cynical understanding of his intentions.  Come to it, in fact, even before he had.  Fine; he would try not to disappoint her. (37)

 

This is so very vile and yet so very human. I don’t like to think of the number of times I’ve taken a savage pleasure in living down to someone’s expectations (though, I would like to stress, not in this particular context).  Also I love the frankly fucked up complexity of it: he fully intends to rape her, he pretty much sees it as his right to do so, but he’s irritated by the crudity of his own transparency. There’s a lot of this sort of thing in THATH.  Sebastian is mercilessly candid about his own selfishness and cruelty.  In some twisted way, you kind of have to respect that. And I did.

 

Since we’re on the topic of selfishness and cruelty, now seems as good a time as any to think about what I presume must be the most controversial aspect of the book: Sebastian’s violation of Rachel.  I can honestly say, this shocked the hell out of me.  I was kind of braced for it because Sebastian is pretty clear about what he’s planning, but I was also secretly hoping he’d surrender to an impulse of decency and, err, not.  No such luck.  And it goes on for pages. And pages.  And pages.  And just when I thought it was finished, he took her off to his bedroom and did it again. (Brandon, your legacy lives on, I hope you’re proud, Sir).  I think only the fact I kept expecting it to end at any moment kept me going through it.  Like everything else in this novel, it was written with tremendous skill and depth.  But it was horrible.  I know it was meant to be, but that doesn’t help.

 

I can also entirely understand why this book could be a deal-breaker for anyone.  I know rape-by-hero is relatively common in romance – I’ve seen it already in F&F – but weirdly I think the better the book, the harder it is to take.  I mean, yes, on principle one objects to Brandon having non-consensual sex with Heather but they’re both so awful and she’s so basically unbothered by it that (in the framework of that particular novel) it hardly seems to matter.  He rapes her a few times, she’s upset but gets over it, he doesn’t do it again, it’s fiiiiine.  It’s kind of like reading de Sade – inexpressible things happen to Justine but, as much as she weeps, bleeds and protests, she’s not actually affected by any of them so they never acquire any reality or impact.

 

But you simply can’t shrug off what Sebastian does to Rachel.  It’s so beyond the pale, there is no pale.  The pale, ladies and gentleman, has left the building and is running for its life.  So this leaves the reader with a problem: is it ever okay to end up marrying your rapist?  Well, no.  No it isn’t.  The idea of it is so profoundly wrong that it’s not even worth addressing.  But, this is fiction.  And although fiction is not hermetically sealed from reality, it works in different ways, on different levels. Terrible things acquire different resonances.  Mental health, for example, serious, complicated issue affecting a lot of people and deserving to be treated with respect and sensitivity.  On the other hand: Ophelia – COOL.  Mrs Rochester – COOL.  War, to take another example, a terrible evil that brings untold destruction to incalculable numbers of people.  On the other hand: Sharpe – COOL.  Game of Thrones – COOL.  Slavery, utterly and unspeakably immoral.  But: Gladiators – COOL.  So, although literary devices should be not be entirely isolated from their real life counterparts, it is not always necessary to directly equate them.  But, again, this very much comes down to personal choice and personal reaction.

 

I think – and, again, let me re-iterate this is entirely personal – I am okay with the basic concept of Rachel ending up with Sebastian.  I think he treats her unforgivably but on a figurative and metaphorical level I can just about get my head around the idea that, in a story about love, the person who is capable of destroying you can also be the person capable of saving you.  I don’t entirely like salvation narratives (I’m from the Alanis Morisette School of Romance: Not the Doctor) but love is a complicated business.  And the fact of the matter is that, when you do really love someone, you essentially choose to, err, put all your eggs in the same basket.  Your source of deepest joy and your source of deepest pain become one and the same.  Ideally, the adored object should not be raping you (just sayin) but on this literary/figurative/metaphorical/wibbly level I find THATH genuinely effective and moving.

This is completely not my bag, so I’ll just point in the direction of Janet’s articles on these subjects, but I’m also aware that there can be strength and catharsis in confronting terrible things.   And I can see that integrating an act of disempowerment, dehumanisation and cruelty into a romantic framework could be exceptionally powerful.  I’m not making any judgements on that.  But, truthfully, one reader to another, I was pretty uncomfortable about the way the rape was handled in aftermath. And, again, we’re very much in the space of personal responses and interpretations here and I could be just plain wrong.  Once Sebastian’s finished physically violating Rachel, he basically flings her to his grotesque London friends for their amusement and this is what catalyses his self-redemption arc.  Both acts constitute absolute abuses of her person but it bewilders me that he ‘fesses up to one but not the other.  I can sort of see why he doesn’t want to have to start thinking of himself as a guy who raped a helpless woman, especially when he’s trying to be a better person, but hypocrisy is not one of Sebastian’s failings.

 

One of the things I found … I can’t believe I’m going to say this … interesting about the Terrible Rape Scene of Awful was how much it seemed to be a clash of tropes.  Sebastian very much sees himself as a seducer in this scene.  From his perspective, the problem is not that Rachel doesn’t want to have sex with him, it’s that she doesn’t want to admit she wants to have sex with him.  Therefore, he believes, that if he gives good sex it will be seduction not rape, and it’ll all be fine.  This is, of course, absolute nonsense. I genuinely thought the book was revealing the hollowness of these misguided notions.  Because, of course, he fails to make her enjoy the experience.  Because he is literally raping her.

 

He began to curse before it was over, and she didn’t know or care if he was swearing at herself or himself [...] She wriggled out from under his wet, spent, panting body and rolled away from him as far as she could go.” (p. 138)

 

Unfortunately, as the book continued, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the text had been on Sebastian’s side all along.

 

I’m afraid I am horrified.

 

Rachel, thinking about it afterwards, specifically describes the experience as not-exactly seduction, not-exactly rape.  Look, it’s really really really times a million not my place to tell imaginary people how they should react to their imaginary sexual assault. But I kind of feel like you can’t have a semi or mini rape. A rapette, if you will.  And, obviously, we’re dealing with a fictional realm here, there’s only the text, and second-guessing characters’ states of mind is completely pointless, but I felt like everyone was treating it like an ambiguous situation when it wasn’t.  It was fairly simple.  If you have sex with someone who does not want to have sex with you, that is sexual abuse.  It doesn’t matter if you thought they were a prostitute.  It doesn’t matter if they were wearing a see-through gown.  It doesn’t matter if you pay them a wage. It doesn’t matter if you treat them gently while you’re doing it.  It doesn’t matter if they come.  It doesn’t matter if their internal monologue is ambivalent. It is still rape.

 

From Rachel’s perspective, we learn that that amidst the hurt and anger there was “a wrenching bottomless dissatisfaction” and she confesses that she “wants it too” when he tries to force her to come. And, yes, the book tells us quite explicitly that Rachel’s reason for asking Sebastian to stop raping her is “because I might like it”. But none of that changes the fact that she said no (several times) and he carried on regardless.  It doesn’t matter why Rachel doesn’t want to have sex with Sebastian.  All that matters is that she says she doesn’t.

 

This should be taught at Penis School, okay? Along with how to enter in one smooth thrust.

 

Again, perhaps I would have found this easier to deal with if it had been addressed at any point after.  I know you can’t exactly say “ooops, sorry I raped you” but I think some acknowledgement, or something, anything, would have helped me to slide into the happy bit of the book without fretting myself silly.  I also felt the scene with Sebastian was supposed to be contextualised against Rachel’s experiences with her previous husband – as if there’s some kind of comparative spectrum of sexual abuse with “only a little bit raped” at one end and “totally raped” at the other.  To be honest, for me, the whole backstory dithered on the borderline of ‘just a step too far.’ I mean, let’s take our victories where we can, at least her uber-abusive, incest-practicing, kinky, evil husband wasn’t fat or queer, so there’s that. But there are a bunch of ways to be abusive without having to stoop to a riding crop with a phallus on the end (I don’t know, that just sounds kind of unbalanced and hard to wield to me). I mean, this is History, marriage was basically legalised rape anyway.  So having Rachel horrifically sexually abused in the past as well as the present, alongside her ten years in the clink for a murder she didn’t commit, felt so unnecessary as to border on authorial malice.  My suspicion was the purpose of the whole business was to cast Sebastian – who only rapes Rachel is a nice way – in the best possible light.

 

Incidentally, Sebastian does make a half-hearted attempt to remind the reader that being kinky does not automatically constitute a moral ill by observing: “the key … was consent, and she had never consented to Randolph’s cruelties.” (p. 218) Which I think is a bit rich coming from Sir Rapesalot.  It doesn’t help that Rachel muses immediately afterwards: “She’d never consented to Sebastian’s softer ravishment either, and yet she’d taken a secret, incipient pleasure in it.”  (p. 218) Can we go back to that bit about the key being consent, please, because I don’t think you were listening, Rachel my love.  Sebastian even at one point cheerfully tells her that being “sexually inhibited isn’t a capital offence” (p. 270) and I was like dude, she’s not sexually inhibited, she’s been raped several times by two men, that’s a different problem.  Maybe I’m over-reacting here or I’ve completed missed the point but by this stage it seemed to me that the text had largely reinforced the idea that the problem with Sebastian and Rachel’s first sexual encounter was that Rachel didn’t derive any pleasure from it, mainly because of previous sexual abuse at the hands of her husband coupled with general mistrust of Sebastian.  Whereas I very strongly believed the problem was that Sebastian was having sex with Rachel without her consent.  But, anyway, he buys her a puppy, gives her a bath and fixes her orgasm by symbolically tying her up with some decapitated lilies, so it’s all good.

 

I know this probably sounds horrifically negative and like I hated the book.  I didn’t.  I really really didn’t.  In many ways THATH is wonderful.  Hard to read, but wonderful.  I loved Rachel, I loved Sebastian, I loved how intricate and complicated they both were.  I loved being able to watch them change and, in their different ways, blossom. For an incredibly dark story, it’s got a lot of wit and charm, some genuinely beautiful moments and some deeply tender ones.  Of all the books I’ve read so far, it’s the one with the strongest sense of time and place.  Wyckerley doesn’t just feel like a prettily painted backdrop.  You get a true sense of it being a community, full of lives.  I really liked all the secondary characters, particularly the oh-so-sexy priest and his vivacious wife, and they genuinely felt like they contributed to the story in a meaningful way rather than simply drifting in and out of it to show that other people exist in this reality.  Even the country accents seemed to have been written with a sensitive and sympathetic ear.  I kind of even appreciated the sheer Dickensian brass balls of calling Sebastian’s family estate Steyne Court and his best mate Claude Sully. Oh, I see what you did there.

 

There is much to love and admire about this book.

 

But, damn, it’s so difficult.

 

And that, oh my dear friends, is about the best conclusion I can manage.

 

Everything I learned about life & love from reading To Have & To Hold: this shit is complicated yo, I need a hug.

Guest Reviewer

82 Comments

  1. cleo
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:17:54

    Thanks for the review AJH, and cyber hugs to you ((( ))). I’ve avoided reading THATH precisely because of the rape, but I appreciate your review, a lot – especially this “sex is something you do, it’s not something you win at.”

  2. Jane
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:21:59

    I think you hit on the real problem with this book and that is, can Sebastian really ever be redeemed. But even more importantly, when a really talented author writes a story like this, how excruciating an experience it can be to read a book that ends up kind of glorifying a rapist.

  3. SAO
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:27:09

    I like your reviews. I’d love them if they were a bit more concise.

  4. Meri
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:30:58

    Like you, I found myself more interested in the first part of the book, before Sebastian’s transformation. I think it’s because he is so aware of how awful he is and how badly he’s behaving; it’s not his actions that set him apart from rapey/awful heroes of romances past (he’s not really worse than Devon Darkwell in Gaffney’s earlier romance, Lily) but his ability to think and analyze them in such an excruciatingly honest way. On the other hand, Sebastian is so awful in the first half that it is difficult for me to buy the more conventional romance part once his turnaround occurs, and especially to believe that Rachel would fall in love with him after everything that he’s done to her. As a character study I found it fascinating, but as a romance it did not really work for me.

  5. Susan/DC
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:46:00

    Now you should read To Love and To Cherish, the book about that “oh-so-sexy priest and his vivacious wife”. I think in TL&TC Gaffney set out to prove that it’s not just Bad Boys who can be compelling and sexy by creating Christy, a Good Guy who is sex on a stick and who can go toe-to-toe and hold his own against any testosterone-laden Bad Boy with impulse control issues. She then proved her own writing chops by creating Sebastian, the most definitely not-fake rake. That she could make him just as compelling and sexy and give him a character arc that at times is as poignant as it is infuriating is a testimony to her mad skills as a romance author.

  6. Janine
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:50:25

    Great and thoughtful review, AJH. I have many thoughts but I’m trying to save some of them for when Lazaraspaste and I review the Wyckerley trilogy this June. However this post was so damn good it is impossible to resist commenting!

    SPOILERS BELOW

    I agree the contrast between Sebastian and Rachel’s first husband, is problematic, as well as Rachel’s first husband being overkill on top of her prison experiences. It ends up casting Sebastian in a better light by contrast, and that is a real issue you have put your finger on there.

    Unlike you I nonetheless feel it is a necessary part of Rachel’s characterization. I think without this, it would be much harder to believe/understand her need to bond with Sebastian once he makes his turnaround. These feelings terrify her, and yet she can’t help having them. She recognizes they may be warped, a manifestation of Stokholm Syndrome, and yet, there they are.

    Rachel’s abuse at the hands of her first husband, abandonment by her family, and isolation and sensory deprivation in prison made that need clear and believable. Without these experiences, I would not have related to her or believed she could fall for him. Or still respected her even after she did.

    Also, with regard to her casting the first rape as “not quite” rape, while not seduction either, I think this is a very, very believable reaction in a rape survivor. I know someone who had this same “not quite rape” reaction to what was clearly a sexual assault. Minimizing what has happened in the immediate aftermath is not uncommon in such a situation.

    I guess it’s a matter of whether you believe Rachel’s thoughts are meant to guide the reader’s interpretation or simply to be a reflection of Rachel’s state of mind. Either reading is possible and neither is wrong, IMO.

    With regard to Sebastian not apologizing, and to some of the other mistakes he makes in the second half, I saw all of these as stemming from deep-seated fear. I don’t in any way justify his actions, but I understand them. My read on him is that beneath is all the wit and threats is an acutely vulnerable person whose defense mechanism is maintaining power and control in any situation, as well as feigning indifference to its outcome. And the primary fear he has is fear of rejection.

    Once he begins to fall in love with Rachel, that fear becomes magnified a thousandfold. She has every reason in the world to reject him, and as far as he knows, she may only be with him because her probation requires that she remain with him. This is something he has exploited and abused to the utmost, so how can he know, when she stays with him after he stops (to some degree) doing so, that as soon as he does any of the things he ought to do — admit having wronged her, petition for her to be released, ask her to marry him — he won’t get the worst rejection of his life?

    Since he can’t, he lets his other actions be his apology. He does all he can do without risking what he is terrified to risk. I may be weird, but in the scene where Rachel gets furious with Sebastian and calls him out on his cowardice, I felt thrilled for her and cringed for him at the same time. He needed to hear what she said, it was exactly the truth, but oh, how it struck him — directly in the soft, vulnerable underbelly he was always trying to hide.

    Yeah, it can be said they both made dumb mistakes, but in both cases I saw those as stemming from fears and needs that were deep-rooted and signaled from the beginning of the book, so I bought that in their minds, it made sense for them to make those choices, even though objectively, those choices almost got Rachel sent back to prison.

  7. leslie
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:03:38

    Great review on a tough subject. Don’t change a thing about your style, just keep writing.

  8. Janine
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:05:53

    @Jane: I guess it’s a question of whether a book can be judged on its literary merits separately from being judged on the basis of hidden messages or what it glorifies. And frankly I feel we do that all the time.

    Some of Linda Howard’s books glorify assassins and vigilantes. Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling books glorify out of control, animalistic emotions. And I could go on in this vein. Yet I rarely see those books judged for what they glorify. Instead they are judged on the basis of how appealing the characters are, how compelling the plot is, or how romantic the story is. Yet it is much, much harder to simply judge THATH by those same measures.

    This book gets called out for what it glorifies more than many of those other books do and I wonder if it is because on some level we readers consider rape worse than assassination, or because rape is more triggering to many of us, or simply because THATH is so well written and those of us who love it love it a lot. What AJH says about the rape feeling real in this book is probably a factor as well.

    I also think just as much as it could be said that the book glorifies a rapist, it could also be said that the book makes you believe redemption and personal turnarounds are possible for all of us.

    This is one of those rare books in which not just one but both characters have huge arcs of growth and change, ones that feel believable to me. Ones that give me hope that whatever I don’t like about myself, whatever parts of my own character make me unhappy, I can address and change. Few books make me feel that way, and I value that.

  9. Ridley
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:10:29

    is it ever okay to end up marrying your rapist? Well, no. No it isn’t. The idea of it is so profoundly wrong that it’s not even worth addressing.

    I can’t say I agree.

    What I liked about THATH is that the text is clearly showing that Sebastian raped Rachel and that it was wrong. It wasn’t forced seduction and it wasn’t rape fantasy It was straight-up assault and you’re never asked to see it as anything else.

    So, I saw the romance after that as being a question of has he changed, and does the changed man make her happy. I don’t judge a victim of assault for staying with an attacker. Yes, the cycle of abuse often means that he’ll do it again, but I would never criticize someone for trusting when I could disparage someone else for violating the trust offered to them.

    The rape was a wrong he did her. She knows that, and he knows that. As a result, I saw her deciding to stay with him as a conscious act of forgiveness from her, rather than the book minimizing the violation of the act. It’s not a decision I would make, but it was the right decision for her. If she finds her happiness with him, and the book makes a solid argument for that, it seems unfair to say she’s handling her reaction to abuse wrong. I was willing to trust her judgement, I guess I’m trying to say.

  10. AJH
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:20:20

    @cleo:

    Thank you for the hugs – I confess, I’ve read only relatively light-hearted things subsequently, though I was thinking about THATH for ages afterwards. It’s really haunting , regardless of your stance on the, uh, controversy.

    @Jane:

    It’s a completely unanswerable question, really, isn’t it? Also you’ve pretty much summarised in a paragraph what I spent the whole article faffing around so, err, yeah points about brevity are well-made :) As Janine says below, I guess it all comes down to interpretation, and where the text begins, and the mindsets of the characters end. I couldn’t map that line easily and I think that contributed a lot to my hand-wringing. But, yes, Gaffney is an amazing writing. I am awed.

    @SAO:

    Yeah, I know, I need to master the art of brevity. But it’s such an important book and I ended up talking about such controversial things, I didn’t want anyone to think I was either dissing Gaffney or trivialising sexual abuse, so I ended up flailing a lot instead :)

    @Meri:

    Yes, you’re right, the self-awareness is deeply compelling. In fact, the only thing isn’t self-aware about, as far as I could see, was … err … the rape. I think it’s because it emphasises just how clever he is, when he’s not just drowning himself in empty hedonism, and cleverness (to me at least) is very attractive. Whereas I think a lot of the heroes I’ve seen have blundered around cluelessly, burbling about the small purple flowers that have eaten their heart, which doesn’t, err, exactly give you much faith in their common sense or intellect :) Weirdly, I think it does work for me as a romantic concept, but I had issues with the execution but, again, it’s a mileage may vary thing :)

    @Susan/DC:

    Ohhhhh yes! I might have read The Thorn Birds at an impressionable age but I’m kind of into priests. And Aramis was always my favourite Musketeer. I am really looking forward to trying another Gaffney because she clearly has leet skillz at this writing business and I’d like to see her using her power for something other than ripping my heart out :)

    Also I think there’s something inherently quite glamorous about “evil” (in the fictional sense) especially it tends to go hand-in-hand with sexy things like *change* and *redemption* … so it’d be lovely to see a portrayal of an attractively virtuous person :)

  11. Barb
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:25:35

    Loving the reviews, but for your sake, I hope you have something fluffier for your next review. Recommend: Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr Bridgerton or Gail Carriger’s Soulless.

  12. Jen
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:28:50

    One of the best pieces of critical thinking I’ve read in a long while. Bravo! ;)

  13. Karenmc
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:56:53

    I hope you’ve been able to have a nice quiet nap after all your pondering. Were I wearing a hat, I’d doff it in admiration.

  14. AJH
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:05:05

    @Ridley:

    Thank you for taking the trouble to comment – I really do appreciate it.

    I think, in many ways, I agree and obviously you’re right that it’s not my place to judge how even fictional abuse victims react to their abuse. I certainly didn’t mean to say that Rachel was handling her reaction to abuse wrong. It’s just that, for me, like I think for a lot of people, raping the heroine puts you kind of beyond the pale and I had trouble with some of the ways the book tries to help you come to terms with it. I think I probably put that point across too forcefully – I’m still learning how to properly engage with these kind of issues, and how to express myself without being an arse.

    I think, when I said “is it okay to end up marrying your rapist” I meant something more like “is it okay for the heroine of a book to wind up with the guy that rapes her.” I mean, I know quite a few people who would be mortally offended by something like that ever being presented as romantic. Looking at it again, I can see I used unhelpfully victim-focused language. Of course, if someone abuses you, it’s their fault for abusing you, not your fault for staying with them.

    Obviously, you’re right that these are very personal questions. And I think probably a large part of what makes the book so controversial is that it engages with them in such a nuanced and complex way. It makes something that, for a lot of people would be an absolute deal-breaker, into something not only palatable but beautiful.

  15. Karenmc
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:23:15

    @AJH: For a more lighted-hearted Gaffney (well, that may not be the right descriptor, but…) I recommend Crooked Hearts. California wine country, San Francisco gangs, con artist H/H, and a story that bounces around like a Roomba in the last part of the book.

  16. EGS
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:26:22

    This one is on my bookshelf, but I haven’t gotten the courage (or time) to read it yet.

  17. AJH
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:32:44

    @Janine:

    Thank you for your comment, Janine. I am really looking forward to your review with Lazaraspaste. And, honestly, I just wanted to try and do the book some sort of justice, because it was so brilliantly done, whatever my personal anxieties. I should probably have stopped talking about it at some point but I got carried away :)

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Rachel’s reaction to her abuse was an implausible or an inappropriate one (ouch!) and I’m really sorry if it came across that way. As you say, it’s one among a plethora of reactions. I think what I was trying to get at was what you say here:

    “I guess it’s a matter of whether you believe Rachel’s thoughts are meant to guide the reader’s interpretation or simply to be a reflection of Rachel’s state of mind.”

    I had real trouble navigating that interpretative line. I just felt – perhaps entirely wrongly – the text was colluding (if that’s not too strong, or offensive, a word) with the minimisation. Sebastian is so cuttingly self-aware about everything else, I found it a bit disconcerting his internal monologue didn’t seem to engage with that particular action at all, especially when he romps around cheerfully explaining to Rachel about the important of consent. I know you can’t exactly apologise for raping somebody, and I know his actions are essentially meant to constitute his commitment to change, but since he doesn’t really appear to think about it that much, it left me a bit flailing.

    Also, you’re right, Rachel is also very aware of how difficult her developing feelings for Sebastian are, and that helps a lot, I think.

    That’s a really interesting read on Sebastian – I don’t think I was quite as alert to his nuances as you are. I hadn’t particularly noticed vulnerability under the drive for power and control. But the scene when he visits his family who are all kind of like him, brittle and desperate, is very illuminating. Unfortunately by that stage I was sort of stuck in a “but, Sebastian, you raped Rachel and all you’ve done is buy her a puppy” mind-rut and I couldn’t get out :) Obviously I’m being a bit flippant, because it’s way more complicated than that, but I was still really shocked by the whole business.

    When I can bear it, I think I’ll try to read it again (ouch) because I suspect there’s quite a lot of depth I missed simply because I was sort of numb by the second half.

    I absolutely see your point about their slightly silly behaviour at the end of the book stemming from their already established fears and vulnerabilities – I think I was less engaged because it was all suddenly external threats (prison, Sully, Violet etc. etc.) and everything previously had been so intricately and deeply internal.

    And I can’t believe you have made me want to read this book *again*. What is wrong with me?

    @leslie:

    That you, but I think Sao has a fair point about the brevity issue. This was double the length of my previous articles – and therefore a bit insane, both to write and read. The book gave me a lot to think about, and I wanted to know what other people thought about these things too, so I think I got carried away.

    @Barb:

    Thank you – and, yes, it’s been about 3 weeks since I originally wrote the piece (since I like to stay ahead of the game) but I still feel kind of squashed. I read The Iron Duke followed by Bet Me, both of which helped a lot, especially the Crusie because it was actually laugh-out-loud funny. Quinn is definitely on my list, although a bit lower down – but I’ve just Googled Soulless and that looks amazing. Steampunk? Parasols? Sign me up.

    @Jen:

    Thank you, you’re too kind, but I’d definitely categorise it as flailing rather than critical thinking ;)

    @Karenmc:

    Yes, it was all a bit of a shock to the system. For ages afterwards I was like “I only want nice things, no seriously, only nice things, nothing even slightly un-nice.” Which means I’ve read a lot of Jennifer Crusie and watched a lot of Castle, basically.

    I would love to read more Gaffney, she’s clearly wonderful. Mention of sexy priests sort of turned my head a bit but Crooked Hearts sounds great too. Con-artists? Yay! Also I hope it’s easier to get a hold of than THATH, I had pull in so many librarian favours just to get a copy.

    @EGS:

    Maybe hold out for the Janine / Lazaraspaste review which is due in … June, I think? When the ebook releases hit. They’ll likely offer a much better, more balanced perspective. Also whenever Janine says anything about this book, she always makes me want to read it. Even when I’ve already read it. Even though I know it hurts. It’s like her super-power.

    For what’s it worth, anxieties aside, I do think it’s bloody incredible. And if the premise doesn’t make your toes curl, you should read it. I have no regrets :)

  18. Aisha
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 14:56:35

    uhm… Like Cleo I never read the book and probably won’t no matter how amazing it is or how persuasive Janine is :), but thanks for reading and reviewing, however traumatic (too much?) the experience might have been. And I second Leslie, I like your style and don’t think it needs to change (unless you want to of course :). Verbosity is fine IMO as long as its interesting – and in your case, it is.

    One small thing – “I know you can’t exactly apologise for raping somebody” – you can actually, that’s the basis of restorative justice [ETA] showing remorse I mean. The victim doesn’t have to accept the apology though.

    I look forward to the next one :)

  19. Sunita
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 15:06:42

    I knew if I stuck around long enough you’d write a review of a book that I’ve (a) read; and (b) wanted to talk about!

    I agree completely with your take on the two halves of the book. The first half is risky and powerful and painful to read, and then the second half morphs into a traditional romance, complete with a damned puppy. I know that the transition made the book work better for some (many?) readers, but I was really disappointed by it, even as I recognize that it would have been difficult to make the resolution work if it had stayed so dark.

    BTW, it’s not the case that morally problematic heroes are rare in romance, and neither are heroes that neither the heroine nor the reader can trust. What *is* rare, as you note here, is a hero that is those things but also interesting *and* whose character doesn’t feel like Reader Manipulation 101.

    I second SusanDC’s recommendation of the first in the series, and I’m sorry that you didn’t get to read it first. It’s not necessary to understand this one, but when you’re interested in how Gaffney is doing what she does, it’s instructive (at least it was for me) to read her portrayal of a virtuous, celibate, GOOD hero and then follow with Sebastian. In my opinion, making Christy sexy and interesting and human was a bigger challenge than redeeming Sebastian. Rakes, even authentic, amoral rakes, are by their nature fascinating. But truly good men? I’ve seen Christy described as a beta, which I totally disagree with, but that’s how such men are frequently characterized in the genre. Ah well.

    If you’re keeping a scoresheet, I agree with SAO, less is more. If you go back and look at your wordcounts, I think you’ll find that while this is definitely your longest review, it’s not that much of an outlier. And if you can’t cut your own stuff, I’m sure you know a couple of editors you trust who can do it for you. ;)

  20. Janine
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 15:19:00

    @AJH: You have nothing to apologize for. I loved reading everything you had to say, whether or not I agreed. The book is deeply problematic and I think it’s important and valuable to mention that. For me, it worked superbly but I can’t say I don’t find that in itself anxiety provoking because I do and it’s something I’ve struggled with.

    I didn’t see you as suggesting that Rachel’s reaction was implausible or inappropriate, but rather, I was trying to explain why I felt the abusive dead husband, the family who abandoned her, and the horrific prison conditions were necessary to the story and not simply there to make Sebastian look good in the eyes of readers.

    Re. Sebastian’s self-awareness or lack thereof, I actually felt he was very conscious that he had wronged her and that it was rape. It’s subtle but, it’s there, in lines like these:

    SPOILERS (lines from the book)

    “Regret was a bitter taste on the back of the tongue, a sick prodding in the belly.” (p. 139)

    “her gliding, dark-garbed figure was an effective silent reproach, whether she intended it to be or not.” (p.140)

    “She wore it to mock him, he hadn’t a doubt.” (p. 140)

    “He said, ‘Yes, of course,’ as quickly and casually as possible. It worked: except for the inevitable laughter, they let the subject drop, sensing no tension, no undercurrent. Like sharks, they smelled no blood and swam on.” (p.155)

    “Sebastian couldn’t see his face, he could only see Rachel’s, pale and lifeless, done in finished. Red rage consumed him and a deep, scorching shame. Sully was the blind target of his fury.” (p.161)

    It’s no coincidence that this comes when Sully is about to rape Rachel, IMO. It’s not just the mockery but even more so, the rape he is mirroring.

    ” ‘….It’s because I saw myself when I looked at Sully and the others. Heard my voice in their voices. What they did was despicable, indefensible, and they were the mirror of me. I could see it clearly, and it revolted me. I was glad when Sully drew the knife, because that gave me permission to kill him. I wanted to kill him, wring his neck, stop his heart. You won’t believe it, but I know that it was the vileness in myself I really wanted to kill.” (p. 176)

    “[... ]but now, for once, he felt no self-consciousness, only Rachel’s acceptance, her absolute acceptance of him. Love? She’d never said the word. How could she love him? It didn’t matter. He let her see his naked soul, needy and trusting; [...]” p. 231

    “‘He stared at her. ‘This is what you can’t forgive me for? This? After everything else I’ve–’” (p.310)

    END OF SPOILERS

    For me, all these lines show that although he can’t bring himself to articulate it to her, Sebastian is perfectly aware that his greatest sin against Rachel was raping her.

    When I can bear it, I think I’ll try to read it again (ouch) because I suspect there’s quite a lot of depth I missed simply because I was sort of numb by the second half.

    For me, it was one of those books that yielded a lot in rereading it — I was able to pick up on more and more details that I had missed. Esp. with regard to Sebastian and his motives. The rape is so powerful, the callous wit and moral decadence so glaring, that it’s easy to be caught by that and pay less attention to what is underneath it all, what is going on inside his psyche where he doesn’t allow people in and where he feels things he doesn’t want to admit he feels.

  21. Janine
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 15:37:47

    @Sunita: I agree that a character like Christy,who is marvelously authentic, human and appealing is just an amazing creation and in many ways harder for a writer to craft than a character like Sebastian (though to me Sebastian is a work of pure genius too, because, the authenticity and the layers!).

    Christy rarely gets as much attention as Sebastian but he deserves a lot more of it. My stumbling block with TLATC is that I doubt Christy and Anne’s long term compatibility and I’m always disappointed by Anne’s conversion as well, but how I wish I didn’t feel that way, because they are both such beautifully crafted characters.

    With regard to Christy and Sebastian, I think it’s so hard to make a good-hearted vicar into a romance hero, much less a multi-dimensional, nuanced, real person as Gaffney does with Christy. With a character like Sebastian, there are many challenges as well, but one of them, I think, is simply finding the nerve to put him on paper. I think if Christy is a feat of craftsmanship, Sebastian (for good or ill) is a feat of courage.

    I also feel that just as Christy doesn’t get all the attention he deserves from readers, neither does Rachel. Sebastian is a larger-than-life character and therefore gets most of the attention but I find Rachel a fascinating character with the analogies she makes, with her post-prison mannerisms and with her healing process. I’ve known some concentration camp survivors and in some ways, her experiences in prison mirror theirs. You never really recover completely and I think Gaffney shows that when we see Rachel briefly through Sophie’s eyes in FAE. I love that Gaffney found a way to depict that in the pages of a romance.

  22. MD
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:17:58

    Great review. I haven’t read THATH, but the analysis is really fascinating. If you ever get to it, I’d be really interested in your take on Jo Beverley’s “Forbidden”. It deals with past sexual abuse as well. It makes a point similar to yours, that sex should not be a competition, and that focusing on an orgasm for the heroine (who was abused in the past) can be putting pressure on her in the wrong way. Have to admit, though, that while I like that book a lot, it also has a mixture of tropes and a rushed ending that probably makes it a B/B- for me. And it is a much lighter read than THATH seems to be, judging from your review.

  23. AJH
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:27:51

    @Aisha:

    Maybe I should do a poll – also I’m sure my style will change as I get more accustomed to reading romance and writing about it. Currently I’m slightly kid-in-a-candy-store: “omg, this is interesting, omg, so is this, and this, and this and this…” And so on forever while people around me die of boredom.

    Also, you’re absolutely right – I think I more sort of meant that you can’t say sorry and expect that to ‘fix’ anything. But then I sort of feel the same way about buying a woman a puppy but that seems to be some kind of ultimately relationship panacea. In your hero behaving like a dickhead? Apply puppy twice a day. ;)

    @Sunita:

    Huzzah, the stars align. I was slightly apprehensive about my response to the two halves of the book – mean, saying I was bit disengaged when nice things started happening to this poor woman felt like utter churlishness.

    I was really impressed by Sebastian though – he is certainly the most convincing of the heroes I’ve read so far. I think it must be because he genuinely manifests all of the qualities he’s supposed to have. I mean, I feel like I’m often being told heroes are hot and sexy and charming, but then they act like a bunch of muppets. Whereas Sebastian actually *is* charming, intelligent, and seductive.

    And, yes, I see your point about the difficulties of virtue. I was musing along similar lines somewhere above. I think we’re pretty much conditioned to see villainy as glamorous and exciting since it contravenes social rules and expectations. Whereas, of course, being good is all about living in accordance with set principles, which is harder – I imagine – to make appealing. But I really like priests anyway and I deserve to read something nice, so TL&TC might totally be my book.

    Y’know, I have a horrible feeling I might just be fatally verbose. I think it’s a combination of deranged enthusiasm and unfamiliarity. I don’t, as yet, have an instinct for where I should focus so I just want to talk about everything that strikes me as interesting … which is, uh everything. Also I second guess myself a lot and then run round in circles because there are so many different responses to things and it’s far too easy to put your foot in it horrendously. Well, it is for me, anyway because I don’t want to come off as trying to tell readers how to read their own genre. This one was tricky as well because obviously the rape thing is kind of the big issue but I didn’t want to downplay everything else in the book. I think I’ll probably calm down a lot when everything stops dazzling me.

    @Janine:

    I honestly think I could talk about this book forever. And I kind of did, ahem. I think it’s just an incredibly complex text and, honestly, reading your comments I’m sort of backsliding from my own damn reading. There’s just so much to think about and interpret, I think once you get past the emotional shock of it all, there’s a tonne going on I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to.

    My ‘make Sebastian look good’ reading was, to be honest, somewhat reductive. But although rationally I completely see your point, and I can see how all those factors combine to function in the book, I still found it all a bit much.

    I thought the Sebastian/Sully moment was fantastic though – the way it builds and builds, until Sebastian, even with all his self-awareness, has to confront his own deceptions and delusions, and the sheer ugliness of what he’s in danger of becoming. And, yes, I see the subtle thread of guilt and shame – but a lot of it is kind of focused on himself i.e. he perceives Rachel as rebuking him and mocking him, and he seems a lot more concerned (at least initially) with how what he’s done has affected him. And, don’t get me wrong, living with that kind of guilt and shame, must really suck – but, um, it was probably worse for Rachel.

    But, yes, the more I read your comments, the more I see threads and interpretations I didn’t pick up on. I still feel a bit wussy when I remember that rape scene though. The sheer detail of it was horrific – not necessarily the graphic detail, but the emotional detail, coupled with some painfully vivid images.

  24. Janine
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:47:11

    I could talk about it forever too, so I should probably stop. What you say is absolutely true. Even after his transformation, Sebastian remains self-focused and blind in troubling ways. Personally I loved that, because it made him more believable to me than he would have been had he become selfless and purely good.

    I don’t read this as a story about two exemplary or healthy people. I read this as a book about two damaged people, who, after one inflicts a lot of pain on the other (and yeah, on himself too in the process, though clearly not as much) find themselves on the other side of the conflict, moving toward a healthier place than where they began.

    And I think that as problematic as it is, it can actually be more interesting to read about relationships that begin in a dysfunctional place, relationships I wouldn’t want to be in, but that function well enough for the characters that by the end they are better and/or stronger people than they were at the start of the story. When it’s well written, that process of relationship transformation and personal growth is fascinating to me.

    Still, I don’t expect others to feel this way. So no pressure about rereading — put it off as long as you like. Forever, if you prefer.

  25. CD
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 16:57:07

    @Janine:

    Deciding between TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH and TO HAVE AND TO HOLD is a bit like trying to decide between sticky toffee pudding and chocolate cheesecake – it’s not as if you could really go that far wrong with either, you know… I think the Christy-Anne relationship is complex and interesting in its own way: the characters are most definitely not as damaged as Sebastian-Rachel but they have a dynamic that is rare in romances. But I do agree with the courage it took to create a character like Sebastian: it’s like two fingers up to all the other so-called rakes in romance fiction – “You want a rake? You think forced seductions are sexy? Well, here you are and let me laugh at the resultant trauma…”.

    With THATH, it’s a book that I admire rather than love, but I love the fact that it exists within genre romance. As discussed a number of times, there are a lot of contradictions within a genre that is largely written by and for women – and those contradictions highlight a lot of the ambiguities between fantasy and reality, and sex and love: about which wiser minds than I have discussed at length. And like Balogh’s DANCING WITH CLARA or Layton’s THE DUKE’S WAGER; THATH really confronts you with the realities of what is so often falsely glamourised. And we need that – the genre needs that.

    Years later, I still don’t know what to think about Sebastian. I don’t normally find that character type attractive, but I completely agree with AJH in that Sebastian is an enormously attractive character for all the reasons he describes. That makes his actions even more difficult to get to gripes with. It’s been a number of years since I read the book (and I only read it once) but I do remember feeling disappointed that Rachel didn’t, you know, cut his balls off or something – I really felt hat Sebastian was “let off” comparatively easily for what he had done, and that shaded the second half the book for me. However, thinking back on it now, Janine’s comparison of Rachel to a concentration camp survivor is an interesting one. I think we’re conditioned to see rape as “a special sort of evil” – but given the abuse that Rachel has already gone through, there’s an argument that her rape at Sebastian’s hands is, to put it flippantly, another Friday afternoon. And despite my knee-jerk cynicism at magical orgasms, I think Sebastian’s attempts to make her come in the second half is a romance genre convention at breaking through her emotional numbness to enable her to fully live again.

    Sorry if this wasn’t particularly articulate but am rather tipsy so it’s the best I can do at the mo…

  26. Malin
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 17:47:07

    Thank you for your insightful and really excellent review. Your previous reviews have made me laugh and laugh, this one was a lot more somber (for obvious reasons) and I’m so impressed that you’re able to be so articulate about a book that’s clearly very difficult to write about.

    This is one of the books on your list that I haven’t read, and thanks to your review, I now both want to read it to decide for myself, but at the same time, I want to avoid it like the plague, because it sounds like a much more challenging read than I may be up for right now.

  27. lawless
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 18:01:47

    AJH – I see you as my canary in the coal mine, except with less lethal results. (Aka you read so I don’t have to.) Flail away; I don’t mind the word count or the verbosity because the more you detail what informs your opinion, the better-informed I am. Plus given the length of some of my previous comments, I have no basis for criticizing anyone else about verbosity.

    I’d probably have the same problem you do separating the text from the interpretation despite the textual clues of Sebastian’s remorse that Janine points out, and I’d rather not spend my time reading something so emotionally exhausting when I might not find the payoff believable.

  28. Evangeline
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 18:57:57

    I keep meaning to re-read this since Janine is so passionate about it. *g* I snagged all three books in my local used book store years ago when I first heard of them on AAR’s old message boards. I devoured all three and enjoyed them, but I do have to say that I’ve never “gotten” THATH’s greatness because it doesn’t hit my buttons.

    For one thing, because of the structure of romance novels, I never quite believe in horrible heroes–they’re going to be redeemed or whatever by the end because romance novels conclude with a HEA. My reaction to Sebastian back when I read this book was “meh” because he just seemed one of the many selfish, immoral rakes that populate historical romance, and I’m just not overly interested in the trope of the redeemed rake (it’s likely because I’m a heroine-centric reader, and Rachel’s compelling storyline felt smothered by Sebastian’s).

    Another thing is that I was too horrified and made sick by the villain’s experiences. Making that particular experience the catalyst for villainry left a wretched taste in my mouth, and it ended up coloring my thoughts about this book.

    I’ll probably move this up my re-read pile, but I like To Love and To Cherish and Forever and Ever so much more.

  29. msaggie
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 18:59:04

    AJH, thanks for that comprehensive analysis of THATH. I challenge all who think you should shorten your reviews to learn to read faster. When a book hits you so viscerally, I totally understand that it can require more verbosity to articulate all the various reactions you had to it.

    THATH is one of my all-time favourite romances. Each of the many times I have read others’ negative opinions on it, I flinch a little inside (“what’s wrong with me that I actually think this is a great romance despite the rape, horrid hero, etc”). To me, a major factor of my enjoyment is Sebastian’s redemption, the growth of his character arc, and how love for Rachel does change him for the better. Sometimes I wonder if our reaction to THATH is also a reflection of our (the readers’) personalities. Are we personally able to forgive a great wrong done to us? When we read books, particularly romances, we do identify to some degree with the main protagonists. As a woman, I would tend to identify with the heroine more than the hero. I always wondered what opinion a man would have on reading THATH – and thus your review provides an additional insight.

    As others have done, I would also recommend To Love and To Cherish to you – it’s certainly a lighter read than THATH, deals with other dilemmas and has very different main protagonists.

  30. ducky
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 19:34:04

    Thank you very much for your wonderful and insightful review of one of my favorite romance novels. Even though THATH is one of my favorites I can’t re-read it too often because it is just too painful. Sebastian is probably the most self-aware and perceptive “hero” I have encountered in a romance.

    “Despair lies always at the heart of hedonism, loneliness just beyond excess”. This is so true.

    I always thought the irony about Sebastian’s cruelty towards Rachel in the first half of the book is that his actions help bring her back to life emotionally. Because at the beginning of the story she is an emotionally dead woman.

    The previous book in this trilogy introduces the reader to Sebastian briefly, and the last book catches up with Rachel and Sebastian after they have been married awhile.

  31. Ridley
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 20:00:23

    @msaggie:

    I challenge all who think you should shorten your reviews to learn to read faster.

    My reading speed is just fine, thanks. I just skimmed to get to his points.

    Besides, doesn’t the new policy say “address the content and ideas and not the commenter?”

  32. mari
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 20:27:45

    May I kindly suggest you read “Heat” by R . Lee Smith? Its a sci-fi romance, very, very heavy stuff. The hero (or one of them anyway,there are two) has no redeeming qualities. Except for the fact he is one of the most interesting, compelling heroes I have read in a looooong time. Very hot, very good romance. Will make you uncomfortable…but I d be interested in your take on it.

    But maybe you’d prefer lighter for the next go around….perhaps something by Georgette Heyer, or Jane Austen?

  33. Kaetrin
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 21:07:00

    I’ve only read this book once and it was a while ago but from memory, I, too, thought the first half was more compelling than the second. I do plan on reading it again when the books release digitally in June if they are not geo restricted (fingers crossed). I think I was able to read the third book in the series but havent’ managed to get my hands on Christy and Anne’s book yet and I really really want to.

    I was able to buy Sebastian’s redemption and Rachel’s love for him. But, then again, I loved Stormfire *ducks* so I may not be the best person to ask about such things :D

    Writing short is not my forte either AJH. I am often envious of other people’s ability to do so but I like reading long reviews too if the subject interests me (as it did here).

  34. Susan
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 21:19:46

    Well, this is one I haven’t read yet, and I’m wondering if I ever will. Could I possibly enjoy the book as much as I did your review of it?

  35. pamelia
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 21:31:17

    I enjoyed this book when I read it, but I’m afraid I was too primed for brilliance by all the discussion about it and it fell a tad flat for me. I could tell it was a well-written book, but I never quite got immersed in it. I might read it again — maybe I’ll wait for the e-book release (my paperbacks have become unruly on their shelves!).
    @ mari: “Heat” by R. Lee Smith is one of my favorites too. And, @ AJH, if you want to read a great review of “Heat” there is one on this very website.

  36. Lynn S.
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 23:41:04

    I’d call this a reaction. Which is the best thing that a writer can do, make you react. Now, if only I had read this sucker, I could react to what appear to be wonderful insights on your part.

    I will say that your comments make me think that the connection between Rachel and Sebastian was there from the beginning. It is difficult to believe that more abuse delivered with charisma would bring her back among the living and lead eventually to love and forgiveness, but the feeling of connection to someone I can understand. You don’t always feel connected only to those who show you kindness; but, in the strange way of fortune,that connection will make you feel alive. Painful stuff sometimes, feeling alive.

    The ending sounds like it might suffer from Balogh Syndrome—that desire of authors/publishers to make happiness with high-fructose corn syrup. Hopefully Gaffney leavens things somewhat.

    Given that I deal with the worst of human behavior in my workaday world, I need to be in the proper frame of mind to tackle darker subject matter, but I think you’ve pulled me towards this and, since Janine and Lazaraspaste are reviewing the trilogy this June, I need to make May the month I finally read them myself. Hopefully you’ll join in the discussion then as well. And damn that heather, it’s a bunch of little purple people eaters.

    @MD: I’ve read most of Beverley’s Company of Rogues books (loved Hazard) and she is a strong writer; but she generally writes large—somewhat like Loretta Chase—and Forbidden, with its horribly damaged, rapist heroine, didn’t play to her strengths.

  37. NBLibGirl
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 00:03:15

    Thanks for another fabulously thoughtful review. I’m really enjoying your reactions to everything you are reading.

    Have not read THATH . . . as you noted in comments it is very difficult to find a copy . . . have gone back and forth about whether or not I want to to read it over the years. Your review (and others’ comments here) has convinced me to watch for it later this year. Thanks!

  38. Joopdeloop
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 02:22:13

    Shoot, now I need to dig this out for a re-read. I have been bouncing on my toes for this review, and it was definitely well worth the wait. I do love the mix of analytical and entertainment value of your reviews– it’s fun riding along on your discovery of the genre with the bonus of some great comments provoked. For me Gaffney, Judith Ivory and Laura Kinsale occupy one corner of the Romance firmament, forming this really brilliant constellation of detailed observations, strong sense of place and characters you can’t forget, stories epic and lush. I find them pretty glom-proof, holding up well on re-reading. (In an odd way, I’m struck by an unlikely parallel or resonance to the way I feel about erotic romances by Ruthie Knox, Cara McKenna/Meg Maguire, and Charlotte Stein, another star cluster who seem to excel at capturing heroines and heroes who break or bring new life to the molds they are usually cast from.)

  39. AJH
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 04:23:42

    @MD:

    Thank you, really glad you liked it. It was slightly, okay considerably, more serious than my usual stuff so I was afraid it might be a total downer. Beverley is on the list but not that particular book… I might want a bit of a breather from sexual abuse for, well, a long time, frankly but I’d definitely be interested in taking a look when I feel less pathetically wussy.

    @Janine:

    I meant to add that I agree with your comments to Sunita about Rachel – I know I whinged that I found the ‘healing’ arc a bit conventional (puppy, hair, baths etc.) but I thought she was amazing. When Sebastian visits her room and there are all these small, tragic attempts to create beauty and warmth … oh my god, honestly I nearly cried.

    And you’re right that a 100% redemption arc from sinner to saint for Sebastian would have been hollow and implausible. I just felt his actions were so awful, I wanted to see a bit more self-awareness about them, but that’s not me trying to say the book would be better if it was different, it was just for my personal comfort, if that makes sense. It would have made it easier for me to buy into the happy ending and the nebulous fictional future beyond it. But, on the other hand, as Ridley says above, I think there comes a point when you just have trust Rachel to know what makes her happy – and that’s a very powerful thing.

    And, yes, I found the book as fascinating as I found it troubling. I know we keep coming back to the rape issue but the whole thing is a *remarkable* piece of writing.

    @Malin:

    It did find it really difficult to review, actually – which might be why I couldn’t shut up about it. Lots of people in the comments have mentioned how much they like it pretty much in the same breath as admitting they’re worried by the fact they do. I think when texts engage with subjects as emotive as the issues in THATH it’s incredibly easy for moral judgements on particular readings or readers to spill out of the discussion – and, basically, at the risk of sounding like the fenciest fence sitter who ever sat on a fence, I wanted to engage with BOTH sides. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to find it a deeply moving and romantic book AND equally legitimate to find the rape thing a complete deal breaker.

    I was in a pretty calm place when I read it and I honestly felt pretty shattered when I finished so although I would say it’s an immensely brilliant book, and you should definitely read it, you should probably wait until you won’t need to be stuck back together afterwards :)

    @lawless

    Oh my God, canary in a coal mine! I don’t know whether to be flattered or horrified. At any rate, I’m not dead yet. Maybe I should ask Jane if I can get an icon ;)

    I am more convinced about the payoff having read Janine’s comments and I think I’d respond to the book very differently on a second reading actually. I’d certainly try to pay more attention to Sebastian’s vulnerabilities and also to his responses after the rape – but, I think, on a first read, the rape scene is so shocking that it’s hard to see beyond it. I did really WANT to be believe in the happy ending and I definitely think it’s set up with enough skill and you WOULD, but I just bogged down in the interpretative black hole I discussed.

    @Evangeline:

    That’s really interesting – I think, buttons aside, it’s one of the strongest historicals I’ve read, in terms of style, place and time, characterisation, depth, genuine artistry, you know? So I think there’s a lot to admire about it just as a book, but I can also see why that’s all a bit irrelevant if it’s not engaging you emotionally.

    I’m kind of a Restoration fanboy, so I am generally interesting in libertines and libertinism but … yeah … not necessarily as romantic leads. Again, I haven’t read enough romance novels rakes to make a good comparison but Sebastian rang very true to me. He’s not just a dude who is good at the sex, he’s genuinely committed to an empty, amoral philosophy and it’s destroying him but he can’t quite see how to save himself or stop. There’s nothing attractive, I would argue, about Sebastian’s rakishness but there’s a lot that’s attractive about Sebastian himself: and I think that’s a pretty subtle distinction, and an interesting one to explore. Also I just really liked how clever he was – most of the heroes I’ve met so far have not been over-endowed in the brain department, and it’s getting a bit tiresome.

    I would agree, however, that Rachel’s storyline felt smothered by Sebastian’s in the second half at least. I think she dominates the book in the first half though, all her post-prison responses are so incredibly well-depicted. There’s a moment when she lights her match in her bedroom and it’s like … *waves hands* omg.

    @msaggie:

    Thank you for the kind words – however, I genuinely didn’t read the comments about my verbosity as any sort of attack or personal insult. They’re fair criticisms and, reading back over it, there’s plenty in this review I could have (should have) left out. It’s just a familiarity gap, to be honest. Things that are every-day for experienced readers are pretty novel for me, so I think a lot of the time I’m chasing my own tail in excitement over a statement that’s pretty much the equivalent to “omg, this book has words in it!” I mean, I spent ages trying to work out how I could possibly LIKE Sebastian when I should probably have just accepted it and moved on. But I was genuinely startled by my response since I wouldn’t trust most of the heroes I’ve met so far to open a can of beans, and most of them aren’t rapists.

    Again, one of the things I was trying to be very (and perhaps over) careful about in the review was making sure it didn’t sound like I was making judgements on different reader responses – all of which are legitimate. Janine also mentioned that she struggled a lot with her own feelings for the text. So I don’t think anyone should feel bad for liking what they like – it’s an extremely powerful and well-written book.

    Obviously I’m only one man, but I still haven’t located a consistent space of identification in my reading – I tend to be more interested in, and drawn to, heroines I think. But I’m not sure if it’s that just because I’m basically shallow. On the other hand, I often find it quite difficult to identify with the heroes because they tend to behave in stupid or morally reprehensible ways. And although I’m sure as I’m as capable as stupidity and moral ill as the next guy, I don’t necessarily aspire to it ;) Also, again, this could be a complete misreading but I’m not sure heroes are there for identification, they’re, err, there to be wanted aren’t they?

    Oh, actually, I’ve just about finished For My Lady’s Heart – I’d happily aspire to be Ruck. He’s amazing (although kind of also a rapist, argh, sheesh). Although, again, truthfully, I think I’d rather be Melanthe. She’s even more amazing.

    And, sorry, I’ve babbled on for ages. AGAIN.

  40. AJH
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 05:01:38

    @ducky:

    Yeah, all the discussion is making me want to read the book again just because there’s so much I missed and didn’t think about it … but I seriously need a breather first. And, I agree, Sebastian’s self-awareness is completely disarming. It’s also a remarkably attractive, since heroes, as a breed, tend to shamble along with their knuckles dragging along the ground.

    One of the things I didn’t touch on in the review because I’d already gone on forever was the degree to which unintended and intended force is repeatedly the instrument of Rachel’s liberation: Sebastian’s initial treatment of her edges her back towards selfhood, being forced to talk about prison in front of his friends she later admits was a kind of catharsis, and then there’s the literal rape and the symbolic one with the lilies. I guess this was, y’know, a THEME and on that level it really worked but I’m still not sure how I felt about it.

    @mari

    Thank you for the rec – I shall certainly add it to my list, although probably safely buttressed by fluffy happy things about lovely people who like kittens and buy each other flowers. I do find more, err, challenging romances fascinating and I’m so glad I read this book, but it did sorta kick the crap out of me.

    I comforted myself with steampunk – The Iron Duke is next. I’ve read pretty much everything Heyer has ever written – my grandmother had a box of this yellowing hardbacks in the attic – and I usually do slink back to Heyer when I need a pick-me up. I love Austen to pieces but I think her wit is slightly too acerbic and her awareness of the restrictedness of her characters’ lives too sharp for me to necessarily derive much comfort from them. Except possibly Persuasion. That one is lovely.

    @Kaetrin

    I’m sort of relieved that other people had trouble reconciling the two halves of the book – I wasn’t sure if I was just being a deeply awful person. Rachel basically goes through hell, repeatedly, so whinging about it being boring when somebody tries to make her happy seems just plain mean.

    I am completely intrigued by discussion of the first book but I, too, will be waiting for the digital editions since I suspect I’ve exhausted all my librarian favours. We might have to start a romance smuggling ring. Which sounds like the premise of a romance in and of itself.

    I, err, I just Googled Stormfire. That is one hell of a cover, my friend. I shall wear, the biggest and purplest frock in my wardrobe! Also, I’m not sure if it’s just a bad scan on Amazon but there appears to be a … a … phallic object ejaculating … lava? In the background. I do not judge. I merely observe.

    And, yes, I will endeavour to develop some self-discipline but I haven’t succeeded in twenty eight years so it might be a lost cause.

    @Susan:

    Absolutely – Gaffney is a breathtakingly good writer, assuming the premise isn’t a deal-breaker on its own terms.

    @pamelia:

    *reads review* Okay, wow, I clearly have to read that. When I’m feeling less wussy.
    I’m not sure, but I think it’s hard to appreciate artistry when you’re not otherwise engaged. I mean, I’ve romped through objectively badly written tat just because I’m been caught by the plot or secretly invested in one of the characters. But you can have the most exquisitely written book in the world in front of you and if doesn’t grab you, then it’s all a bit pointless :)

    @Lynn S.:

    Reaction, I would agree, insights I’m not so sure :) The thing is, it’s such a complex book, and so difficult, that the more I talk about it with other people, the more I change my mind about it. I think if I wrote this review again (err, obviously I won’t, once was quite enough for everyone) it would be completely different.

    And, yes, there is definitely a connection there between Rachel and Sebastian, and you’re absolutely spot on about the way it affects her, and what it means for both of them. It’s not just a case of he’s horrible – he abuses her – he’s sorry – she falls for him. It’s incredibly well done actually, and very ambiguous for both of them. She’s under no illusions about his intentions, or his goodness, but he’s still NICE to her, even though he’s objectifying her and exerting his power over her. And having freedom and respect and basic human decency (even though it’s initially entangled with cruelty) is obviously massively valuable to her, given her background.

    Equally, his violation is, in some way, a reaction to how powerfully she affects him – I mean not in a basic lust way, but she draws compassion out of him, and makes him more aware of the world and other people, which completely destroys and terrifies him. To an extent, the rape is a reaction to and against that, as he tries to go back to who he used to be, and re-establish control over their relationship. I mean, it’s still horrendously not okay but it’s an emotionally explosive situation all round. And although Sebastian’s self-redemption is catalysed by those catastrophic events, it’s already begun, if that makes sense.

    I think from your comments you should definitely invest in the digital edition when it comes out – I think you might really love it, although, yes, handle with care. I’m not sure about the syrup factor – I mean, too sweet for one person is just right for another. I found it high fructose but then I’m not particularly sentimental, I think. On the other hand, the first half of the book is so damn, it definitely needed something lighter to bring it home.

    @NBLibGirl:

    Thank you – I’m really glad you enjoyed it, especially since it wasn’t exactly a bundle of laughs.

    If you think you don’t hate the premise, I would definitely say it’s worth reading. Harrowing, yes, but honestly remarkable. Keep an eye out for the Janine / Lazaraspaste review as well, it’ll likely be a lot more balanced balanced than this one.

    @Joopdeloop:

    Yes, I didn’t know what I thought when I finished the book and now I DEFINITELY don’t know what I think. I keep wanting to go back and tease out some of the subtleties I missed but I think it might kill me. I haven’t got to Ivory yet but I’ve just finished For My Lady’s Heart which was so omgamazing I can’t even find the words. I have really enjoyed the other books I’ve read, and found a lot to admire in them, but I do get the sense Gaffney and Kinsale are major league, y’know.

    I’m definitely looking forward to trying Knox, McKenna and Stein but, due to the need to spread out my historicals, they’re actually midwayish down my list. Maybe a little rejigging is in order…

  41. CD
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 05:02:58

    @Meri:

    “(he’s not really worse than Devon Darkwell in Gaffney’s earlier romance, Lily)”

    LOL – them are fighting words, Meri! To be honest, Devon behaved so badly that I had fantasies of Lily cutting his balls off with a rusty spoon. But it comes back to how the narrative is framed – it’s so melodramatic and gothic that the whole thing becomes campy fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way – unlike THATH, it’s not a book you can take entirely seriously. At least Devon never actually rapes Lily, and it’s very clear all the way through that she’s the stronger character by far even through the screwed up power dynamics: the second half of the book is basically Lily making him crawl before she accepts him back. Which is always fun. I read it the same way I read Robinson’s LADY GALLANT: old school romance at the beginning but with heroines then turning the tables midway and fighting back. Whether or not the heroes go through enough to be “redeemed” is up to the reader, but everyone ends up with great sex ever after for whatever that’s worth ;-)…

    @Susan/DC:

    “Now you should read To Love and To Cherish, the book about that “oh-so-sexy priest and his vivacious wife”. I think in TL&TC Gaffney set out to prove that it’s not just Bad Boys who can be compelling and sexy by creating Christy, a Good Guy who is sex on a stick and who can go toe-to-toe and hold his own against any testosterone-laden Bad Boy with impulse control issues.”

    I love you, Susan from DC! And yes, Christy is indeed sex on a stick. I loved Anne’s diary entries during their “courtship phase” – absolutely bloody hilarious. Talk about reader complicity in fantasies of defrocking priests. And then there’s that bit that cracks me up every single time I read it – you know which bit I mean ;-).

    @Janine:

    “This book gets called out for what it glorifies more than many of those other books do and I wonder if it is because on some level we readers consider rape worse than assassination, or because rape is more triggering to many of us, or simply because THATH is so well written and those of us who love it love it a lot. What AJH says about the rape feeling real in this book is probably a factor as well.”

    I think it’s because THATH is extremely well written and because the way rape is described feels real but is also ambiguously framed in the narrative in a way that strikes at the heart of genre conventions and our own easy assumptions of what rape is and isn’t. No one could take Woodiwess’s raping heroes seriously as an endorsement of that way of life [let's hope not at any rate], and there’s no ambiguity in the way rape is described in Putney’s DEARLY BELOVED for one. It’s because it’s so well written and by one of the more “serious” writers of the genre that it provokes so much heated discussion on both sides.

    And yes, as I mentioned, I think we have been conditioned to think of rape as that “special kind of evil” – we see a rapist as the lowest of low: worse than an assassin or a drug dealer. Whether it is or not is something I’m not going to touch with a barge pole, but I think part of that reaction is because rape is all too real to us: we are much more likely to be raped than we are to be murdered or get hooked on drugs. Date rape, even in the Western world, is so common that, even if it hasn’t happened to us, we all know someone it’s happened to to.

    “Also, with regard to her casting the first rape as “not quite” rape, while not seduction either, I think this is a very, very believable reaction in a rape survivor. I know someone who had this same “not quite rape” reaction to what was clearly a sexual assault. Minimizing what has happened in the immediate aftermath is not uncommon in such a situation.”

    That’s definitely true. Part of that reaction is to try to create agency as a coping mechanism, even when it clearly did not exist.

    @AJH:

    “Also whenever Janine says anything about this book, she always makes me want to read it. Even when I’ve already read it. Even though I know it hurts. It’s like her super-power.”

    Agree fervently. That’s her special sort of evil. If I were her, I’d be cackling over her dominion over the weak minded…

    @Janine:

    “My stumbling block with TLATC is that I doubt Christy and Anne’s long term compatibility and I’m always disappointed by Anne’s conversion as well, but how I wish I didn’t feel that way, because they are both such beautifully crafted characters.”

    I’m going to have to disagree with you there! I’m about as heathen as they come, but I actually loved Anne’s conversion. It made sense to me in the narrative, and it didn’t feel like something she was pressured into – Christy was pretty clear that he’d take her even if she worshiped the moon goddess and sacrificed chickens to Her every Saturday evening. I felt that they were one of the strongest couples I’ve read about – certainly one of the healthiest relationships in that they complement each other beautifully. I have a LOT more doubts about Sebastian-Rachel’s long term relationship.@<a

    But hey, as I mentioned, although I admired THATH, I loved TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH…

    @mari:

    My God, reading HEAT was an experience. I remember reading the villain’s narrative with some sort of sick fascination: absolutely awful but also horrifically compelling. It would not have worked without the other couple though, and their lovely and sweet romance in contrast…

  42. aq
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 07:24:40

    I have the following questions as I haven’t read this book.

    Which character plays the role of the protag?
    Which character plays the role of the main character?
    Which character plays the role of the impact/influence character?

    From your review, I’d say Sebastian is the protag, Rachel is the impact character. I’m leaning heavily toward Sebastian as the main character as well.

    Also if Rachel hadn’t fallen in love with Sebastian and forgiven him, would he have still be redeemed in the end?

    As an aside: Do you think the story would have worked had the gender roles been reversed?

  43. mari
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 08:12:56

    @AJH

    You could also try Married in Haste, a historical by Cathy Maxwell. A story of two nice, hot young people, who practice some unfortunate deceptions…but darned if the kids don’t end up working things out and becoming stronger for it. No blood sucking, rape, beatings (well only to the bad guys) or too too much angst. Also, there is a home improvement project.

    Other nice stories about nice people in love….Carla Kelley’s Britsh Navy trilogy. I think the first one is something like “Marrying the Royal Marine.” I feel Kelly really “gets” the concept of the honorable military man, not just in her incredibly accurate historical details, but psychologically and spiritually as well. Her characters are just so damn decent, its like you almost pray for their happiness.

  44. MD
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 08:13:29

    @Lynn S.: While I agree that “Forbidden” is not the best Beverley’s book, I would not characterize the heroine as “horrible”. I think there is a good comparison here with Sebastian from THATH, based on reading of AJH’s review. Sebastian is damaged, but he has both the power and the privilege, and he forces someone weaker. Serena from “Forbidden” is weak, scared, on the run, and thinks she is doing the only thing that will save her, because that is what her abusive past taught her that all men want. It is still the wrong thing to do; it is rape by definition; but to me it reads and feels quite different – it’s a desperate and confused action by the heroine to try and self herself. I do wish the book didn’t have a big misunderstanding/comedy of errors towards the end – this is where it went wrong, for me.

    I guess the other comparison is “The Duke and I” by Julia Quinn. People love it, in this one book I found myself much less sympathetic with the heroine, mostly because what she does comes across as stupid and cruel more than anything else.

  45. AJH
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 08:26:56

    @CD:

    I suspect quite a few of the books on my list are there due to Janine’s superpower… reading reviews is lethal too. We’re doooomed.

    @aq:

    I’m so sorry, I’m kind of a romance reader noob so I have no idea what any of this means. I mean, I could Google it or guess but I’m genuinely uncertain I could give you a useful answer. I think one of the things that’s particularly striking about the book is the way they affect and change each other.

    As for Sebastian’s redemption, I think that’s a personal call. If it played out differently, it would be a different book.

    With reference to gender roles, I don’t mean to be unimaginative but, once again we’d be talking about a different book. It would be hard to establish an equivalent situation in the same historical context; and, of course, women can sexually abuse men but it wouldn’t be grounded in the same tropes.

    @mari:

    *laughs* Thank you so much for the injection of nice. I think home improvement is about as controversial as I can handle right now.

    “I will never trust a woman again!” snarled Lord Ravenface. “You should see what the damnable doxy has done to the soft furnishings!”

    I’ve heard really good things about Carla Kelly, though, so I’m really looking forward to trying one of her books.

  46. mari
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 08:40:53

    For the best of “old skool,” try “The Windflower” by Laura London. Perfect antidote, to the Woodiwiss. Laura London is the pen name of the husband and wife team of Sharon and Tom Curtis. I don’t think any of their oevre is availble digitally, but def. worth seeking out the print. Their old categories are sublime. Their books are beautiful. Do try them.

  47. cead
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 09:29:44

    @MD: Agreed. I think the other reason Forbidden worked for me is that I felt Serena’s actions were not presented as sympathetic; it seemed clear to me that I wasn’t supposed to condone what she had done, that it was just, as you say, an act of desperation by a severely damaged person, and now we were going to explore the repercussions of that. I was never able to like Serena, but I felt like I understood where she was coming from, and I found the exploration of her character very interesting even if I never liked her. Whereas in The Duke and I, it seemed equally clear from the text that I was supposed to sympathise with Daphne’s actions and that her behaviour was in some way justified. She was presented throughout the book as a very sympathetic, likeable character; she never seemed to realise that she had done something wrong; and she isn’t the one who ends up groveling. That was what really ruined it for me.

  48. aq
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 09:51:05

    @AJH:

    No problem and I understand completely. Most people use the terms interchangeably. And sometimes people use different theories and therefore different definitions.

    What I’m asking is who is this story about? Is it Sebastian’s story or Rachel’s story? Based on your review, it sounds like it’s very much Sebastian’s story. He’s the one with the redemption arc. He’s the one who has to change his thinking / behavior. Rachel is the character who prompt his changes. Do his changes go beyond Rachel or are they limited to Rachel? Is his character tested beyond gaining her love and forgiveness? Is Rachel’s position that much different from the beginning? Here I mean something along the lines of does she have any actual power or is it only derived from Sebastian and his love?

    I guess what I’m trying to tease out is are you (or any other reader for that matter) more interested in their “supposed” love story (supposed since not everyone agrees on this book), his redemption or perhaps his full acceptance that he done did Rachel wrong as opposed to Rachel’s “triumph” over her abuser(s) and her abusive past. Because it sounds like Rachel’s “triumph” over her abuser(s) would again be a very different story.

    The reason I asked about the gender role switch is that I’m curious about the level of initial reader buy-in that goes along when reading romance. If the female character was the rapist, would she be redeemable with the same actions or would she still be the villain?

    Although I haven’t read this book, I have read many old school romances with rape and my personal response on this one is that in all likelihood it would take a lot more than love and forgiveness from another character to redeem her. Not even a really good groveling scene would do it so there’s a personal gender aspect on story catharsis that I need to address for myself as a reader.

  49. Janine
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 11:41:21

    @aq: Not AJH but I’ll take a stab at answering your questions. This will involve BIG SPOILERS though.

    First, I think both characters have amazing growth arcs; it’s not just Sebastian who changes profoundly. It is just that Sebastian is the flashier character in the senses that he is more active, that he holds more power, that he has more charisma, and that the moral ambiguity resides with him.

    In fact, one could easily say Sebastian is twisted or even evil when the book begins — the villain for the first half of the story, while Rachel is the heroine. And on one level that is entirely true.

    I think it’s possible to argue (and I hope to argue it when I review the book with lazrapaste) that on that level, the first half of the book is an epic struggle between good and evil that plays out within the microcosm of two people’s relationship.

    But underneath that this struggle is also a struggle between the two halves of Sebastian’s soul — the empathy and even goodness that he does everything he can to bury and deny, and the ruthlessness and even evil that he cultivates.

    Rachel, meanwhile, faces a very different struggle: the struggle to withstand Sebastian in the wake of her prison traumas — to withstand him without giving in to any number of temptations anyone else in her position would face, everything from begging him to falling for his charisma to committing suicide.

    Rachel is the one who is victorious, ultimately. As to whether she has more power of her own at the end, I think she does, but it is internal power, the power to do more than endure, the power to make choices she could not have made at the beginning. There is no doubt though, that Sebastian has been instrumental in her transformation.

    I also don’t think I would completely agree with you that Rachel prompts Sebastian’s changes. She is a catalyst, no question, but I feel it is Sebastian who changes himself.

    Sebastian feels he is facing the prospect of his own death when they meet (something the reader will either buy into or not — I did) and, out of a drive to survive his own corruption, he experiments on himself by acquiring Rachel as a clue to the secret to survival.

    If you look at him (metaphorically) as a kind of scientist, then Rachel would be both a formula he is distilling and plans to consume, and a lab rat, in that he runs tests on her as well.

    Much as he struggles against it, this experiment alters him, because (to mix metaphors horribly) it fans the small spark of compassion in his soul. I would argue though, that this spark is present from the very beginning, and that Sebastian knows from the beginning that Rachel presents a threat to his indifference and his amorality.

    Taking custody of Rachel in the first place is done to effect a change in his situation, and although the change is a different one than what he anticipates, he is trying to change something in himself even then.

    His changes do go beyond Rachel — he completely changes his lifestyle, becomes fascinated by farming and estate management, and involved in the same rural community he mocked at the beginning.

    I would not say the gender dynamics are revolutionary in this book, but neither would I categorize it with most of the bodice rippers of the past. YMMV, of course.

  50. Janine
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 12:31:44

    @CD:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you there! I’m about as heathen as they come, but I actually loved Anne’s conversion. It made sense to me in the narrative, and it didn’t feel like something she was pressured into – Christy was pretty clear that he’d take her even if she worshiped the moon goddess and sacrificed chickens to Her every Saturday evening.

    SPOILERS for To Love and to Cherish

    I’m going to reread this book before I review it to see if my feelings are still the same. But based on my previous readings of it, here is how I felt about it.

    I agree that Christy didn’t pressure Anne but her conversion felt forced and artificial to me — because it comes late in the book (like a loose end to be tied up) and also because it happens in such a dramatic/instantaneous way.

    My own spiritual experiences and those of my friends who have gone from atheism to faith have not happened like that — the process of change was more gradual and natural-feeling, and didn’t happen all at once. I understand that in a book events are going to be dramatized and therefore more dramatic than IRL but this conversion didn’t ring true to me.

    Also, and although I agree with you re. Christy’s love for Anne being completely independent of her religious beliefs, the conversion was nonetheless necessary to the HEA because a vicar’s wife in a village is a job and a role in itself.

    It’s not just Christy that Anne was taking on but the position of vicar’s wife in Wyckerley, with all the advice-giving, charity work, and presenting an image of faith and good works to the Wyckerley community.

    And it’s here that I remained unconvinced of their compatibility, because while all that might come naturally to Christy, I felt such a role would be confining to Anne. For this reason, I find I can’t really imagine a truly happy an fulfilling future for Christy and Anne.

    Finally, while I am not an atheist, some of my closest friends are, and since atheists protagonists are almost unheard of in the romance genre, even though I understood it would make a HEA impossible, part of me craved for Anne to remain one.

    (Incidentally, Sharon Shinn’s SF romance, Jovah’s Angel, which had an atheist hero, solved this type of conflict in a way that felt much more organic and believable to me).

    I don’t want to take away from the brilliance and sensitivity of To Love and to Cherish; it truly is a beautiful book. Gaffney considers it her favorite among her romances, and I can see why. But for a Gaffney with a sweet, gentle, romantic hero, I personally prefer Wild at Heart.

  51. AJH
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 14:32:49

    @aq:

    Forgive me for errors, I am writing on the fly :)

    I think Janine answered this better than I could, and I pretty much agree with her. I think these sort of questions come down to reader interpretation and personal focus – again, not an experienced reader, but I found it very balanced between the two of them. I was more invested in Rachel so I tend to see it as her story, even though Sebastian changes more overtly, but it’s also been suggested that Sebastian’s story somewhat smothers Rachel’s, and I can see that too.

    I would also probably suggest that the triumph / redemption arc is inseparable from the love story. I mean reclaiming yourself, getting on with your life, choosing someone to love, that’s … well … I can’t imagine anything more triumphant, to be honest. The fact that Sebastian is instrumental / embedded in it is a different issue. And, again, comes down to how far an individual reader is willing to buy into (to steal your phrasing) Sebastian’s redemption.

    Again, I’m a bit reluctant to try and unpick the rape theme by gender reversing it. The sexual abuse of women takes place in such a massively different context to the sexual abuse of men and has a completely different resonance.

  52. Meanne
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 16:05:04

    I’ve had this book languishing in my bookshelf for several years now. I remember reading the first few chapters and subsequently shelving it, with the idea at the back of my mind of getting back to it when the time and the mood was right.

    Even after reading your fantastic review and all the insightful comments, I still can’t bring myself to read it. But I thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experience with us.

    I’m looking forward to your review of For My Lady’s Heart which was a book that blew me away the first time I read it years ago. I’m so happy and excited that you love it since this book remains entrenched in my Top 10 favorite romances and Ruck heads the list of my favorite romance heroes of all time.

  53. Mandy
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 17:12:00

    I’m sure I read this when I was a young impressionable girl along with all the Heyer novels and M.M. Kaye epics. It sounds so familiar. It will be fun to reread it when the digital version comes out on 18th June this year. Thanks for an excellent and thought provoking review as usual. And BTW I love your reviewing style. It’s a great blend of genuine passionate reactions and thought provoking questions. I’m LOLing at the suggestion you engage editors to review your reviews. Please just keep doing what you’re doing. I’m loving your personal journey through Romancelandia, warts and all. :)

  54. Elle
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 19:48:45

    This was such a thoughtful review, thank you.

    I read THATH a while back and the only dominant feeling I recall from having read it was that Rachel had gone through too much, TOO MUCH pain and heartache, and I felt like screaming ENOUGH! at several parts of the book.

    I do appreciate a well-written novel with fully fleshed-out characters, but Rachel’s misery had been laid on a little too thick for a romance heroine, for me. I don’t think I would ever read it again, nor even look back at the novel with fond memories, but rather perhaps view it “with respect” or admiration, as one of the dearauthor reviewers put it (which is a bit strange to say of a romance novel. Unless you’re a dearauthor reviewer, lol). But because my personal rating for an excellent romance read is that it should leave me with a feeling of such sweet, sweet satisfaction (at the level of both mind and emotional innards), THATH is not among my favorites.

    In terms of genre-bending or genre-defining authors/books go, I much prefer Laura Kinsale. In Flowers in the Storm, the heroine was beset with her internal conflicts regarding her deeply-held values and beliefs (she is a Quaker, which I initially balked at) which went against her growing love for a man who seemed the epitome of everything her religion damned. I think I prefer reading about such internal struggles, rather than the external miseries heaped upon poor Rachel. This seems like such a simplistic comparison or view of what was a complex novel, I realize, but I am writing this based on the ONLY thing I really remember of THATH, which is precisely that–Rachel’s miserable life.

  55. Estara Swanberg
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 10:34:28

    @SAO: Hee, different strokes for different folks and all, I especially like the way I can follow his reasoning, asides and all, it’s like he’s sitting next to me and telling me his theories over a pint of whatever ^^.
    Of course, that depends on liking his writing voice in the first place.

    In other words, my vote is for “don’t try to chop up your stream-of-consciousness, examples and all”

  56. JessP
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 14:11:03

    @Estara Swanberg:

    Ditto! :-)

  57. AJH
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 17:03:11

    @Meanne:

    I can completely see where you’re coming from. Even with Janine’s superpower, I think I’d have to be in absolutely the right sort of mood to pick up THATH again. I mean, it’s completely brilliant, but it’s so harrowing I wouldn’t want to stumble across it in the dark when I was feeling fragile :)

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the review – to be honest reading these books and writing about them is a real pleasure. It’s probably why I babble so much. And I absolutely love the discussions.

    Let me see, I’ve just finished my write-up of FMLH – so that should go up in 3 weeks I think? Never mind top ten romances, I think it would go onto a list of my ten ten favourite books full stop. And Ruck is probably the first hero I’ve met who is genuinely engaging as a character, as well as an object of desire.

    @Mandy:

    I’m probably going to grab a digital copy when it comes as well – I managed to get hold of this ancient thing that a library no longer wanted (or something) and the book looks like it has some kind of disease, I’m not kidding. Half the pages are hanging out and it has these really unfortunate splodges all over it I am seriously hoping are tears.

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying the reviews. I’m feeling slightly ridiculous that half of this discussion is deep insights into THATH and half a hasty vote on whether I should burble less. I’m still refining my style as I go, anyway, and I suspect things will change naturally as I get more familiar with the genre and how to talk about it. I think, to be honest, the point that I could be more self-disciplined is well-made. Obviously different people are looking for very different things – if you’ve got plenty of time then verbosity isn’t a problem but if you just need to know what damn point I’m trying to make then it’s incredibly annoying :)

    Also, I only know one editor but basically she touches things and makes them better so, truthfully, if I could hire her permanently as some kind of Life Editor I would totally go for that :) Unfortunately she’s quite busy, and already has a multitude of full time jobs, so I don’t think it’d practical.

    @Elle:

    Very much my pleasure – I’m really looking for the Janine / Lazaraspaste review in June. The more people talk about this book, the more interested in it I get, though I’m pretty scared of reading it again :)

    As I said in the review I, too, was a bit dubious by just how much Rachel suffers. For me the breaking point was her dreadful husband – that on top of the prison sentence and Sebastian’s treatment of her sort of tipped me over the edge. I think Janine makes a good point that it helps you contextualise her acceptance of Sebastian’s redemption, and believe that she truly comes to love him, (rather than just being a kind of victim of Stockholm syndrome) but I think it’s one of those personal interpretation things and, by that stage, I was feeling a bit like a bowl of petunias about it all (oh no, not again ;) ).

    I definitely admire THATH more than I love it, I think. It was just too traumatic, on a first read, for me to really come out of it with an emotional response more sophisticated than D:

    I think, maybe, I could come to love it – thinking about all the things other people have said about it. I don’t think I necessarily need things to be fluffy to make me love them (although I think my strongest WUV reaction so far has been LoS and that’s quite fluffy) but THATH basically cheerfully lacerated me and then buggered off.

    Although I’m feeling some serious serious love for For My Lady’s Heart, which I’ve just finished. I basically want to read everything Kinsale has ever written ever, now, but I’m sort of stuck in this ever expanding Fibonacci sequence of romance novels in that I seem to be stacking up more and more authors and more and more books.

    But there are worse fates :)

  58. Jorrie Spencer
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 17:14:31

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this review, and the comments that have followed. And I look forward to FMLH as I am a huge Kinsale fan. (Though admittedly it’s been a while since I read it.)

    As for THATH, it’s a brilliant book, an important book, and I remember much of it vividly, but because of the rape, I couldn’t read it as a romance. That “broke” the romance for me, if you will.

  59. CD
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 18:12:23

    @Janine:

    First of all, I have to say that I love WILD AT HEART – I mean, who can resist a Tarzan book. And virgin heroes – yum yum… At that time, it was still a novelty to have a heroine be more experienced than the hero so I loved that.

    On TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH, my memory of Anne’s is that she was never an atheist in a positive sense – I think there’s a passage in the book where she realises that her own beliefs stem more from laziness and contrariness rather than true belief that there is no God. A bit like Rachel’s ability to finally have an orgasm, I saw Anne’s “Damascus” moment as her opening up to the spiritual and, in some ways, a path towards healing.

    I know you see it differently but to me, it was more about her own healing, rather than something that was added on for the obligatory HEA. To be honest, I don’t think that an enormous amount of faith is required in a CoE vicar even now, let alone his wife. This is a time when second sons of gentry routinely went into the Church regardless of their own faith. In the book, the good people of Wyckerly looked rather askance at Christy’s attempt to really reach them rather than just mouth platitudes – which is pretty accurate regarding the English’s attitude to religion. As a vicar’s wife, all Anne would be expected to do would be “good works” eg visiting parishioners and her weekly readings, which she was already doing and enjoying anyway.

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to your review of the entire trilogy.

  60. CD
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 18:49:55

    @Elle:

    I think I was the one saying that I admired rather than loved THATH. However, I think if the second half worked for you, I could definitely see people coming away with the requisite dose of the “warm fuzzies”. I like angst in my books and and I much prefer when it feels real rather than manipulated – and THATH gives that in spades. It didn’t quite work for me as, for one, world weary rakes aren’t really my thing; and for another, there was a childish part of me that felt that Sebastian really got off far too easily. The latter is a pretty immature reaction all things considered but it just coloured the book enough that I did not close the book with a ridiculous smile and an urge to hug myself which is how I rate romances. But that’s hugely subjective.

    @AJH:

    Oh bloody hell, if people find your reviews overly verbose, they’re not forced at gun point to read them. Judging by the number of comments, your style obviously works so case closed. And for heaven’s sake, stop violating Douglas Adams: this third time has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as bad move. And the way you quote him is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the good man himself…

    Oh Ruck – how much do I love thee… Basically, if I could think of my top five romance heroes of all time – heroes whom I want to cover in chocolate and lick them all over – he would be there with a large bar of Green & Blacks. Along with Christy from TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH, Ross from Putney’s SILK AND SECRETS, Heyer’s eponymous SYLVESTER, Benedict from Chase’s LORD PERFECT, and possibly Hugh from Brook’s DEMON ANGEL. And I can’t forget bookish Jack from Chase’s THE DEVIL’S DELILAH. Or perhaps Richard from Connelly’s YORKSHIRE. And… and … and…

    Just give me a moment, here…

    Anyway, FMLH is my favourite Kinsale by far. I never really got into FLOWERS FROM THE STORM – again, it was another book that I admired but did not love: I never really believed in the love story which is a bit of a problem with a romance. I absolutely adore THE DREAM HUNTER (mostly because of the Syrian setting in the first half) and THE SHADOW AND THE STAR. The hero for the latter is a virgin ninja. Let me repeat: Virgin Ninja. I also really like SEIZE THE FIRE which has a fabulous hero whose loosely modeled on Fraser’s FLASHMAN – the heroine is a bit of a wet rag though. Actually, just read Kinsale’s entire backlist once you’ve finished with Chase and Gaffney ;-).

    Now I’m the one getting overly verbose. Too much wine – a cup of tea would restore my normality.

  61. Joy
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 19:36:16

    @AJH – This review was beautifully done – I think you have a knack for illuminating the essence of a story and it’s always a pleasure to read your reviews. I also really liked this book, and I must have re-read the ending of this story about 15 times trying to find some little nuance that would help me really believe that their happy ending would last – I wanted to believe in it so badly! A couple of people have mentioned in the comments that Rachel and Sebastian show up in the next book, so maybe I will check that one out at the library just to see what becomes of them. I look forward to your next review. Maybe I missed it above – what are you reviewing after the Iron Duke?

  62. Kaetrin
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 20:44:12

    @AJH: I’m not sure how you’d go with Stormfire! I read it when I was a teen and again a few years ago and while I still loved it, I did love it better the first time. It is very much “old skool” and there is plenty of angst and Sean, the hero, does rape Catherine and even locks her away in a terrible punishment. But I was able to forgive Sean even though what he did was awful because the author was able to convey to me just how much he suffered both during and for it. But there are plenty of people who could not and I get that too. Unfortunately Christine Monson stopped writing and I believe she’s passed away now, so there are only a few books of hers and they’re all fairly old now (even though I have them ALL). Rangoon is another favourite. Very exotic setting and the first buttsecks I had ever encountered, although my 14 year old brain completely failed to realise that was what was going on!

  63. AJH
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 06:28:48

    @Jorrie Spencer:

    Really glad you enjoyed the review – and the discussion is amazing :) I can definitely see where you’re coming from on the difficulties of reading THATH as a romance because of the rape – it was one of the issues I sort of skirted around in the article because I think it’s such a personal call. I think *theoretically* in a literary context I can see romance emerging from rape as being … sort of .. reclaimative if that’s even a word. But it would have done to be done incredibly well, which THATH is. But, at the same time, I can also understand why it might be a deal-breaker on principle, no matter how brilliantly and intricately it’s depicted.

    @CD:

    I think it’s a combination of factors – mainly not really knowing what I think about things most of the time, thus generating lots of discussion (yay) and writing about books lots of people have already read. Also, since I love comments and can’t shut up, I suspect it’s a cycle of endless doom :)

    But I like violating Douglas Adams. It’s kind of a thing now. Also it increasingly feels like tweaking your pigtails in the playground and then running away…

    Re heroes – I’m sort of having trouble with them as a breed because, as I was saying above, they’re often present as objects of desire rather than people you might necessarily want to identify with. Also, given their general predilection for raping people, I might feel a bit uncomfortable if I tried :P Heroines, err, seem to go both ways, or maybe I just look at them that way. But FMLH has been the first book I’ve read where it felt fully and completely balanced. This is a horribly crude way of putting it, so I apologise in advance, but essentially you sort of want to be and bang both of them, because they’re equally interesting people, having equally interesting experiences. It’s a little bit confusing because I’m not sure I’d look so great in a green frock but, hell, I’m willing to go with it :)

    Again in SYLVESTER I was paying far more attention to Phoebe than I was to the hero, although I liked him very much as well. There’s something kind of delicious in watching a controlled person completely unravel. But Phoebe is such a stunning unraveller, that I basically fell in love with her. My favourite Heyer hero, though, has to be Freddie from COTILLION. I guess I just found it it easy to invest some guy who wanders around being confused and polite :)

    I’m pretty desperate to read everything Kinsale has ever written now. Arrrrgh. Chase, Singh, Gaffney, Kinsale, Brook. Arrrgh. Can somebody maybe recommend me something bad? So I could come away thinking “I never want to see or hear about this author again” for once :)

    @Joy:

    Thank you for the kind words :) I think it’s a book high on nuance, to be honest. I think if I was to re-read it even one more time I’d write a completely different book. Reading Janine’s comments has really helped me quite a lot of subtlety that just passed me during the pit of omg that was my first read-through. I *think* but I’m not sure, that I can see my way to their happy ending. There’s quite a lot about Sebastian’s behaviour, for example, that I missed first time round.

    After The Iron Duke, it’s Bet Me, then FMLH, then maaaaybe The Black Thingy Brotherhood if I can cope (I sort of read the first sentence and died a bit) and then maybe a detour into Painted Faces which Jane got me into :)

  64. Laura Kinsale
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 11:40:07

    @AJH:

    re: identifying with hero vs heroine. Very complex but I strongly feel that ideally in a romance you “identify” with both very completely. By “identify” I don’t mean that you want to BE that character yourself, but that you can completely immerse yourself in their emotions and experience. You go “inside” and you stay there, but it’s a fluid experience from moment to moment. Sometimes the author puts you right into the character’s head, and sometimes you see them from the outside and yet you experience what they experience–literally at the same time you experience what the POV character experiences.

    I’ve been brushing up on Anne Carson’s EROS THE BITTERSWEET (using the study guide, lol, because I didn’t have time to find a print copy and it’s the only thing in digital). I believe in her way of putting it, that Eros is always and forever three things–the lover, the loved, and *the space between.* And this space is a character too; this space is the reader, the separation between the lover and the loved that can never be crossed, and yet must be crossed. When it IS finally crossed, Eros vanishes. That’s the tricky thing with the romance genre–we cross that space to the HEA. And many a romance novel fails the reader there, because the book doesn’t end quickly enough after the space is crossed. It is the hardest thing as a romance writer, and frankly takes not only skill but a lot of luck to cross just at the right moment, when Eros glows brightest–and then blinks and fades, and the romance comes to a satisfying HEA. The reader can provide the space of Eros thereafter for those characters, in their imagination, but the writer never can. So a genre romance is like creating Eros, creating the space and the yearning, and you must experience it from all three places–and then you experience the crossing and vanishing of the space, which is happy and yet bittersweet in itself.

    I think, myself, this is why romance as a genre is so popular, because for most of us, our lives aren’t lived in Eros, they are lived in everyday life and love, the down and dirty kind with arguments and family and errands–full of love, but not Eros, because the terrible yearning space isn’t there and we don’t want it to be in that context.

    But we love the space and the yearning. It is also part of life, and we love to play it over and over, and make the space and cross it again.

    ***

    I also want to say, because things have become so awkward in this age of social media, for the reader-author-reviewer relationship–I’ve always in my career done my best not to comment on anything about my own books, if I can possibly help it, or even make an appearance in these other reader/reviewer “spaces.”

    But you are really quite unique, you know. I’m thrilled, of course, if you loved my book, (and relieved too), but as I’ve read your comments and discussion, what I see is a beautiful jiujutsu of taking the forces that come at you and rolling with them skillfully and gently, taking them this way and that, never fighting against, but going with. (See, I *did* write a book about a Ninja Virgin. ;) ) That is a rare talent, and a precious one.

    Thank you for coming into our world. You are a unicorn here, the first and probably the last. And much appreciated.

  65. CD
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 11:53:30

    @AJH:

    “But I like violating Douglas Adams. It’s kind of a thing now. ”

    [sigh] It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to quote people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. I mean, would it save a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now? Do you want me to stick my head in a bucket of water?! It’ll all end in tears, I know it…

    Well, romance is a genre written primarily by and for women so I defend to the death my right to read about rippling muscles and one thrust entries. Payback is a bitch. And don’t despair just yet on the green frock – remember Ruck’s ten and three years of chastity…

    But yes, I also have a huge girl crush on Melanthe, even though she can be bloody terrifying. The other love of my life for whom I would cheerfully switch sides would be Juliet from Putney’s SILK AND SECRETS. God, she’s absolutely amazing: if I ever actually met her, I’d be like a little puppy: jumping around her skirts yipping please please please like me. I also adore Tallie from Singh’s MINE TO POSSESS – as much as I love Nalini Singh, I felt that it was her only book which had a heroine who could stand toe to toe with the hero. And she’s human to boot with no special abilities apart from her intelligence and strength of character. Other girl crushes would be Melanie from Grant’s DAUGHTER OF THE GAME (reprinted with the snooze-worthy title of SECRETS OF A LADY), and the wonderful Savitri from Brook’s DEMON MOON,

    “I guess I just found it it easy to invest some guy who wanders around being confused and polite :)”

    You have to read Chase’s THE DEVILS’ DELILAH. Here’s the post about the awesomeness that is Jack Langdon: http://www.practicallymarzipan.com/2011/07/on-the-many-perfections-of-jack-langdon.html

    “After The Iron Duke, it’s Bet Me, then FMLH, then maaaaybe The Black Thingy Brotherhood if I can cope (I sort of read the first sentence and died a bit) and then maybe a detour into Painted Faces which Jane got me into :)”

    Don’t suppose you could invert the order? Pretty please with Hamlet quoting monkeys on top?

    And please, you HAVE to read the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. Think of a frat house filled with dudes – sadly not overly endowed in the brain department (although they are, of course, everywhere else…) – who dress in black leather, listen to Jay Z and add extra “h” into their names which all have the obvious result of making them hard mothaf**king sons of bitches. There are some chicks that wonder through occasionally but they barely make a dent next to the heavy erotic man love that is the Brothahood. And it’s like crack – you’re can’t stop reading even though you know it’s just so so bad for you…

  66. Janine
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 12:32:41

    @CD: Interesting take on Anne’s lack of faith in TLATC; I’ll have to reread the book with an eye toward that (although even that could annoy me– why can’t an atheist be okay as an atheist in the romance genre?), and toward Christy’s role in the community as well. I think though that just as you admire rather than love THATH, I admire rather than love TLATC.

    I think it has something to do with the fact that whereas I first read THATH with no expectations whatsoever (I picked up my copy at a yard sale on a whim, knowing nothing about the author), I first read TLATC with sky high expectations, and shortly after having read THATH. I expected the same level of emotional intensity from it that THATH has, and for me, none of Gaffney’s other books have that. I always wonder how I would have felt about TLATC had I read it first.

    TLATC SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    I also recall having a big problem with the scene where Geoffrey (NOT the hero) rapes Anne and she mistakenly believes she has contracted syphilis. Shortly after that he tells her he’s no longer at the contagious stage. This felt like someone hiding behind a door and yelling “Boo!” — scaring the crap out of me for no reason. I felt manipulated by that scene, but I’ll have to see if I still do when I reread it.

  67. Janine
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 12:42:47

    I also adore Tallie from Singh’s MINE TO POSSESS – as much as I love Nalini Singh, I felt that it was her only book which had a heroine who could stand toe to toe with the hero.

    Really? For me Mercy in Branded by Fire was much more memorable as the strong female protagonist of the series.

  68. CD
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 12:59:23

    @Laura Kinsale:

    “what I see is a beautiful jiujutsu of taking the forces that come at you and rolling with them skillfully and gently, taking them this way and that, never fighting against, but going with. (See, I *did* write a book about a Ninja Virgin. ;) )”

    And a lovely book it was too! Things I learnt from romance no, 3,584.

    I completely agree that ideally, the reader should identify with both the hero and the heroine. The problem I personally find in the romance genre, and fiction generally, is that there is a temptation for identification to become “placeholding”, with a consequent watering/dimming down of the more interesting but possibly more controversial or unusual elements. This is obviously an issue for authors both in terms of their skill and the risks they are willing to take, but I see it also as an issue for readers – how the they receive and shape the narrative they are given. Anyway, complex issues, as you mentioned.

    It’s interesting what you say about how you see the romantic genre as creating and then, in a sense, destroying that space between the lover and loved. I’m not sure I completely understand – I obviously need to read Anne Carson – but it would be fascinating to tease out those thoughts at greater length. I’ve never actually thought about the bitter-sweetness inherent in the completion of that journey, or the vanishing of that space as you put it – it’s a beautiful way of expressing something that’s difficult to put in words when talking about why exactly we love the genre. However, I’m not sure that romance novels fail due to the timing of the HEA “when Eros glows brightest” – to me, failures are more about the believability of Eros as defined as well as the journey itself that enables the Eros to live on in the reader’s imagination. Of course, I could be completely misunderstanding your point here so forgive me if that’s the case.

    Rereading your note in FOR MY LADY’S HEART, I don’t suppose there is any chance of you publishing that manuscript with all the Middle English dialogue rendered intact? Pretty please with Flashman Ninjas on top? I just want to try reading it out loud and just listening to the sounds…

  69. CD
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:18:31

    @Janine:

    A lot of it is about the expectations you have going in. I’m now marking my diary for your review of the whole trilogy – it would be fascinating to hear your thoughts after a reread. However, I do get your point about the type of emotional intensity of THATH which is not present in TLATC: I think they’re just very different books and so it becomes very subjective which works better for you.

    Like I said: sticky toffee pudding vs chocolate cheesecake…

    As for BRANDED BY FIRE, I did like Mercy and the romance but it got too bogged down with issues of dominance etc which I really didn’t care for. As much as I love the Psy-Changeling series, the way issues of dominance and the animalism of changelings are framed make me rather uneasy – I think Briggs does it a lot better in her series. BRANDED BY FIRE is probably one of my favourite but I loved Tallie’s strength even more – a strength which had nothing to do with physical strength or abilities. I loved her humanity and I adored her relationship with Clay.

  70. Laura Kinsale
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:21:09

    @CD:

    There are a lot of ways a romance can go wrong, not just with the HEA timing. You have to believe in all three aspects–two lovers and the space. If any of that fails, it’s failed, at least for that specific reader.

    Carson looks at Greek lit, and she’s far more deep and literate than I am. But I’ve always found that her on “Eros” as a sort of bittersweet personified aspect of life to be what I personally find at the center of the romance genre. We try to create believable conflicts between two people who want one another, to put it in a more prosaic fashion. Carson’s point is that the space MUST exist for Eros to exist, and that Eros can’t exist without the space. We aren’t writing coming-of-age stories, or sagas, or ‘women’s fiction’ (whatever that is) because we are writing about Eros. In my view. But if the space must be there–the conflict–then we also go one step further than Carson does. She says Eros ceases to exist then, and I think she’s right. Love transforms at that point to a different aspect.

    (I’ll note here the obvious, that “Eros” in this context isn’t what we call “erotica” in the genre.)

    LOL about the Middle English. How about this…there is an audiobook of FMLH in the works, to be read by an amazing man who knows how to read that sort of thing. It’s going to be verrrry interesting to work all that out, because I’m not quite sure how it sounds myself!

  71. CD
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:37:23

    @Laura Kinsale:

    Sorry – had to edit to make this a bit clearer…

    OK, I see what you mean about the timing aspect now – all I can say is that there seems to be lot more similarities between writing a romance and making love than the obvious ;-). You have aroused my curiosity on Carson: it’s been a while since I read any Greek literature but it would fascinating to read a treatise teasing out the differences on types of love.

    However, I would think that Eros exists in everyday life relationships – and the tension inherent in that balance between closeness and distance could be as “romantic” as anything in the romance genre. But again, you can always argue that that narrative, and especially the HEA, is a matter of timing ;-)…

    “there is an audiobook of FMLH in the works, to be read by an amazing man who knows how to read that sort of thing. It’s going to be verrrry interesting to work all that out, because I’m not quite sure how it sounds myself!”

    Doing my happy dance! The words on the page just look SO delicious – I can’t wait!

  72. AJH
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 15:21:36

    @Kaetrin:

    In punishment, he locks her away from his raping? Or, as a sort of bonus extra? Because if the former that’s 100% Birmigham class, right there. To be honest, I’m secretly quite tempted because of the name alone. I’m starting to entertain a certain private pleasure in romance novels with particularly nonsensical titles – and I mean this with the deepest affection, not derision. I mean, The Flame & The Flower is a great example. That strikes me as an inherently unfortunate combination. I mean, I once lit a match in my Grandmother’s house when I was standing too close to bowl of potpourri and the results were not good and nearly took my eyebrows with them. Stormfire strikes me as belonging to this category of the mutually exclusive. Also, I have to tell you Kaetrin, I don’t think I’m a suitably advanced romance reader to be in any way ready for bumming in Burma.

    @Laura Kinsale:

    My word, thank you so much for such an intensely lovely comment. I’d say I was lost for words but I’m sure I’ll somehow manage to find some.

    I really love the way you talk about romance – these are ideas I’ve perhaps flailed vaguely in the direction of but never entirely grasped nor successfully articulated to myself. Of course you’re right that identification is much more complicated than merely wanting to ‘be’ a character or wear their fabulous frocks. But I think creating space for the reader to move fluidly and freely between the two protagonists is an extraordinarily complex task. I also like it because it’s potentially ungendered, if that makes sense, so the reader becomes subsumed by the text, regardless who they are and where their interests lie. I think the only two books I’ve read so far that managed it were, ahem, For My Lady’s Heart and To Have & To Hold. Although I didn’t want to be identifying with Sebastian, a lot of the time, which was probably why I kept freaking the hell out and trying to run away. But obviously FMLH and TH&TH were using it to very different purposes – in FMLH it’s about immersing the reader in the world and in the characters. In TH&TH it’s about forcing you to confront some really terrible things and find ways to process them and think about them.

    Also, yes, the Eros space, I’d never really thought about that. It kind of illuminates my responses to epilogues, though – I reacted rather strongly to the one in Lord of Scoundrels, for example, although I didn’t write about it at the time. I felt it was unnecessary and came very close to damaging what had preceded it – I suppose it tried to maintain the space of Eros past its sell-by-date :) But, again, I suspect this is very very personal. I like the idea that books can sort of keep going infinitely when you finish them in the vague spaces of your imagination, and the more an author closes that down, the more restless and frustrated I get. I don’t need to know that Harry Potter had 8363653 children, all with stupid names. But, then, for some readers that kind of thing is vital because it helps them set the seal safely on their fictional world. Though, now I think about it, FMLH has an epilogue as well – but you know this already :P On the other hand, by focusing on a completely different character, it doesn’t intersect with or impinge on the Eros space.

    And, going off on a wild tangent, I really can see the value of exploring Eros in a sort of safely contained way. It’s a bit random but some of my favourite sorts of computer games are the ones were you wander around some ruined cityscape or post-catastrophe spaceship trying to stay alive and construct the narrative of the disaster from what’s left behind. I think it’s because it’s a safe way to experience literal and cosmic loneliness – like reading zombie apocalypse stories – when, actually, y’know I hate being lonely. Like most people, I’m scared of it. Equally, I think that Eros type love which is some terrible, destructive mixture of terror, desire and longing is probably best experienced the safety of fiction, especially because you know there’s a HEA waiting round the corner. As opposed to the bottom of a bottle.

    And thank you again for your kind words. I feel a bit less jiujusu and a bit more drunken monkey but I do very much enjoy these discussions. Unicorns always make me think of The Glass Menagerie though – of which I saw a wonderful production at an impressionable age and was, therefore, completely shattered by.

    @CD:

    Alas, you are quite right – I do Mr Adams a disservice by quoting him so cruelly and relentlessly. Although I would like to point out that you are just as cruel, and just as relentless, perhaps more so.

    Gosh, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I had any issues with the way men are portrayed in romance. Given the way female characters are portrayed and treated in pretty much all other genres, and a lot of mainstream fiction, it would be grotesquely hypocritical. It’s just on an entirely personal level my invisible force tendrils sometimes find themselves waving helplessly with nothing to latch onto. I have no issues whatsoever with the rippling muscles and quality docking procedures, I just wish the heroes would be a little less stupid sometimes. Also stop raping people.

    And Jack Langdon sounds adorable. Especially this bit:

    Apparently oblivious to the bafflement of most of his audience, Jack soared into the empyrean realms of the most abstruse philosophy, citing Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and others with no regard whatsoever to relevance or coherence

    *cough* *cough* I feel there is a lesson to be learned here :) I will add this one to the already epic list of Chase books I have to read… oh dear me, I’m so doomed.

    I’m afraid my order is pretty rigid – largely because I’ve read the stuff at the front and haven’t read the stuff at the back, and I understand that having the read the book is generally a necessary starting point for writing about it. Unless you’re doing your GCSEs in which case it’s pretty optional.

    I … err … I’ve taken another run at The Black Thingyhood. I’m still in the glossary stage of the text. And I’ve just read this:

    Lesser n. De-souled human who targets vampires for extermination as a member of the Lessening Society. Lessers must be stabbed through the chest in order to be killed, otherwise they are ageless. They do not eat or drink and are impotent. Over time, their hair, skin and irises lose pigmentation until they are blonde, blushless and pale-eyed. They smell like baby powder.

    They WHAT? They smell like WHAT? So they look like Aryan poster boys and they smell nice?

    I can’t tell if my reaction to this book is “oh hell yeah” or “oh god no.” Maybe both.

  73. Aisha
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 15:43:43

    @Laura Kinsale: Sorry, I keep thinking about Plato and how he conceived of Eros. I’m trying to work through this to understand it (like CD :), so would it be correct then, to put it even more prosaically, to rephrase this as romance being about lovers and their process of falling in love, in whatever guise this occurs? And that once the upheaval that the falling has caused has been resolved and they have ‘fallen’, the space is bridged and the romance writer’s job is done, and done well if she can make all these components (relatively) equally…alive (?) and integrated, and can elicit empathy and a certain level of emotional investment on the part of the reader in the HEA so the bridging of the space, the cessation of the conflict, is met with satisfaction rather than disappointment/disenchantment? That would be a pretty tall order, and yet I think that when it is done well, this is probably precisely what happens. Plus this idea of the space between the lovers that is as integral to the romance story as the protagonists, but that exists at the same time as a barometer of the relationship, as a figurative spatial reordering of the lovers universe that follows the progression of the story, the ultimate aim of which is the elimination of that space, is intriguing.

  74. Aisha
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 16:10:17

    @AJH: “I think that Eros type love which is some terrible, destructive mixture of terror, desire and longing” – I think that that implication might be where some of my confusion lies with this, since it doesn’t equate with much of what I read in the genre. I think that ‘Eros’ may be better understood if its seen as being represented in romance as particular points on a continuum ranging from Carla Kelly (?) to Kristen Ashley (?) (the extremes are clearly up for interpretation). Does that make any sense at all?

    “I feel there is a lesson to be learned here” uhm I know not everything is about me but still – *hangs head in shame*

    And BDB, sheesh. I can hardly wait for your ultimate reaction :)

  75. Laura Kinsale
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 16:31:12

    @Aisha

    Well, I’m just talking about one aspect of Carson’s work. She goes much farther into it, including riffs on Plato/Socrates, talking about how the longing for the other is a loss of part of oneself, projected across the space, and this loss itself causes distress and yearning and desire.

    What I say about the romance genre is just what I see in it, as literature. The “Thing” that it is about.

    We all succeed or fail in lots of different ways, with different readers. Many times the reader willingly supplies what we authors failed to put in there (which is convenient!)

    It is rather like sex, really. ;) What comes before and what happens during and what comes after. Same arc, replayed over and over in different fashions, times and places, with different individuals, infinitely variable, success and failure at once–and yet the same. And as CD says, there is certainly Eros in real life and love, all the time. And it’s just as scary and wonderful. But we don’t generally stay there long in real life, and I’m focusing on the literary arc in the romance genre.

    I do go for the “terrible” side of Eros, in my dark books. But I prefer to write those, rather than read them, so I keep that control that AJH was talking about, where you aren’t dragged around by your hair by a good writer past your own boundaries. For reading, I love Heyer and Chase, but even there, the Eros space still aches very sweetly.

  76. Aisha
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 16:58:54

    @Laura Kinsale: uhm, I don’t really do the squee fangirl thing and when I meet someone who I admire, or whose work I admire in real life, I am far more likely to be tongue-tied and inarticulate, which manifests most often as cold and distant I think. This virtual space is much easier but I think just to be safe I will simply thank you for your response and add that I have really enjoyed your books :)

  77. Laura Kinsale
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 17:05:05

    Ack! Do NOT let me squelch the discussion in any way, please please!

    @Aisha:

    Believe me, I’m just as tongue-tied in person as you describe. I think my fingers and my tongue got genetically cross-wired–typing is so much easier! ;) Carry on!

  78. Aisha
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 17:22:06

    @Laura Kinsale: No no, sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were doing that – its all me. Besides, I need to stop going off on long tangential discussions, which is becoming a bit of a bad habit. Except, “Many times the reader willingly supplies what we authors failed to put in there”, I don’t think readers are sheep waiting docilely to be led along at the whim of the writer, but, well, its not exactly tabula rasa territory either – I think this is giving the writer too little credit :)

    See? I can’t stop myself.

    But thank you again for your graciousness :)

  79. CD
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 18:40:36

    @Laura Kinsale:

    “It is rather like sex, really. ;) What comes before and what happens during and what comes after. Same arc, replayed over and over in different fashions, times and places, with different individuals, infinitely variable, success and failure at once–and yet the same.”

    Are you talking about what goes into the writing of a romance novel or the rather oddly intimate relationship between the writer and reader that forms during the reading of one :-)? Regardless, all I can say is that you excel in both creating that beautiful aching tension and then providing that somewhat bittersweet satisfaction. If they do tend towards the darker side, then the emotions and pleasure are all the more intense… Ahem.

    I love the image of Eros as partly made of “that space inbetween” – it makes me think about the power and finite beauty of states which are not quite one and not quite the other. And the delicate touch required to sustain that state for any length of time. Sorry – I’m just about to go to bed so I’m babbling a bit here…

    @AJH:

    “Although I would like to point out that you are just as cruel, and just as relentless, perhaps more so.”

    Awww – it’s far too much fun. If there’s anything more important than my enjoyment around, I want it caught and shot now; then buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.

    “*cough* *cough* I feel there is a lesson to be learned here :) ”

    You missed the point – this is a good thing: it’s how Jack swoops to the rescue of his lady love! Imagine the conversation taking place with the theme track of GLADIATOR in the background in order to get the proper sense of heroics. And how can you not love heroine who goes to her wedding thinking “A special license was all very well, but she had her pistol in her reticule, and that was better.”?

    As for your order of reviews, I’m sure you could write a review of the BDB glossary – it’s kind of all there to be honest. Then give us FMLH. We want an excuse to natter on and on (and on and on) about our favourite monk-man and his lady wench, and the benefits to attending catholic confession. And that dragon scene – I ne haf nought lied to thee on dragons…

    “I can’t tell if my reaction to this book is “oh hell yeah” or “oh god no.” Maybe both.”

    No, you actually do have to write a full review of the BDB: we’re entitled to our Friday afternoon chuckles…

  80. Kaetrin
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 22:40:24

    @AJH: re Stormfire:

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

    It’s been a while since I read it but IIRC, Sean kidnaps Catherine in order to punish her father who has wronged him (mother’s death maybe? – it’s all mixed up now). She is put to work on the estate and has to work hard but is not abused otherwise (I think). Sean and Catherine start to get close/fall in love despite all – Catherine isn’t a fan of her father either. Sean’s brother Liam has hots for Catherine and agrees to help her escape if she marries him. Sean is planning Irish rebellion with French assistance and Catherine is worried about him (and for some reason I can’t remember now, her escape will foil his plans but keep him safe). Sean recaptures Catherine and his rebellion plans go awry (I can’t remember how). He blames her for both the personal betrayal (marrying Liam, escaping/leaving him) and the betrayal re the rebellion (even though it wasn’t her fault it was Liam – dun dun dun!!). In rage and pain and he rapes her and puts her in a dungeon after and basically ignores her thereafter. Then other stuff happens. Like, half a book of other stuff. When he rapes her and dungeonises her he’s not at all heroic but *I* was able to forgive him and believe in the HEA in the end. Loads of people were not.

    With apologies to all who’d rather talk about TH&TH for going off topic.

  81. AJH
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 03:51:43

    @Aisha:

    Oh gosh, don’t be silly, of course I wasn’t saying it was about you. I was being self-ironic – particularly with reference to the ‘coherence or relevance’ line :)

    And, yes, I see what you mean about a continuum. I think what I was failing to successfully articulate was the … terror and excitement of uncertainty, perhaps? I mean neither the hero or heroine knows it’ll work out but, as the reader, you do so you can experience all the anxieties of Eros without actually ending up weeping in a pile on the floor :P

    @CD:

    Awww, that does sound incredibly romantic. It reminds me a lot of COTILLION, actually, where Freddie is always rescuing Kitty with Good Manners and Kitty is always rescuing Freddie with Common Sense. So niiiice :)

    And FMLH is another one of those ‘could talk about this forever’ books, but I tried to contain myself :)

    Though my favourite fictional dragon remains the one in John Gardner’s GRENDEL: “My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.”

    @Kaetrin:

    No, no, it’s my fault entirely – I derailed you. I managed to get a copy of this thing on Amazon for 60 pence, so this is basically all your fault. Also I’m really glad ‘dungeonises’ is a word now, and intend to use it often ;)

  82. Elizabeth Famous
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 09:16:14

    I love this review and was wondering if I could send you another controversial, provocative novel to consider for review.

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