Saturday, November 1, 2008

Never Say Never

Shortly after a discussion on a romance book blog* regarding oxymoronic Heroes Who Rape, wherein I declared that a rape by a hero is never justifiable, and would always result in a book that I couldn’t like, I came across Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

By way of introduction: this is a stunning, gorgeous book.

I’m going to say that again. Stunning. Gorgeous.

The characters are complex and layered and despite being a Regency Maverick Duke with Issues and a Good-Girl Commoner turned World Class Courtesan Who Might End Up as a Duchess, they feel like real people (go figure). Their individual inner struggles are truly heart-wrenching, and their journey to be together as whole people is--sorry, I’m going to use the P-word-- poignant and through much of the story, appears impossible.

The duke is thoroughly dislikeable through the first third or so of the book. On his side, it’s more stalker than lover, more obsession than affection. The story opens when the heroine, after fulfilling her year-long contract with him, disappears from his life without a trace (she’s not all that likeable either).

Then there’s the rape.
His brows contracted, and fool that she was, she read sorrow rather than fury in his face. “Well, if I must take you as a thief, then I shall be a thief.”

He pushed her legs apart, moved between them, and thrust inside her.

There had been no preliminaries. Verity tensed, but her betraying body had already prepared for his possession.

He rammed into her hard and gave a groan that echoed the defeat in her heart. For a long, dark moment, she lay pinioned under him. The world had shrunk to the man above her. It smelled of him. His weight held her motionless.

He withdrew and plunged back into her once, twice. Then he jerked convulsively as his control broke and his essence spurted into her. He seemed to shudder over her forever before he groaned once more, then rolled away.

It was over. He’d taken her quickly, carelessly, irrevocably. She was once again the Duke of Kylemore’s lover and she wished she were dead.


The heroine may be conflicted but there is no way to deny that what happens in this scene is rape. At this point, I was truly skeptical that these characters could have a Happily Ever After together. One that I could believe in, or want for them. Cynically, I waited for the Out of Character 180° Turnaround, by one or both of them.

It didn’t happen, though. There’s an underlying theme here, a pop-psyche sound-byte that nevertheless has its roots in truth: First, love thyself. Both characters walk a long personal road that parallels and intertwines with the love story and makes their happy ending possible. The heroine continues her efforts to break free far beyond what you’d see in a more stereotypical, less remarkable version of this story--and let’s face it, the “hero kidnaps heroine and even though she’s mad about it she gets over it cuz he’s hott and they fall in love and live HEA” is not an uncommon plot device.

A good deal of Verity’s struggle is around resolving her feelings about her own sensual nature and the degradation she experiences in being driven into prostitution. I found Campbell’s treatment of the madonna/whore dilemma to be stunningly honest and uncompromising, as well as believable for the historical period (what’s the opposite of anachronistic? Chronistic? No? Hmmm. Well, you get what I mean.)

The duke has his own baggage to deal with, and then a heaping load of guilt for the events in this book--richly deserved, I might add-- and while overall I found Verity’s story a bit more compelling, Justin’s path to Verity’s arms was believable and moving.

I’m tempted to go on, but if I do, I'll end up overusing the word “stunning” and I’ve already exceeded my quota. There’s more to love about this book, but I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest for yourself. Before I wrap up, I want to point out that if you love Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold, I think you’ll love this one as well. Campbell is an amazing new voice in historical romance and I can’t wait to get my hands on Untouched. Then, coming to the US in February is Tempt the Devil. Check them out!
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*If you are the blogger that hosted this discussion, or one like it, I would LOVE it if you would post a link in comments. Thanks!
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3 comments:

Carolyn Jean said...

Very interesting and thoughtful post! I never read this book, but I hear enough about it. Isn't it so strange when a book challenges your rules like that! I really appreciate this review, and your note that you found
"Campbell’s treatment of the madonna/whore dilemma to be stunningly honest and uncompromising" makes me really want to read this!

Betsy O'Donovan said...

> He’d taken her quickly, carelessly, irrevocably. She was once again the Duke of Kylemore’s lover and she wished she were dead.

Bleurgh. No, she's NOT his lover. She his rape victim.

Watch as I immediately contradict myself and ask whether you've read "Whitney, My Love" yet (the only romance-with-a-rape-scene that I've ever liked).

I am, I admit, intrigued by your review and will probably have to check this out.

Nicola O. said...

Doubt me if you must on the Atlantis series, Betsy, but trust me on this one. It's so good. Read it then come back and comment or post!

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