Book Review: Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey

Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey

If you’re squeamish about slavery and chains, you may as well take a pass on this entire Haardrad Family series. If you do though you’ll be missing out on some great characters.

Set during the Viking and Anglo-Saxon era of British history with ‘the great’ King Alfred of Wessex, this book has one of my favorite—if not the favorite—female protagonist and couples of all time, Kristen Haardrad and Royce of Wyndhurst. Yes, another Royce.

I remember reading this book way back in 1987 when I was sixteen and loving it, especially Kristen. I’ve read it multiple times and have had so many copies, they kept falling apart at the spine. Now I have both paperback and digital.

Kristen is my hero. Bold and daring, she knows what she wants and goes after it. Independent and strong-willed, she suffers no fools and takes no shit. Assertive and honest, brazen and so courageous, she is tough and has wit and knows how to laugh and adapt in bad situations. She is tall, blonde, and in her words ‘freakish’ and I could relate at the time as I towered over most of my classmates and cousins and was hideously toe-headed, skinny and pale as a ghost—ceaselessly mocked and hated it; unlike some, not all of us were ever tall, blonde goddesses and I could seriously relate to Kristen feeling like such a freak and so uncomfortable around Saxon women.

The love story between Kristen and Royce is so hot and incomparable; there’s humor and he adores her—I have such a weakness for male characters’ intense adoration, reverence, and affection for their romantic partners; the resistance, friction, passion and fierceness. Her interactions with her family are pure entertainment and joy; Brenna is the mom. The confrontation in the third act is so much fun and such good drama.

I read the sequel for the first time featuring her brother Selig immediately after reading this book—it was fine but not near as good as Hearts Aflame. Kristen and Royce have a prominent role and I actually enjoyed reading more about them than Selig and Erika.

There are several problematic areas in both books that I rolled my eyes and side-eyed; more spankings (you boomer authors and your spankings kink; I ain’t finger-wagging but y’all need a new fetish—that gets old); and chains—I have friends of friends that dabble in S&M with bondage and chains; whatever does it for ya; I’m not judging—in these books, the circumstances are uncomfortable and exasperating and the women characters are rightly and justifiably pissed. It’s not funny in the least and makes you wanna commit violence.

I’m not gonna list all the triggers. ‘Slavery and rape are bad!’—No shit. I’m sure you can find a procession of whiny reviews from the delicate flowers on Goodreads that will list all the so-called triggers that tend to go on and on and on and normally it’s helpful and engaging and I would read it and move on, but some reviews and reviewers really tick me off. I roll my eyes at times on their ridiculously callous once-overs that are completely and foolishly ahistorical, and not very empathetic or compassionate to the female characters and the complex situations they find themselves. Some of these analyses are ridiculously narrow-minded and naïve in the extreme. And what’s really nonsensical is that the critic wants to slap a smug liberal or feminist judgment on the commentary when it is anything but. It feels like another form of misogyny or internalized sexism whereby instead of hating on the women characters in the book who are complex people that choose self-preservation and love in order to adapt and survive complicated experiences, the critic chooses to transfer that hate and malign the author/creator (who is usually a woman) with a bullshit critique [I deleted some words here because it was confusing and bad grammar!]. Bad things happen to women—do you really think that all women have had the white-suzie-homemaker priviledged-rainbow-life that lots of western women do?? This book was set in 873 A.D.!

Privilege and ignorance can be such apathetic and passive tools.

I get really concerned when people wanna start censoring women’s/people’s stories about things like rape—of all kinds and all levels. I understand and realize that they are traumatic and they need be handled carefully (yo, a lot of us have been there, done that and we survive by telling our stories and sharing the message YOU ARE NOT ALONE)—however, they are also a part of our history and our survival. And no, I don’t mean some trauma and titillation porn for an asshole misogynist showrunner/creator to bone to.

Anywho, I love this book, the characters and their story and dare you to read it and make your own judgment then you can come back and critique and finger-wag at my post-turkey day bitch session; I am open to challenges and interpretations.

Addendum 02-DEC-2020: Read Marginalized people living varied and fulfilled lives in genre fiction is historically accurate. The article—which deals with marginalized BIPOC and science fiction—articulates much more eloquently my point of what I’m concerned about in these reviews and that is that the critics of these books want to be ‘gatekeepers’. Recall that white women are and have been the foot soldiers of white supremacy so this perspective that can harm women in general can also be used by white women to harm marginalized communities much more so. White women must tread carefully in regards to the ‘history’ of the past and not be allowed to be insidious tools of oppression for ourselves and other marginalized communities—especially for white supremacists. We harm ourselves when we do. Remember to always look for the questions and don’t automatically assume that the ‘history’—so often written by the oppressors in the form of white men—is historically accurate. As readers and reviewers, we must be cautious of this. So often we are careless in our efforts to bring about change that our egos and emotions disregard all else. I don’t deny I have been shamefully guilty of this and expect and hope to be challenged and educated when in error so that I may educate myself. I will expound on this in later posts more articulately communicating on the need to be more empathetic and open on the need for discussions in these types arenas in allowing a safe environment to discuss freely without harsh judgments on the basis of ‘gatekeeping.’ Gads, I sure hope that made some sense. Also, FYI: Not all western white suzie-homemakers had a priviledged-rainbow life for what it’s worth so perhaps I should’ve phrased that differently? Maybe added a bourgeoisie in it?

“Here is where authors from marginalized groups face challenges above and beyond the writing of great stories. The burden of proving historical accuracy, a Sisyphean task, falls on authors of color. There are always going to be people who feel they have the privilege to question the author’s writing in the name of historical accuracy. And you know what? The challenge is generally delivered with a heavy dose of arrogance by someone flexing their privilege and baiting the author to get a rise out of them.

“At that point, questioning marginalized authors about “historical accuracy” in their work is a thinly veiled attempt at gate keeping. It’s frustrating, infuriating, and exhausting. It’s not about history or accuracy.”

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