Oy, speaking of rape/non-con…I took one glance at the Goodreads reviews and decided to not even bother. I even unfollowed a celeb reviewer after reading their review of this book that was—scant, and…stuffy? Needless to say, if you’re traumatized by the subject of rape/non-con or bondage, you may wanna pass this one up; you would, however, be dismissing an amazing female protagonist in Rowena Belleme, and how Lindsey took the subject of rape/non-con and subverted it totally upending this trope for once.
I read this book in one sitting immediately turned back to the beginning and read it again.
Where do I begin. This is easily the best dark romantic dramedy I have ever read. Seriously. Had I read this when I was younger, I’m sure the nuance would’ve been lost to me. Who knows—perhaps I did read it and it wasn’t; I cannot for the life of me recall. I thought I had read all of Lindsey’s book up to the 2000’s, but apparently I was mistaken. I have yet to make it through Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and wonder if a more darker interpretation like this would make it more appealing to me? Yes, I know, I’m terribly fucked up—you should’ve probably already surmised that. If not, this is your warning; I am not a role model and could give zero fucks.
I’m sure there are criticisms of this book—I avoided them. Actually, I avoided all reviews of this book after reading the one on Goodreads then the Amazon one that made my eyes roll in the extreme—yes, that one. If there are critical analyses that don’t become unintelligible moralizing diatribes bent on dismissing this book solely based on rape and bondage, and instead focus on Rowena, her ability to adapt in that era, gender rights and her love affair with Warrick, I would love to read them; the serf rights alone would be of significant interest given our current political era and worker’s rights—I imagine this book would be discussion fodder on a number of sociopolitical subjects regarding gender and rape, abortion rights, parental rights of rapists, etc. Since we have relapsed into a chilling anti-intellectualism era, any and all discussions become not only critical but essential as some of the worse, most narrow-minded takes imaginable become mainstream and normalized; those conversations must be had though as we crawl through the muck hopefully to a better world. Alas, my hope is rare, but it’s books like this and characters like Rowena that deliver it. I have no clue why—they just do.
Rowena Belleme is one of those heroines that I eagerly visualize on the screen—but who could possibly pull off such brilliance nowadays? Seriously, I’m open to suggestions? A number of women come to mind. I am rewatching The Witcher (AGAIN!) and can easily imagine a Geralt-Yennefer type pairing in many of the historical romance novels I’m escaping into during the present tumult (especially medieval romance; I’m up to my eyeballs in them all). Anya Chalotra is brilliant and delicious and Cavill has that body…and that voice—to imagine them as Rowena and Warrick is far too simple a feat, and yet, I do.
Rowena’s ‘puckish wit’ challenges everything grim and then some. We all—at various points in our lives—need be a Rowena. Her resilience is legendary. She manages and shapes to the world around her fitting to the demands and brutalities of the era she lives in which she, her uterus, her property and birthright are the pawns of men, their avarice and destructive machinations. She does what she needs to survive and save the lives of those around her—a concept some of us are all too familiar: Self-preservation. Could she have done something differently? Yeah, possibly. I’m gonna choose to be empathetic regarding Rowena’s circumstances, whereas others may choose to condemn and lecture.
The men are, as you can imagine during the King Stephen and 12th century era, uncompromising—but no, not really; not in this book; they are, but they’re not. The contradictions are part of this book’s charm, as well as its leading men. They love passionately and forgive as easily; they are merciless but compassionate and affectionate; they will punish and kill, yet preserve and surrender; they are stupid and lack common sense, yet crafty and skillful; and yeah, they are assholes, but…not all the time. It is such a contradictory ride, I was sure I missed something so I reread it. Totally worth it.
While—as I wrote earlier—I am up to my eyeballs in historical romance novels, I’ve also been reading two brutal, densely-packed non-fiction books that I am squeaking my way through because they are hard to read during this awful time (too much angst!): Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World by Laura Spinney and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m also starting A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I’ll be following up with reviews on those books as soon as I’ve finished. As for historical romance, I’m in the middle of Johanna Lindsey’s Malory-Anderson series—I dunno how I forgot what I fantastic author she was.