REVIEW: Virgin Slave, Barbarian King by Louise Allen
Dear Ms Allen,
I had planned on reading this book anyway because 1) I like a previous book of yours I tried and 2) I just had to support the era in which you’d set the story. After all, I can’t remember the last book I read that features Visigoths! When we all got together and decided on a mass blog review of the book, I did have some moments of unease. I mean, look at the cover which features an obviously nekked hero and a heroine, though completely clothed, toting water as a slave. And then there’s the title. Oy. All it needs is a secret baby to complete the image that so many people have of romance books. And where’d the crystal chandelier come from on the cover?
The romance/relationship is pretty standard captive romance fare. “You’re my slave..no I’m not….yes you are….no!…yes, you must work for your keep…I can’t do anything…you’ll learn or not eat…” Julia learns the joys of living with barbarians while Wulfric is so understanding of her. He caters to his ‘slave,’ is hurt when she expects the worst from him, wants to comfort and soothe her fears and keeps his raging needs under control. He’s also a leader among strong men, adored by women, is kind to children and animals. The man’s a saint. I had to agree with young Berig about who’s the slave here and who’s not. Plus the fact that the name Wulfric is far too close to Wulfgar. And his pet wolf appears to need only a little more work in order to earn his CDX.
I kept waiting during the early part of the book so see if Julia’s family would ever try to find her. Honestly, I don’t think her family missed her more than they would a lost handkerchief. But then they’re a standard awful family who have never made Julia feel loved. I know this makes the story easier and shorter to write but it would have been much more interesting if Julia was torn about leaving a family or fiance for whom she gave a flip.
I liked the language you included throughout the book and wonder where you got the translations. Is this a form of early German? I liked the historical tidbits and for the most part thought they were worked into the story very well. Though I did get bored during the slow slog of the Visigoths down the Italian peninsula and while they waited for transport to Africa. The travel time did little more than give Julia time to appreciate how wonderful the Goths are.
I did like that the book is not totally littered with misunderstandings. Yeah, they don’t declare their feelings for each other but at least on everything else, they talked. Julia was willing to admit Wulfric is a good and honorable man doing what he thinks is best, though not necessarily what he wants.
I did find the catfight scene to be improbable. Julia’s a tiny, little thing and her chances of beating a large Visigoth woman would seem to me to be exactly zero. Though I’m sure the men would have wanted to see it. And did Wulfric’s almost fiancee have to be such an obvious Other Woman stereotype? Simpering to him yet turning on Julia in the blink of an eye? It gave her no depth.
Julia does learn some politics and scheming to get away from magistrate with whom Wulfric dumps her and lull her parents before the Great Escape with Wulfric. I was kind of hoping for something more dramatic then but I guess simpler is easiest.
I did like that this is not an overnight romance though the lusting starts fairly early. The book spans some months and lends credence to Julia and Wulfric finally falling for each other despite the reasons each has not to.
I thought Wulfric’s views on love and honor to be Typical Man. I thought Julia’s declaration of love – yelled to Wulfric while he’s fighting for his life in a battle — to be silly. And this kind of typifies my overall feelings for the book. There are parts I like which then got balanced with things that seemed to be taken straight from Romance Central and that I’d read 100 times before. The whole ends up being a C+ though I wish it had been more.
Dear Ms. Allen:
Like Jayne, I had purchased this book before the Bindel assertion that Mills &Boon books, such as yours, were perpetrating patriarchal propoganda and before the Teach Me Tonight crew had the brilliant idea for the cross blog spectacular. The one positive thing I can say about this book is that I didn’t find it to be advancing the agenda of the male patriarchy and the suppression of females. I did find it to be promoting a lot of other unfavorable stereotypes, however, but probably my biggest complaint was that this book was totally a yawner for me and had it not been for the commitment I made to review it for this internet spectacular, I would have tossed it after the first three chapters.
I won’t rehash the plot and bore the readers. Instead, I’ll just address why I found it tedious to read at times and also how anachronistic and implausible the story was. It wasn’t implausible because it lacked good historical detail – there was plenty of that. It was implausible because Julia Livia, a daughter of a respected Roman citizen, is kidnapped by the Roman’s greatest enemy, a Visigoth. Instead of showing much of any fright, concern for well being, worry about her family, despair over her condition, she almost immediately falls for her Visigoth captor. Within a day, she is having lustful thoughts about Wulfric and it seems that her fears that he was uncivilized were completely allayed by the fact that Wulfric had chests full of ‘Rhenish glass and the silver platters.’
To a great extent I felt that Julia Livia’s focus on the superficial reflected the superficiality of the overall story. There was no serious introspection at the differences between Roman and Visigoth cultures. Instead, the cultural conflict comes down to Goth=Good and Romans=Rotten. After all, the young Roman men might stay physically fit, but it was only for posing for statues were the Goth’s physicality was necessary for their survival. The Romans were more interested in looking good than being good was the message I was sent and therefore it was okay for Julia Livia to not experience terror and despair at the thought of being forcibly separated from her family.
I also thought how interesting it was that Julia Livia showed no emotion over the sacking of cities that went on during the Visigoth’s determined march south through Italy or the slayings of “criminals”. The lack of nuanced writing in the portrayal of the two cultures was symptomatic of the problems I had with the entirety of the story.
For me, the lack of interest was as a result of the perfunctory storytelling. Without any depth to the characters, I was not emotionally engaged. Further, unlike Jayne, I thought that there were “as you know Bob” moments. Illustrative is the scene involving the hair cutting.
In the early part of the book, Julia Livia is left alone at the camp. She lolls around and refuses to clean up the tent or wash any clothes and Wulfric returns home to a mess. After he cleans himself, Julia Livia studies his long hair and suggests that she cut it. She picks up the scissors and is about to cut his hair when Wulfric and his young page like companion, Berig, go crazy. To cut one’s hair is to besmirch his honor. Julia Livia apparently hasn’t noticed that everyone’s hair is long, not just Wulfric’s (which goes against Wulfric’s statement that Julia Livia is so observant and that is one of the things he admires about her). But I asked myself why Julia Livia would engage in cutting Wulfric’s hair or be concerned that his long hair would adversely affect him in battle if she can’t be bothered with any other aspect of his life.
This read as a contrivance to me as did so many other parts of the book particularly the ridiculous scene in which Julia Livia and her rival for Wulfric’s love engage in a girl fight during the funeral of an important Goth. I had little belief that Julia Livia could beat a fly let alone a young Goth woman. There was still another ridiculous scene in which Julia Livia declares her love for Wulfric. That was probably a wall banging moment for me.
The writing, for all its historical overlay, had a very contemporary voice. At one time, Julia Livia is overwhelmed by Wulfric’s “charisma”. Julia Livia “conjured up” something.
The one part of the book I enjoyed was watching Wulfric council with the elders and his small struggles to determine whether to challenge for the kingship. He did appear to be wise and thoughtful although I failed to get a sense that he truly loved his people or the land. Any actions we saw of Wulfric directing attention toward anyone was to a select few – not enough to convince me that he was doing anything for the greater good. I know that is what I was supposed to believe, but the paucity of details in that regard let me interpret things differently.
This sanitized, superficial story isn’t a good one for Bindel to use to uphold her argument that these types of books perpetuate the idea that women exist for the purpose of man but neither is it a shining example of the genre. C-
There are many other reviews of this book around the internet which I will add links to in a bit. SB Sarah posted hers today as part of the internet extravaganza coordinated by the Profs at Teach Me Tonight.