You may recall a bit of a rave I posted last fall for Rosemary Rogers' Sapphire. As far as I can tell, Sapphire is a new release with a 2005 (well, relatively new) copyright, whereas The Wildest Heart is a re-release, originally published in 1974. So I wasn't sure if that would make a difference.
All I can say is, Rogers has still *got it*, baby. This is a fabulous book and deserves your attention if you're a romance lover. If this is Old Skool, then I think the entire cadre of current historical romance authors should take a refresher course. Not that there isn't wonderful stuff coming out every month, but there is really a huge difference in scope and scale, and I want more of this kind of EPIC DRAMA. (I feel a glom coming on...)
Hey, Gabaldon Lovers
At well over 700 pages, if you are an aficionado of the Very Long Book, and the intricate plotting that goes along with it, I think there's a very good chance you'll like this one too. Jamie and Lucas would get along really well, I suspect; if nothing else they could have a good commiseration over wimmin-folk who don't stay in their places.
It's true that I'll forgive a bland or linear plot if the characters are great, if the chemistry is there, and if the romance satisfies. But if I can get it ALL between the same set of covers? HELLZYES, that's even better. The plot of The Wildest Heart is what the modern Big Mis wants to be when it grows up. The conflict between the characters is tied to a campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and scandalous secrets that begins before Rowena gets within a thousand miles of Lucas. If she'd ignored the evidence against him, we'd all scoff and call her TSTL.
The book is structured in a "coming of age" format, and starts out with a few scenes from Rowena's late adolescence in India, where she lived with her grandfather, and then moves into a relatively short section in Europe with her mother and stepfather. At one point, I thought maybe that bit should have been dropped... but I'm glad it wasn't. Events in this extended prologue inform Rowena's adult character and give you such an insight to her feelings on certain exchanges that the author doesn't even have to write it in -- you will cringe on Rowena's behalf, just knowing. It's genius, really, and it's something that might not be possible in a book of 350 pages vs. 700.
The plot twists and turns throughout the story as bits of conflicting information emerge, and right along with Rowena, you wonder whose information you can trust. The final twists were jaw-dropping surprises, at least to me, but written with such skill that there's no hint of contrivance or manipulation. The brilliance of this book is that the plot is so complex and yet it's entirely character-driven. The passions and hatreds of two or three generations provide the gearworks that power you through the story.
The story is written from Rowena's first person narrative-- which frankly I wasn't thrilled with at first, but soon forgot my objections. Despite her desire to take charge of her life, circumstances and other people continue to buffet her in crazily extreme directions, but she never seems passive. With all this going on, I think the first person is a good way to keep the reader in a place to understand why she does the things she does. Rowena has no allies through a large part of the story, so much of her processing of events is internal.
One downside to this though is that Lucas remains an enigma to the reader as much as Rowena throughout most of the story. He's a bit of a background on which events are acted out, and he's off-stage for a fairly big chunk of the pagecount. Lucas might be the first of the angsty damaged heroes. He's a classic Western hero; taking the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without flinching or explaining. And yet somehow as readers we see a little of his vulnerability, of his pain and that brings him closer to us.
Things You Don't See Every Day
Like Scarlett O'Hara, Rowena marries the wrong guy in the course of this story. She's not a virgin when she finally comes to the hero. There is rape, but it's not perpetrated by the hero. And Lucas is no white knight. He's engaged in a scandalous affair throughout the book and makes no promises to throw over this influential woman to be exclusive with Ro.
The love-making that seemed so daring in 1974 is far more soft-lensed and less graphic than any given best-seller today, but it's still hot and passionate and evocative:
Naked again, I went to him, and equally naked, he received me. We made love slowly and unhurriedly and inevitably. With Lucas, there was no holding back, no sense of violation. I wanted him, and he wanted me, and for the first time in my life, I learned how it felt to be taken out of myself with longing, and to have the longing fulfilled.Bottom Line
The Wildest Heart is a long, slow, complex read. It's perfect for sinking into on a cold snowy night or taking with you on vacation. I strongly recommend and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Around the Blogosphere
The Burton Review
Books Like Breathing
Revenge of the Book Nerds (heh. love the blog name)
Disclosure: Review copy provided by Sourcebooks.