Book Review

Captured by Beverly Jenkins: A Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl

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Title: Captured
Author: Beverly Jenkins
Publication Info: Avon 2009
ISBN: 978-0061547799
Genre: Historical: American

Shirt open? Check! Tucked in? Check! About to burst from her bodice? CHECK!

I first noticed this book in Borders when I was working there as a bookseller (I miss my Borders, and I really miss my fellow employees.  We have a standing date at our local pub on the 14th of every month so we don’t lose touch with each other and our facebook group is in honor of our favorite manager).  It was shelved in African-American Fiction, but wouldn’t have been out of place in the regular Romance section, and I did have this thought process about where it should really go- but that wasn’t my call to make.  The sticker said African-American fiction, in African American Fiction it went.

Anyway, I saw this book, and was vaguely intrigued, but it was during an impoverished spell, so I couldn’t get it, and then I forgot about it because my head was full of other things, and then the pirate book discussion in November happened, and someone mentioned it, and a lightbulb went off so I went and downloaded the sample.

And was not impressed.

I was intrigued by the leads, but I felt that the writing was kind of clunky and was trying a little bit too hard, and then I got into a crisis of “am I unconsciously doing that thing where because the author is black she therefore must be twice as good to be considered half as acceptable?  Am I just a cranky bitch today?  Or should I buy and review this book that I’m not impressed with so far because that demonstrates there’s an audience for romances with minority leads written by minority authors, and that will help the market for minority writers?” (Seriously, if I had the $11 to spare, I would have gone to see Abduction with Taylor Lautner to encourage the idea that a Native American actor can be a marketable lead in a blockbuster movie.  Even though it looked, and by all accounts was, awful.  But I didn’t have the $11 to spare, and I’m not sure he can act his way out of a paper bag.)

I want to try and explain what I mean by “be twice as good to be half as acceptable.”  I know that is bullshit and it’s totally unfair, I do.  But we all know it happens.  And I was trying to unpack my reaction, which as a white woman, I know comes loaded with all sorts of privilege.  So in the interests of honesty, both with myself and with you guys, it’s something I had to consider- was I having this thought process in my subconscious?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that.  At this point, the best I can do is admit that it’s a possibility.

So I eventually decided, after three days of this existential crisis (and, honestly, if “buying a book for my Kindle” didn’t take up the bulk of my entertainment budget for the month, I would have had a much shorter crisis)  (I’m so tired of being an impoverished student.  It’s less awesome at 33 than it was at 23) to just buy it.

I’m so glad I did.  I don’t know what it was about the first two chapters, or if the writing improved, or if my mood just improved, but this is a great story.  And Jenkins does what makes a Redheadedgirl’s nerdy little heart go pitter-patter: she shows her fucking work.  (Down to an author’s note and a small bibliography, but there are other ways she shows her work and I will love her forever for it.)

It’s the middle of the American Revolution.  Our hero is Dominic, the bastard son of a French duke and a freed slavewoman from his plantation in Martinique.  (The story ignores the inherent problem of a master falling in love with one of his slaves- even though he freed her, there’s such a huge power imbalance and it made me uncomfortable, but it’s not the focus of the story and I’ll just let it go now that I’ve said my bit.)  Anyway, the duke dies, and Dominic’s brother has inherited, and announces that he’s going to head over to Martinique and take charge of his slaves- except that Dom’s father freed all of those slaves when Dom was born.  Edourd (the evil brother) doesn’t give a shit, so Dom runs (like the fucking WIND) to Martinique to gather up the workers there and settles them all in a small island and takes up piracy to support them.

He’s super hot, by the way.

So then we meet Clare, who is the “pet” of a spoiled woman from Savannah, Georgia.  They were on their way to England when Dom takes their ship, see Clare, and declares that he Is taking her, too- she’s gorgeous, and he, for perfectly understandable reasons, doesn’t like slavery.  He takes Clare (after her mistress tells her to go, because “think of the rest of us!”) and installs her in his cabin.

She is not having any bullshit about sex, mostly she just wants to go home.  He tells her to get some sleep, and discovers that she has never slept in a bed.  Ever.

“Violet also treats me as a pet, of sorts.”

 

“A pet?”

“Yes.  She dresses me up in the latest fashions and parades me around as if I were an exotic parrot that as been taught to read and mimic it’s betters.  I play the harpsichord, speak four languages,  know the latest dances and how to sue my cutlery properly.  She also thinks that when we travel to Europe, dressing me this way will make people believe that I am not a slave and thus prevent them rescuing me and offering me freedom.”

She is insistent at returning to Savannah because she has two children there- two children who were sold from her when Clare’s owners were low on cash.  But she gets to see them every Sunday, and as she point out to Dom, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Dom would REALLY like to engage in sexytimes, but upon learning that Clare’s only two sexual experiences were for the purposes of breeding (men chosen by Violet and no pleasure involved for anyone), he decides she deserves a bed.  But not before bringing her to orgasm just from playing with her boobs.

They get to Dom’s island paradise, mostly populated by the people he rescued from Martinique, but not before running into a slaver ship that Dom sinks.  But doesn’t kill the captain because the plot required that the evil captain show up later.

Seriously, people, you run into your arch enemy, YOU KILL HIM.  It’s in the handbook.

Once at the island paradise, Clare sees people from Africa who are not slaves, who work hard for their own sakes, and not at the beck and call of anyone.  And she gets to enjoy sunsets.  She and Dom fall in love, but she wants to go back to Savannah for her kids.  Dom offers to go rescue them, but she’s afraid that if they try, and fail, she’ll never see them again- she’s afraid to hope.

What I loved about this book is the small details that gave the picture Jenkins painted such depth.  From details that told me she understood how 18th century clothing worked (stays, shift, split skirts) to a thing about Dom having pistols tied to a lace that he draped around his neck (fire, drop and you don’t lose them!) showed me that she knew her shit and wasn’t afraid to use it.

One minor character is Theodora, the aunt of Violet, who was the one who thought to educate Clare, based on a bet- Theodora bet Violet’s father that a slave given an education could be as “genteel as its betters.”  Theodora turns out to be a huge help to Clare and Dom…but that statement is really telling- like she believes that slaves are human, but still not on the same level as white people.  This is a realistic character.  People like this still exist.

Which the villains- well.  I mean, romance villains aren’t always the most nuanced bunch, but the villainous women (one of Dom’s ex-flings and his father’s wife) (these are two different women- that would be seriously fucked up otherwise) were all in the “slutting it up all over the Carribean” type and I don’t really like that. Violet, of course, isn’t slutting it up all over the Carribean, but she is shallow, vapid, and cruel to Clare just for the sake of being cruel.  I’m okay with the Evilwash the Archenemy gets (seriously, what he does is pretty awful, and so specific that I don’t think Jenkins came up with it on her own- that must have been a thing she found in the record), but in general, I like villains to have a little texture.

I found the writing to be kind of uneven- sometimes it was awkward and stilted, and sometimes she would come out with some really evocative prose:

Dominic saw her mask slip, and for just a moment her myriad emotions became visible.  Before he could get a true handle on what she might be thinking, the barrier hiding her inner thoughts was firmly back in place, and she was looking up into his eyes.

Clare meets a number of people that want to know who she is and where she came from, and instead of rewriting the same damn story over and over (Jean M. Auel, I’d be looking at you, but I’m pretty sure you have a ghostwriter doing your books now) there’s a couple of times where we just get “Clare told her story.” Which I applaud the concept, I really do. But the execution was lacking.

Finally, I want to talk about why I think this book is important- it addresses slavery in a way that I don’t think a white author could do.  This subject is not academic to Jenkins, there’s a pain there that comes through.  It felt so real and so authentic.  Clare not being certain where in Africa she came from; her refusal to dare to hope or dream when she knows that hopes and dreams aren’t luxuries she can afford to have.  Fear that if she’s pregnant from all the sexytimes that the baby will be sold away from her.  Joy in the simple act if being able to enjoy a sunset, because her entire life had been spent working from sunup to sundown.

The author’s note tells me that this is part of a trilogy, and is really the prequel to the other books, which I will be checking out when I’m more flush.  And I did get another sample with the tease, “After Black Seminole Teresa July's bank robbing career is cut short by a three-year prison sentence…” I LOVE BANK ROBBING HEROINES.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read a lot of African-American authors, beyond the depressing stuff they made us read in high school.  But you can bet your asses I’ll be reading more of Jenkins.  Flaws aside, I think she has stories that not a lot of people are telling.  And I want to read them.


This book is available from Amazon | Kindle | BN & nook | Kobo | WORD Brooklyn

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Erin J says:

    Thank you for this review. I thought it was very informative and definitely appreciate the spotlight on black authors. For the paranormal romance aficionados out there (of which i am also a member), I would also recommend LA Banks.

  2. 2
    Emily says:

    I love Beverly Jenkins. I know I have already posted on this several times but back in the early 2000’s Avon came out with a line for teens. They called this line the Avon True Romance for Teens. They had twelve different novels by 8 different romance novelists including two by Beverly Jenkins. Those two were among my favorites. I also appreciated that like Kathryn Smith Jenkins connected her contributions by having a friend of the hero fall in love with his sister (although Smith’s and Jenkin’s were very diiferent books.) (Also Meg Cabot and Lorraine Heath wrote two books as well but didn’t connect them. May McGoldrick was the only author who connected other books they had written.)
    The point is Jenkins’s books were among my favorites although I liked most of them. They both take place in Michigan and feature the Best family. Belle and the Beau takes place in 1859 features a run away slave who falls in love with a freedman. Josephine and the Soldier took place five years later during the Civil War. Both of these books featured strong heroines who were intelligent and pursuing careers, and heroes who were supportive, dedicated and sweet. The books were a lot of fun. The parents of Josephine and Daniel were madly in love and had a happy marriage that was nice.
    I was sad when they stopped printing these books. Still I was thrilled that Jenkins was one of the few authors who had her contributions republished (the other one was Meg Cabot.) Belle and the Beau, featuring Daniel Best, became Belle, and Josephine and the Soldier became Josephine. Belle is first and then Josephine is sort of sequel. I do recommend them in that order.
    I recently made interest purchase and bought an anthology by Harlequin called Baby Let It Snow. It also featured Jenkins which was why I bought. This book was contemporary. Despite that Jenkins characters actually reminded of the other books I read but a sweet reminiscing kind of way. It was set in Detroit and featured an older professional heroine and devoted hero.The beginning felt a little stiff, partly because she had to convey information about the characters in short time span. Still I liked how she tied everything together. It may seem a little late to read it because it did mention Thanksgiving which we just had but I think its still readable.
    Ultimately I plan to read more Jenkins. What I love most about Jenkins is that I get the feeling she respects her characters and treats them with respect. I feel like they’re real people, and people I want to know.
    Even though I have read only a few books of hers I really like this author and books like hers are the reasons I read romance.

  3. 3
    Jessica E says:

    Emily, I loved that series too!  And I really enjoyed Beverly Jenkins’s books in the series.  I need to add her to my Half Price Books Clearance list to see if I enjoy her adult books as much as I enjoyed those two.  I wish that Avon had continued that Teen Romance series.  I don’t think that there was a single book in it that I didn’t like and I still have all of the series 10 years later.

    RedHeadedGirl, you really should read the teen ones if you liked how smart Captured was.  You could tell that she had spent a lot of time on research for those books and it definitely enhanced her storytelling.

    Now I’m off to finish finals so that I can go home and reread her books!

  4. 4
    Margaret says:

    Another black author who’s dealt with similar issues in some of her books is the late Octavia Butler. She writes science fiction and fantasy, usually with little or no romantic element. However, she wrote one time-travel novel, “Kindred,” in which a modern-day black woman finds herself repeatedly thrown backwards in time to an antebellum plantation where her interactions with a young female slave and the increasingly warped-by-privilege young master who’s fixated on her force her to make painful decisions that could influence her own fate. (For instance, if she follows her instincts and helps the slave escape before she becomes pregnant with the child from whom the protagonist is descended, the heroine fears that she herself will cease to exist.) Butler’s “Wild Seed” and “Mind of My Mind,” which feature heroines from different generations of a far-flung clan of descendants of an effectively immortal Nubian/Egyptian mutant who’s been trying to breed his offspring to develop more and more impressive X-Men-like psychic powers for literally centuries, are also excellent—although again, there’s very little romance in either.
      You might also be interested in Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January historical mystery series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T…, which begins with “A Free Man of Color.” The protagonist, Benjamin Janvier (or January, depending on whether on whether he’s dealing with French or English speakers), is an educated free black man who lives in 19th century New Orleans not long after it became part of the U.S.—much to the chagrin of local French-speaking high society, along with many of the black and mixed-race creole inhabitants, since the “Kaintucks” (Kentuckians) and other Americans recently arrived in town tend to be both more vulgar and more overtly racist. (Although the resident French-speaking whites have been known to treat their slaves pretty atrociously, too.)
        January was born on a rural plantation, but wound up being trained as a musician and eventually sent to France to study medicine after his mother became the placee (mistress) of a relatively enlightened Frenchman who bought and freed her and her two children, January and his sister Olympe (who grew up to be a local voodoo practitioner). While in Paris January fell in love with and married a local woman of Arab descent. He was treated so much better in France, where blacks were viewed as rare and intriguingly exotic foreigners rather than a potentially dangerous and all too numerous underclass, that he never considered returning to New Orleans until his wife’s death in an epidemic that the medicine of the time could do little to combat made Paris too full of painful memories for him to remain there.
        Author Barbara Hambly is white, but has obviously done massive research and does a good job of conveying January’s constant consciousness of the tightrope he must walk in dealing with the varied racially-biased peculiarities of the two types of white-dominated society now present in New Orleans. As long as he remains appropriately diplomatic and deferential, French speakers are more apt to treat him with at least minimal superficial courtesy than the new-to-Louisiana Americans, who find the concept of a black man more educated than most of them are mindboggling and, in some cases, downright offensive. Ironically, one of January’s best friends is an atypically unprejudiced white “Kaintuck” sheriff who often consults him on murder cases involving racial issues, and attempts to help him out when January’s independent efforts to assist friends or relatives sometimes get him in trouble with the law.

  5. 5

    I became a fan of Jenkins when I borrowed the only title my library carried in Overdrive (A Chance at Love). I then scampered to request Night Hawk for H&H. So far, what I like about Jenkins is that her heroines are pragmatic and intelligent, and her heroes are thoughtful. This makes the conflicts between the H/H more realistic and moving. Thankfully, she’s releasing her most beloved OOP titles in ebook format because those babies are expensive in print!

  6. 6
    Pam Regis says:

    I talk about Harriet Ann Jacobs’s _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_ to introduce Jenkins’s _Indigo_ (highly recommended) in my romance class.  And I sneak Butler’s _Kindred_ (not a romance novel, but highly recommended) into my AmLit I: Liberty and Slavery class.

  7. 7
    Sandy Lunsford says:

    I second the recommendation of the Benjamin January series. Ms. Hambly does great characters and her books are meticulously researched.

  8. 8
    Jill Sorenson says:

    Nice review, thanks. I’ve never read Jenkins but have heard great things. I think I’ll pick this up.

  9. 9

    Thanks for sharing this review.  Jenkins is one of those authors I keep meaning to read, and now I’ll make more of an effort to check out her backlist.  I love authors who get it right.

  10. 10
    Avery Flynn says:

    I can’t wait to read this. So glad you liked it.

  11. 11

    You know what the best part of doing these reviews is (other than the internet fame, of course)?  Getting all the book suggestions in response.

  12. 12
    WAh John says:

    Has anyone read this book?
    I just an amazing book “From Athletics to Business” it talks about Why do so many athletes end up in financial ruin? This book uncovers the principles that make athletes and millionaires more susceptible to economic ruin and bad behavior.  Discover the 12 universal attributes that athletics teaches that should help mold athletes into prime candidates for post career success. This book may be the first of its’ kind to offer true insight into the epidemic of financial ruin that has plagued athletes for almost a century and offer the solutions to end this affliction. I got my copy from Amazon.com but I believe you can also buy it on its web site http://www.fromathleticstobusiness.co…

    ……..

  13. 13
    MissB2U says:

    If you haven’t read Octavia Butler check her out – beautiful Sci-Fi writing.  Unhappily, she died in 2006 but at least we have “Kindred”!

  14. 14
    ECSpurlock says:

    I also recommend Seressia Glass, who does wonderful African-American urban paranormal. I get a special kick out of her books because several are set in Atlanta in a neighborhood I am very familiar with and she gets every detail just right, so I can actually see the characters interacting in that exact setting.

  15. 15
    donna says:

    Firstly, awesome that you & your Borders cohorts are keeping your flame alive, & I miss Borders & Borders employees more than you do. Honestly I walked into B & N yesterday and was all but physically molested by the Nook fairy lurking behind the entryway display. Do I have any questions? Yes, why would you jump out at person that way? Do I need help finding something? Yes, a bookstore that carries books that were published before this year. And Meljean Brook novels. And doesn’t treat me like I’ve never been in a bookstore before. Argh… wait where was I…
    Oh, yes, great review as always. I too love when it’s apparent that an author has put in their time in the research stacks. Sometime I think people watch “Captain Blood” or “Gone with the Wind” a few times and run with it. Extra thanks for pointing out that we might not find authors like Jenkins, who are clearly writing romance, shelved where a romance reader would not necessarily look. Counter intuitive that. Or is it the vaguely insulting idea that African Americans will only read African American writers? Or non-African Americans wouldn’t be interested in reading books featuring African American main characters? Where does that disconnect happen?

  16. 16

    I’m not sure where it started-when I started at Borders in 2007, we had one side of a double shelf that was “African-American Fiction” which had “African-American Studies” on the other side of it.  When we reorganized EVERYTHING (and that was a hellish month, LET ME TELL YOU INTERNETS) African American Studies got put near Sociology with Gender Studies, Native American Studies, Latin American Studies, etc, and African American Fiction expanded to both sides of the shelf unit. 

    Anyway, I think part of it is “this is where one goes to find books by and for African Americans” and that way it is known where they are, and if you’re looking for something by Zane or Toni Morrison (to pull two authors I know were shelved there), you don’t have to do the “what genre is this” dance.  (I don’t remember if Toni Morrison also got shelved in Literature or not.)  But, as you say, separating out the books keeps people who might not go to the African American Fiction shelves from finding out about authors who deserve a much bigger audience than I suspect they’re getting. 

    I know that Sarah and Candy discussed the problem in Beyond Heaving Bosoms, and when you as a bookseller don’t have any say in where things get shelved, the best you can do is make such a book your staff pick or handsell it or maybe do an endcap somewhere *IF* you have that kind of freedom (we really didn’t).  A twitter friend of mind said that she thought that B&N doesn’t separate out the African American fiction from everything else, so maybe browsers will stumble upon Jenkins more.  I hope so.

  17. 17
    Kara Keenan says:

    I listed this as one of my Pirate recommendations. I seriously love this book.

  18. 18
    Rebekah Weatherspoon says:

    I’m so glad you’ve reviewed this book. I’m reading Jenkin’s Night Song right now, but Captured was the first of hers I picked up. AND I LOVED IT! I’ve read five of her titles since and I’ve enjoyed them all.

  19. 19
    kkw says:

    I read Belle by Beverly Jenkins and have to say I thought it was sub-par.  I went looking for her I think because of something cool she was quoted as saying about romance in general in an article that was almost certainly a link from this site.  Anyway, great characters, great story, but it just seemed to me she was more in love with her research.  There was cool detail after dullish history lesson after interesting fact, none of which was advancing the plot or furthering my understanding of the characters.  I hate didactic art.  If you have an ax to grind, even if it’s a wonderful, necessary, all-important kind of ax, I don’t want it in my fantasy world (which is heavily populated with less figurative weaponry).  I’d give her another shot, though.

  20. 20
    thetroubleis says:

    Thank you for this review. I primarily read historicals and finding historicals with characters of color that don’t make me want to slap someone can be a challenge. I love aspirational romance novels sometimes, but I always find happy-go-lucky race ignorant writing really jarring in historicals.

  21. 21
    Susan says:

    Thanks for the review.

    I have to confess that I frequently get Beverly Jenkins confused with Brenda Jackson (I’ve read many of her Westmoreland books) when I’m scanning titles.  (But I get confused a lot these days—about more things than just books/authors.  Sigh.)  Based on your review, and some of the other comments, I think I’ll need to pick up Captured (and Belle and Josephine).

    RedHeadedGirl, I can’t tell you how much I miss Borders and the wonderful booksellers there.  I was blessed with the choice of numerous Borders locations in my area, but had one favorite store where I was friends with several of the long-time employees.  When I drive by that empty store, the sight is matched by the empty hole in my heart.  I may one day warm up to B&N (which I haven’t been to in several years), but it’ll never be the same.

  22. 22

    Just saw Overdrive from my library has Captured and also Sexy/Dangerous – yay – and I’m glad there are more out there, so hopefully my library will buy them soon.

  23. 23
    Hydecat says:

    I love almost all of the Beverly Jenkins books I’ve read so far (and I’m reading a bunch for a paper I’m working on). The Taming of Jessi Rose, Topaz, and Wild Sweet Love (female bankrobber!) are all excellent. They also feature a lot of history – especially The Taming of Jessi Rose – and it gets worked in pretty organically with the story.

  24. 24
    Hydecat says:

    Incidentally, if anyone has recommendations for other African American authors writing historicals – particularly with outlaws in them – I’d love to hear them.

  25. 25
    Etsyspy says:

    Seriously, people, you run into your arch enemy, YOU KILL HIM.  It’s in the handbook.

    So. Much. Awesomeness. ;-)

  26. 26
    Susan says:

    Margaret – Thanks so much for mentioning the Barbara Hambly series!  It’s my favorite historical mystery series. She’s an awesome writer.

  27. 27
    Ginny says:

    Thanks for the review!

    “Seriously, people, you run into your arch enemy, YOU KILL HIM. It’s in the handbook.” – Exactly! Just like you never stop to explain your plan just because you are gonna kill them anyways…

    “I LOVE BANK ROBBING HEROINES.” – Of course! Who doesn’t love bank robbing heroines?! There should so be more of them! :)

  28. 28
    Beverly Jenkins says:

    As some of you know I love me some Smart Bitches. I have also laughed myself half to death over many of the RedHeaded Girl, past reviews, so for her to give Captured such a great review means a lot. Thanks, and double thanks for not giving up after whatever happened during the first few chapters. Glad you enjoyed it. I could do a whole dissertation on how interesting it is to have been in print with Avon for 15 years and have readers say to me, “How come i never heard of you?” It ain’t easy being green, is all I can say. This helps. B

  29. 29
    emily jane says:

    I’m so glad to hear about this book! Historcals are my favorites, but as a white woman married to a black man, I often feel a little sad and/or guilty that the heroes never look like my husband. I don’t think he cares but I do a little. Of course, a historically accurate book with mixed characters would probably have to end unhappily to be accurate. I know where I’m going to spend my book money this month!

  30. 30
    Tam says:

    I just picked ‘Captured’ up thanks to this review, but now I have new reasons to be dissatisfied with the cover art of romances.  Is there any reason why the heroine on the cover is Beyonce-hue with flowing black locks when she’s described in the book as being African-born with short-cut hair?  In the meantime, the cover-art hero is much darker with a shaven chin and close-cropped do although the book describes the half-French hero as having both a beard and long hair in a queue like ‘a mulatto’.  I’m enjoying the story so far, but the cover is irritating me every time I see it.  I think she stole his hair.

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