Book Review

Adora by Bertrice Small, A Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl


Title: Adora
Author: Bertrice Small
Publication Info: Ballantine 1981
ISBN: 978-0345302137
Genre: Historical: Other

image RedHeadedGirl is back, this time with a book reviewed by request: Bertrice Small’s 1981 book, Adora. Small is one of my absolute favorite old-skool authors. I have a soft spot for “Blaze Wyndham” like you wouldn’t believe. But I’ve never read this one.

I tried, you guys.  I really tried.  It doesn’t help that the copy I got smells to high heaven (It must have been owned by a smoker and it is moldy) and I have an aversion to bad smells, especially in books.  (Seriously, the first time I read Watchmen, the copy I borrowed was ever so slightly moldy, and the mold smell while reading the Tales of the Black Freighter?  I can’t even read that part now, in my new, ink-y smelling copy.  The associations are just so intense and gag-inducing.)

Anyway, this is the second Small book I’ve read and I’m not too terribly inclined to read more. I know this is “I read this shit so you don’t have to” but honestly.  Limits, I has them.

Adora is Theadora C-something, the daughter of the Arch Duke/Chamberlain/Grand Vizier (I don’t remember the exact title, but the idea is the same- guy behind the Emperor) of Byzantium.  She’s very smart and educated and stuff. Her father takes over and becomes Emperor of a dying Empire; in the process he married her off at the age of 10 to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

The sultan ignores her and she grows up in a convent, completely innocent of the world of men, until the Sultan’s son (the theoretical hero, though what he does that is heroic I never found out) sees her in the orchard, and they fall madly, deeply, passionately in lust with each other.  They call it love, but they don’t talk, they don’t do anything but make out and play around a bit with mutual masturbation (of course, she’s totally in love with the bringer of the first orgasm) while she says that the marriage was never consummated (the sultan was waiting for her to grow up, but then forgot about her and never really intended to go through with it in the first place) and Murad comes up with this plan to marry her after his father dies.

Because that isn’t creepy or weird or anything.

But of course, plans do not survive contact with the enemy.  Someone puts the idea in the Sultan’s head that he needs to consummate the marriage and get her knocked up in order to get the rest of her dowry.  The sultan isn’t thrilled about this- he likes deflowering virgins, but not before they’ve been exquisitely trained in the arts of pleasing men.

…. Okay then.

So he has Adora hauled in on her most fertile days, has her aroused by his slavewomen and has her opened with a wooden dildo (did they even know that word in 1980?) (I KNOW THEY DID LEAVE ME WITH MY ILLUSIONS PLEASE) because he couldn’t be bothered with dealing with her maidenhead.  And then he “breeds her like a horse.”


But there’s still pleasure in it for her and she’s like “WTF I was in love with Murad, and now I’m having these same feelings for his father, what the hell is this.”

She says this breeding thing is crap, and if he insists on fucking her, he should do it right.  So he does, she gets pregnant and presents him with a son.  Murad is ripshit at this- he thinks it was HER idea to go through with the whole consummation, and she did it just to fuck with him.


So Adora (they call her Adora because Theadora is just too damn much of a mouthful, and because she’s just so damn adorable.  NEVERMIND that adorable in Old Ottoman Turkish is not…well, “adorable.”) (Potato rage.)  and her son go on a sea journey somewhere to get healing for the kid, and they get set upon by pirates.  (Of course they did.)  The main pirate, Alexander the Great (not THE Alexander the Great, he was 1600 years before all this shit went down, he’s just Alexander the Pirate With Aspirations), is immediately taken with her, but ransoms her back to the sultan.

But not before drugging her and fucking her like a stallion.  She doesn’t remember it, of course.  And the plot point isn’t brought up again.


So Murad is sent with the ransom to go get her and kid, sees that Alexander the Great is all infatuated, accuses her of acting the whore, drags her back to the sultan where….they never speak of it again.

Turns out, the pirate was hired by Adora’s sister, the current empress of Byzantium, who hates Adora because she’s so pretty and perfect and who wants to be the sister of a Mary Sue complete with purple eyes?  (Did I mention?  SHE HAS GODDAMN PURPLE EYES.  OF COURSE SHE DOES.)  So she hires Alexander the Great to kill her, but Alexander the Great knows that Byzantium is bankrupt, so he does the capitalist thing and holds out for the actual money.

So the sultan finally croaks, and Murad is like “Now we will be together, you will rule over my harem” and Adora’s like “Harem WHUT” and they hate-fuck each other.  She runs away to Constantinople (not Istanbul) where her sister is like “I will fucking end you” and who should show up but….

…Alexander the Pirate With Aspirations, who is really the despot of some city or other (he only did piracy for a little extra cash).  He asks for Adora’s hand in marriage, she eventually accepts (after he shows up in her room one night) and they go off to rule their city.

Doesn’t end there, of course.  The sister-empress blackmails a slave into killing Alexander the Pirate With Aspirations, has Adora taken home to Constantinople (still not Istanbul) and sells her to Murad.  So legally, she is Murad’s slave.

And they hate-fuck each other for a while, and that’s the point where I gave up.  Because the point, as I see it, of a romance novel is the relationship between hero and heroine.  These two don’t have a relationship- he made her feel all tingly in her ladybits and they get mad and they hate-fuck, and that’s about it.  There’s no love, there’s not even like, there’s just lust.  Sure, she shows off her intellectual side, and he (and every other man in this book) will make patronizing comments about how she’s such a “proud little creature.”

Well whoop de-fucking-do.  Why don’t you pat her on the head and say, “the men are talking”?  Oh wait. They pretty much do.

See, near as I can tell (and the decline of the Byzantine Empire is not my area- it’s a little late for me) the general historical research wasn’t bad. Most of the people in Adora are real people who I guess died when they were supposed to. I think Alexander the Pirate With Aspirations was made up, but maybe not (nothing in Wikipedia on him, (though plenty on the REAL Alexander the Great) and I just don’t care enough to go digging for more).  Theadora herself does not have a Wikipedia page, so I don’t have anything on her except which men she was associated with.  But she was a real person, daughter of John VI, who was married off to the Sultan, and had a son by him who was captured by pirates.  I did not see anything about a relationship between her and Murad.

I suppose, with more likable characters, the story could have been good.  But between two people who have nothing in common but lust and hate-fucking, a hero who lacks any redeeming quality (or really, any quality other then being able to bang away for hours) and heroine who is just too good to be true (Seriously, Ayla would feel inadequate next to Adora), I really didn’t care.

It doesn’t help that the prose is so purple it’s ultraviolet.

If my copy were less stinky, I might soldier through.  But the book is both off-putting in content and character.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Hezabelle says:

    I laughed out loud at the “Pirate with Aspirations” bit.

    I can’t decide whether this review makes me want to read the book or not. I mean, partly it sounds awful. And partly it sounds AWESOMELY awful.

  2. 2
    Diatryma says:

    “Ayla would feel inadequate next to Adora.”  Kind of lost it there.  Oh, Ayla, Ancestral Mary Sue, how I love you.

  3. 3

    I can’t decide whether this review makes me want to read the book or not. I mean, partly it sounds awful. And partly it sounds AWESOMELY awful.

    I was going in that direction until I hit the Wall and bounced off of it.  You know that I’m a completeist and have trainwreck snydrome, right?  So how bad can it be that even *I* won’t finish it?


  4. 4
    Andee says:

    I draw the line at heroines with purple eyes.  Immediate disqualification for bringing to mind those Elizabeth Taylor perfume commercials.

  5. 5

    Alexander the Pirate With Aspirations

    So glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read this!

    I’m also glad I read Ms. Small’s early books back in the day. I’ve always cheered on her commitment to her heroines having satisfying sex with multiple partners without freaking out over it.  However, I agree with you that this one likely falls short of how we define a romance novel.

  6. 6
    Gdub says:

    Is there anyone here who has read this book who can finish the summary? I’m kinda curious to see how it all ends.

  7. 7
    Cherry_Handpie says:

    I vaguely remember this book. I remember more clearly thinking, what the fuckkk???? as I read it.

    Good ol’ Bertrice Small. She was the first (and possibly only?) author in my experience to introduce ANAL SEX into a “romance”. Yeah, that was romantic. “Bend over my dear and let me anoint your rosy aperture with fragrant oils after which I will—-” well, you get the picture. (Kind of makes me wonder what Ms. Small’s home life is like.)

    Prospective readers: Small’s books are not romance/romantic at all. They are just formulaic, bare-bones lusty rides through (insert historical event and/or era here).

    * STAR

  8. 8
    Kerrie says:

    I started reading Small’s books in those early days of puberty and loved them (of course). Even this one. I have yet to go back and revisit the earlier ones (I think I will always love Skye O’Malley), but her later books have gotten that stale feeling. Still, I’m able to actually get through them unlike the romances that have been published in the last 10 years or so.

    Of the entire review, the dildo comment made me laugh the most. Yes, dildos are not a late 20th century invention, amazing as that might be. No silicone and glitter and such, but they definitely served their purpose. :D

  9. 9

    I enjoy your reviews more than I would ever enjoy reading the actual book! I read an old skool last year sometime (To Drink the Wine or something like that) set in the Australian outback where the hero and heroine end up hiding in a river for several days to escape a wild fire set by her deranged raptastic mail-ordering bride husband. I think I was convalescing from a back injury and bed ridden at the time or I would not have finished it.

    At any rate, thank your for going above and beyond the call ;)

  10. 10
    Wendy says:

    I must add my voice to: “Alexander the Pirate with Aspirations”=hahahahaha!  :D

    I read this book!! That whole hate-fucking thing really did not sit well with me.  I must have read it when I was 12 or 13 (dear gods, really?) because my mother had not these books, but my sister’s friend-for whom I babysat-had a romance-reading mother.  She also put in my hands Clan of the Cave Bear.  Let me tell you, you are NOT ready for Neanderthal rape or other kinds of hate-fucking at 12.  It makes you crawl into your bed and pull the covers up and promise your eternal virginity to Artemis or Mary or whoever’s out there listening. 


  11. 11
    meoskop says:

    I read this when it came out – my aunt was a huge Small fan, I think it’s why my cousin hates reading.

    I’m trying to recall the ending for GDub but I might be confusing it with The Kadin? I think Murad dies and then the sister moves in with her kids and a whole bunch of people have to be killed but Adora lives on with her son in power…. but no, I think that’s the Kadin. The two books were pretty similar.

  12. 12
    Mimi says:

    with my apologies to mr. mimi, being able to bang away for hours is a quality i wouldn’t under-rate!

  13. 13
    Donna says:

    What a perfect way to start the day! Coffee and a RHG review of a book by an author I’ve never appreciated. One of my bff’s adores her. I tried Skye O’Malley, really I did, but… gargh!!! Being of an equally compulsive bent when it comes to book finishing, it remains one of the few dnf’s in my reading history.
    And thanks, I’m going to be pirating and bastardizing “pirate with aspirations” for at least a week.

  14. 14
    Misfit says:


    Excellent scorcher and I couldn’t agree more. I tried one Small book and that was one too many for me.

  15. 15
    Jeannie says:

    Let’s hope they had sandpaper back in those days, otherwise splinters in the hoo-ha would not be pleasant.

    I love RHG reviews because I always learn new vocabulary…hate-fucking, ripshit. LOVE IT!!

    And like you RHG, I have a thing about smells so I admire your fortitude for even trying to read the damn shit-tastic thing.

  16. 16
    Nyxalinth says:

    when I first read this book, I couldn’t stop thinking of Adora as Awhora, but that’s because I was young and inexperienced.  Now I just think the whole book is silly trash.

    I like Bertrice Small’s books up until the early 1990s then it all seemed to go to hell.  She got a terminal case of I’m-rich-and-famous-I-can-write-books-that-suck-and-they’ll-still-sell-itis and is in the downward spiral.  LKH has this diease, too.

    Hate-fucking, aye, good word!  I always hated the ‘I hate you, I hate you too!  Let’s fuck!’ thing.

  17. 17
    Beth says:

    Every time I see a Beatrice Small book I hear the phrase “pretty little b*tch” in my head. The only book I’ve read of hers was after one of my friends jokingly called her sister that after reading a Small book…interest peaked, I read the book. All I really remember is a lot WTF moments and the villain calling some women his “pretty little b*tch”. It made a lasting impression, since 10 years later I still hear that phrase in my head whenever I see the author’s name.

    This review just reinforces my decision not read any of her other books…and now I’ll have that phrase running through my head the rest of the day. Yeah.

  18. 18
    Carin says:

    I’ve never read any Beatrice Small books, but this review reminds me of an old Catherine Coulter that scarred me for life.  Sometimes it seems like the authors don’t even like their characters – they’re either loathesome or hit by one trauma after another.  No thank you.  I don’t need my HEA to come via multiple tragedies and asshat “heroes”.

  19. 19
    JaneyD says:

    The plot has the same tropes in another of Small’s books I read back in the day.

    Beautiful virgin taught the arts of love, no consummation until she’s of legal age by 20th century western standards.

    Every guy who sees her wants her.

    She’s kidnapped. Often.

    Sold as a slave. Several times, IIRC.

    Raped and/or faux-raped.  In this book’s case someone whacked the kidnapper’s weenie off in war, so he pretends to rape her for the benefit of his men who are listening to proceedings outside of the love-tent.

    The hero rescues her and calls her a whore (you say that like it’s a bad thing).

    She’d vindicated and her virginity proved. (Someone bothers to check the kidnapper and finds his wedding-tackle is missing.)

    She and forgiving hero—like she shouldn’t be mad that he’s been a complete dickhead? (Pun intended)—have babies.

    The heroine’s life story is recounted in detail at least once every 100 pages or so, in case we forgot that she was sold as a slave, bought by a Byzantine prince who was gay until he meets her, has her educated in the arts of love, but he’s murdered by an old male lover (homophobia anyone?), then she finds her way back to England, meets her Twu Wuv, is kidnapped some more, faux raped, rescued, there’s a major war, babies, then they bring in her little sister who will likely star in the next book.

    One of those is enough for one lifetime—but I can see that this is exactly the kind of mind candy that a lot of women would enjoy having on the bedside table while hubby is snoozing on the couch with his remote and ESPN.

    Sometimes you really ARE in the mood for junk-food writing.

    Me?  I’m gonna reread my whole collection of Mary Stewart.

  20. 20
    Karen H says:

    While I, too, cannot read the Old Skool romances such as this and Rosemary Rogers (seriously, things must have been pretty bad back in the day for Sweeter Savage Love to be considered such a wonderful book), I do have some advice on physically smelly books.  You can put it in a plastic bag, of the Ziploc variety, with a fresh dryer sheet.  That generally gets most of the smell out (I also dislike books that have been in a smoker’s house and discovered this works very well for that).

  21. 21
    ba says:

    Interesting comments but I thought this one from Cherry_Handpie was out of bounds:

    “(Kind of makes me wonder what Ms. Small’s home life is like.)”

    What’s up with the personal attacks against authors?

    And I would be curious what Cherry_Handpie thinks about erotica and M/M books that may reference anal sex.

  22. 22
    Karenmc says:

    Oh RHG,, what a wonderful holiday surprise it was to pull up the SBTB site this morning and see this! You’ll receive no demerits for not being able to finish the book, but big thanks for getting as far as you did and reporting back to everyone.

  23. 23
    Jennifer Armintrout says:

    Yeah, I read this book.  Least favorite B. Smalls book.  (I call her B. Smalls because it’s my nickname for her and in my mind she is my bestie).  Lost me at the breast ripping execution.

  24. 24
    Jan says:

    She also put in my hands Clan of the Cave Bear.  Let me tell you, you are NOT ready for Neanderthal rape or other kinds of hate-fucking at 12.  It makes you crawl into your bed and pull the covers up and promise your eternal virginity to Artemis or Mary or whoever’s out there listening.

    I read Clan of the Cave bear when I was 10 on a holiday where I ran out of books after 3 days, and then I just picked the biggest one lying around. I used to play Ayla all the time(*), and once I explained the whole totem thing to my mother, who was then totally outraged that I believed women where of a lower social status. So Clan of the Cave Bear caused my first lesson in feminism. That fight with my mother left a way bigger impression than the rape thing.

    (*By the time I was 16th I pretended to be a timetravelling Ayla and acted out her reactions to all kinds of stuff. fun times!)

  25. 25
    Brooks*belle says:

    Thanks for RTS so I DHT.

    Like Andee posted earlier, I too have an automatic shut-the-book-immediately for heroines with purple eyes.

    Almost as bad a silver hair.  But not quite.

  26. 26
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    Well, better purple eyes and silver hair than silver eyes and purple hair.

    Or maybe not…

  27. 27
    orangehands says:

    So she hires Alexander the Great to kill her, but Alexander the Great knows that Byzantium is bankrupt, so he does the capitalist thing and holds out for the actual money.

    This explains why romance heroes were always rich in the 90s; their ancestors knew the value of hard work and passed it down to their tycoon great great grandsons. Along with the whole kidnapping/rape thing. 

    I love your reviews RHG. I’m curious, how far did you get? Because old skool books are kind of jam packed with WTFs, so did all this happen in the first hundred pages or did it take a little longer than that?

    Karen H: Thanks for the tip.

    ba: Thank you for that.

  28. 28




    Sorry.  It’s POSSIBLE I’ve been drinking.


    Lets see:  @orangehands:  I think that was something like halfway.  I’m oing to say 250 page, give or take.

    Re: Clan of the Cave Bear:  Read it at WAY too damn young- was utterly shocked that there could be SEX in BOOKS.  I am tempted to do a both barrels critique of Shelters of Stone and why I suspect Jean M. Auel is actually dead or incapacitated and is now being ghostwritten.

  29. 29
    Diatryma says:

    I read Cave Bear at ten.  I read those books until they fell apart.  I got new copies that Christmas.  My mother folded down the pages as I went through, saying, “Skip these,” so I did (look, I am just that kind of person) …the first few times.  Then I read them, and being ten, whatever.  I was the kind of ten who, even after reading the books apart, didn’t pick up that a woman’s legs should be apart during sex.  Then the sex got boring compared to the Ancestral Mary Sue parts, weirdly enough.

    What book Shelters of Stone?  That book DIDN’T HAPPEN.  I would wait longer for a good fifth book.

  30. 30
    blodeuedd says:

    I am just gonna give a big WTF about this one

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