Book Review

Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell

C-

Title: Claiming the Courtesan
Author: Anna Campbell
Publication Info: Avon 2007
ISBN: 0061234915
Genre: Historical: European

Yo. Bitch. Why is it such a challenge for you to write this review?

A few reasons, but mostly because I’m having a hard time balancing my thoughts on the reaction to the story, and the story itself.

Jeez. Whiny bitch, much?

Well, yes. And also, bite me.

If I had to line up my first reactions to this book, which has been discussed much everywhere and by many (and by some who haven’t read the book in the first place and what is UP with that?)

I agree. Cranial-rectal impaction is just heartbreaking to see, isn’t it?

Truly, it is.

Anyway, my primary reaction is as follows:

If you are sensitive as a reader to scenes of sexual coercion, forced seduction, or rape, as well as emotional abuse and feelings of terror and helplessness, I don’t recommend this book.

This is not your standard spun sugar Avon release. It doesn’t allow you to remain complacently amused and merrily entertained. It’s more than a little angsty, and it attempts to do many things in its approach to the genre.

If I were to judge the book purely on Campbell’s ability to make me uncomfortable, this book would score highly.


(Caution: continuing review is all kinds of spoilerish, so be ye warned.)

Uncomfortable? Does romance do that?

Good question. Generally I personally don’t look for romance to give me a major case of the squicks, particularly since this book is trying to do so deliberately, I think. I have to be in a specific mood to read, for example, an author I know to be emotionally demanding of the reader. I was not expecting that from this book, even given the cover summary.

That said, some of my favorite romances are those that made me think deliberately and with some difficulty on larger themes, particularly issues of sexuality. This book could have been one of those, but wasn’t.

Plot details please?

Verity Ashton, known in London as infamous courtesan Soraya, is currently under the protection of Justin, aka the Duke of Kylemore. Soraya is Kylemore’s idea of a perfect woman and wants to throw societal expectations into the Thames and marry her. But he is horrified to return to her townhome to find that she’s disappeared.

Verity had chosen a life as a courtesan out of necessity, and longed to save up enough money to escape into anonymity into the English countryside. When she gets her chance, she doesn’t expect to see Kylemore again, much less that he’d come looking for her.

Kylemore not only finds her, but kidnaps her, dragging her to his most remote estate in Scotland, where he attempts to forcibly recreate the relationship they had in London.

“Forcibly recreate?”

Yes, it’s an anagram for “Or by Carefree clit.”

Also, an allusion to a scene and section of the book where in “forcibly” comes damn close to, if not becomes, rape.

Rape in romance? How do you define that?

That’s part of the controversy, I think. In the larger history of the genre, there’s a lot of subtle variations of sexual dominance: for example, there’s forced seduction of a not-always-very-resistent heroine, tied-her-down rape by a villain (especially prevalent in old bodice rippers), and rape by the hero, usually redeemed by a great deal of groveling.

Where this scene fits into the varying types of sexually dominant scenes is part of the problem, I think, that leads to the wildly varying reactions to the book.

One reader I discussed the novel with posits that it’s not rape so much as forced seduction along the lines of BDSM, though I don’t know that I agree with that since I don’t think Verity agreed to any of it.

Personally, I think it was rape. But my discomfited reaction to the book is not based on that fact.

So what are the flaws that bothered you?

One reviewer on Amazon said the following:

I think most people who dislike this book will do so based on the plot, and not on the writing skills of the author.

My problems are with the writing skills of the author in finishing what she started in terms of writing a believable ending for these characters, both in terms of development, and in terms of finale. Part of necessary writing skills IS plot, and this plot left a lot to be desired. The alleged rape scene aside, my problems are all with the story arc itself.

First, I think the rape scene was meant to be read as rape. Justin forces himself on Verity, and in one respect the book is about exploring the balance of sexual power between a protagonist pair whose relationship is based largely on sexual and commercial transaction. She was his courtesan; he was paying for her lifestyle in return for sexual favors. Removing the commerce of that relationship and attempting to replace it with traditional emotional connection and romance was more difficult than Kylemore anticipated (to say the least!) and he didn’t take into account that the person he was with in Soraya wasn’t the real, whole, or even complete woman.

Campbell’s attempt at the exploration of sexual dynamics in a romance is a huge undertaking, and I can respect her ballsy decision (no pun intended) in taking on such a potentially prickly (again, no pun intended) plotline.

Dude. Flaws? Hello? Quit skirting the question.

Ok, my three major problems with this book:

1. The heroine: Stockholm Syndrome much? She kept repeatedly seeking to excuse or explain or even come to sympathetic terms with his actions against her body, even as he treated her heartlessly – complete turnaround from his behavior prior to her removal from London. And what was the underlying message of the consequences of that removal – that you cannot Run from True Love or it will find you and force you to have sex whether you want to or not?

Furthermore, in the end, the character that could have developed the most, from a sexually provocative courtesan to a staid “widow” to a blending of the two into a much more vibrant and real character, developed the least.

2. The Hero: “Rebalancing” was a major element to this plot, and really, the sexual exchange of power was like being on a ship that had absolutely no port-to-starboard stability. Kylemore’s actions were so dastardly, so cruel, and so callous, that by the time the backstory of his motivation and his apology rolled into the reader’s view, it was too little, too late, and he was much, much too awful to ever be redeemed in my eyes. Campbell created a hero who was already somewhat pathetic, and made him completely unredeemable.

As I wrote in an email discussing the book:

“The imbalance in positions of power shifted back and forth but then toppled to one side. First, Soraya was in possession of slightly more power due to her emotional detachment and position as a courtesan – an ironic possession of power because as the ho, she should have been in his control and possession. She knew she planned to leave and had no intentions of permanence, while he was clearly mad for her – literally.

Then she escaped him for a time, living in deeply treasured autonomy while he socially ruined himself looking for her. Then he kidnaps her, forces her in all manner of situations trying to regain some of his pride and what he thought was his control over their relationship, and in doing so, creates an untenable situation: he is in possession of more physical power because (a) he can get her to respond against her will, (b) she can’t really successfully fight him off because, well, he’s bigger than she is, and (c) he’s got the penis what’s doing the raping.

By the time he has seized the sexual and emotional power from Verity, and then realizes his error and attempts to return to morality, so to speak, it’s impossible for sexual and emotional balance to be restored between them, in my opinion. It’s not so much complementary strengths developing on each side as it is the power struggle inherent in dominating sex – the idea that rape is about power, not sex, specifically. He repeatedly uses sexual force and manipulation to achieve power over her in such a way that there’s no restoring him in my eyes to any possibility of honor by the end of the book.”

3. The Ending: How in the name of potpourri was I was supposed to buy a happily ever after for disgraced lord and his now-noble courtesan? For one thing, I could see them twenty years in the future with her carrying this deep emotional scar from when her beloved husband scared the shit out of her and emotionally abused her for awhile. Can you imagine that ammo in an argument? “Oh yeah? I didn’t shine your shoes properly? Well at least I didn’t KIDNAP AND RAPE YOU, huh, dude?!”

And for another, what about their future? Were they going to embark on the Child-Free movement of their age? Because Lord knows no one would ever socialize with their children, what with the ass-backwards-but-still-happening-even-now judgment of an individual’s Quality based on who their parents are/were. The son or daughter of a humiliated Lord who married his ho? Forget it. The daughter’s season will be miserable if she’s even let in the door of the Duchess’ cousin’s maid’s little sister’s chimney sweep’s house. I can’t see a happy ending, and there’s really no way to achieve one unless they leave the country and pursue anonymity in every regard. Otherwise, the both of them are too infamous and too likely to be subjected to total ostracization for there to be a hint of permanent happiness for them, let alone their offspring.

And what about The Scene in Question?

The scene in question isn’t as memorable for me now that I’ve read the book as the disappointment that more could have been done to make this an extraordinary novel. I’m not surprised it’s created the rancor and brouhaha that it has, as Campbell attempted to challenge head-on some very large issues in romance, including rape, sexual power, virginity, prostitution, and social status. I didn’t read the scene in question and chuck the book at the wall; I thought, “Now that hero is in a deep moral hole (no pun intended) and this author will have to work hard to redeem him.” I don’t think the work was done: I think Justin made too quick a turnaround in his regret, and too fast a realization that oops, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to use force on Verity. That coupled with the other flaws I mentioned made this book far less satisfying than it could have been. I’ve got no beef (N.P.I.)  with angsty romance, even if I didn’t expect it when I picked up the book. But for all the angst, there has to be adequate emotional redemption and satisfaction for the development of the protagonists, and I didn’t get that in the ending of this novel.

So what’s your grade, Beeyotch?

A C-. Interesting characters who each rebelled against standard romance stereotypes plus a tremendously interesting and challenging plot made me hopeful for the potential of a better ending, but at the final page I was left disappointed that the hero didn’t sufficiently offer expiation and restoration of balance to the heroine in their relationship. I could not believe in the tranquility of their happy ending.

*note: Thanks to Candy for letting me bogart her Q&A style review technique. Made it a lot easier to organize and decipher what I wanted to say.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Thank you for pointing out some of the things that bothered me the most about this book.  Primary among those was the ending.  I couldn’t buy it.

    Mary Balogh’s Regency A Precious Jewel dealt with a man marrying a whore in a much more realistic manner.  More interestingly to me, she then followed up on it in a later book, revisiting the characters (as secondary characters).  Sure enough, they were ostracized from Society and even True Love wasn’t enough to provide a HEA, not with their kids being part of the equation.

    Claiming the Courtesan was an intriguing first effort and I’d be likely to read at least one more novel by this author, if only to see what she tries next and if she pulls it off.

  2. 2
    Amy E says:

    Very, very interesting.  I hadn’t planned on reading this book and still don’t, mostly because I’m not a fan of forced seduction even when it’s not crossing the line to rape.  Still, the breakdown and deconstruction of the book was extremely interesting.  Thanks for taking the hit for us to do the review, Bitch Sarah.

  3. 3
    Najida says:

    Thanks for the review, it’s a good heads up.  I can buy many things and I have a suspension bridge of disbelief.  I can even buy forced seductions in the throes of wild monkey sex.

    I just can’t go down this path.  Some things are ugly…..even chocolate icing on dog shit doesn’t change that it’s doggie doo.

  4. 4
    Robin says:

    Sarah, do you think Justin’s change was too late physically in the book or emotionally for you as a reader?  Because he’s pretty much turned the corner by page 208 of a 375 page book, when he tells her, “Verity, you have more honor than anyone I know.”  I’ve been thinking about your analysis of the power imbalance, and I’ve been unable to really figure out why I see it differently.  Maybe it’s the fact that for you Campbell couldn’t eclipse the emotional impact of the first 200 pages of the book with the last 175?

    As for Verity and Stockholm Syndrome, I didn’t see her excusing what Justin had done to her (especially based on all her thoughts from page 130 on and her VERY strong words to him before he rapes her).  I do, though, think that she had pretty deep but somewhat denied feelings for him long before he kidnapped her, and so she’s in this position where she can’t fully digest that a man she cared about has violated her and, even more disturbing to her, made her body respond against her better judgment.

    That’s, IMO, where the real meat of this book is and where I think Campbell’s skill as a writer needs to develop.  Had she spent more time developing Verity and Justin in the second half, and not switching so quickly to them as willing and passionate lovers, I would have been happier with the book as a whole.  But seeing how people have reacted to this book and practically called for its burning, I can only imagine what would have happened if Campbell had done th at.  Which just makes me sad, because despite its flaws, I was more riveted by the first half of this book than I have been by a Romance in a long damn time.

  5. 5
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    If I had to line up my first reactions to this book, which has been discussed much everywhere and by many (and by some who haven’t read the book in the first place and what is UP with that?)

    You stopped in the middle of a
    ————-
    (I suppose that you interrupted yourself with the next question, but really, I can’t pass up the chance to quote that bit of West Wing.)

    I was thinking of reading this book before.  I guess I’m less likely now, but then I’ve still seen C reviews here that were far superior to averagee, so I guess I still might.

  6. 6
    Eva Gale says:

    Ah, Ok, I see-my bad. Editing hell, sorry.

    Forced seduction, not rape. Why? Because of this:

    pg. 126

    She clenched her fists at her sides and told herself she’d endure this, as she’s always endured before.

    ~so every other time was a rape?

    pg. 127

    […]“Verity, think of what you do. It doesn’t have to be like this. The pleasure we shared was a miracle.”

    Pleasure. The word slashed a her like a sword, while deep within, a tangled knot loosened as the invitable, unwelcome memory awoke of his body moving in hers with delight. Somany familiar elements here conspired to vanquish her. His clean scent, his alluring heat, his cursed, lost beauty.

    “That implies something freely bestowed,” she said through taut lips. “You know that was never true.”

    “I know that was always true.” The danger in his soft voice sent a shiver, not entirely of revulsion, through her. Oh, how she wished her response was as simple as revulsion.

    “Never.” God help her, she lied.

    ~too much conflict in her feelings for me to call it a rape.

    ~Now-I understood freely bestowed to mean that her being his mistress was an exchange for $ and that she had never freely bestowed her sexuality to him. She wants him, she just wants to love him as a choice of her own, not because she was paid.

    The BDSM, I have nattered out and have come to realize that it’s the internal dialog of Verity that shadows other classic BDSM stories I’ve read. The conflict of what they want in their heads and what they say. Another reader expressed it as Verity refuses to accept that Soraya IS her, that they are BOTH her until later (and I agree, maybe too late) when Justin tells her and she realizes the truth of it. The same with Doms making subs realize the truths of what they want/need.

    Did I love this book? Not as much as I wanted to, although I thought the nuances of characterization were splendid. You really have to read it, not skim. And if you haven’t read it, you can’t comment because of the detail. You can’t assume about this story. You need to read it and make up your own mind.

  7. 7
    Eva Gale says:

    Oh forgot-

    pg. 129

    […] She felt like crying, as she cried when she first sold herself.

    ~But it was a decision she made. It was an ACTIVE decision she made to sell herself, not a passive one. You only get so much sympathy from me in suffering decisions you make. Be a big girl, suck it up. But I’m a hard ass like that.

  8. 8
    Robin says:

    The BDSM, I have nattered out and have come to realize that it’s the internal dialog of Verity that shadows other classic BDSM stories I’ve read. The conflict of what they want in their heads and what they say. Another reader expressed it as Verity refuses to accept that Soraya IS her, that they are BOTH her until later (and I agree, maybe too late) when Justin tells her and she realizes the truth of it. The same with Doms making subs realize the truths of what they want/need.

    Eva, I’ve been thinking about this idea since you posted it on Readers Gab, and here’s what I’m wondering:  is the rape/fs device mirroring BDSM or are they BOTH part of a power and control differential that is specifically suited to romantic and erotic fiction?  I’m thinking the second but am open to being persuaded otherwise. 

    Did I love this book? Not as much as I wanted to, although I thought the nuances of characterization were splendid. You really have to read it, not skim.

    Yup. Every sentence counts with this one, it really does.  I still think that first scene is rape, but in a sense it doesn’t matter, IMO, because in no way is the book making it okay, no matter what it was.  And I think it’s an interesting situation in CtC because Verity is really already in love with Justin when he forces her, so her reactions are necessarily more complex than the “average” Romance heroine who’s been forced by the hero who’s still practically a stranger to her.  Then there’s Verity’s status as a courtesan whom he paid, which gives Justin a certain mindset born of his time, and then there’s the fact that Justin is actually trying to revive the *passion* and ambition in Verity, not make her passive and compliant.  He never judges her for her sexual experience and likes it when she stands up to him.  It’s like at every turn, Campbell makes the difficult choice rather than the easy one, and it’s impossible to apply the same analysis to the situation in this book as in all those old bodice rippers.

  9. 9
    Little Miss Spy says:

    I like these reviews and have come to trust them. and I would like to say that i have heard from many that this book squicked them out. I am a veeeeerrrry squickableoutey person. I will not touch this book with a ten foot pole.

  10. 10
    Eva Gale says:

    I still think that first scene is rape, but in a sense it doesn’t matter, IMO, because in no way is the book making it okay, no matter what it was.

    Very true. Justin realizes his errors and that IS what matters. He also realizes that when she freely gives herself to him that it was more than they had before.

    Eva, I’ve been thinking about this idea since you posted it on Readers Gab, and here’s what I’m wondering:  is the rape/fs device mirroring BDSM or are they BOTH part of a power and control differential that is specifically suited to romantic and erotic fiction?  I’m thinking the second but am open to being persuaded otherwise.

    There is NO WAY BDSMers will advocate rape, and yes, it’s the power differential that I recognized. I didn’t say a forced seduction though, because you will read about a Dom testing the limits of the subs and it’s all based on the trust of the two-and sometimes the trust is tested, like with Mac Nighthorse in Joey Hill’s Natural Law-in the end with Mac having fully given himself to Violet. Verity knows Justin would never physically harm her, and Campbell goes to great lengths to show that this act was very out of character for him. So there is that trust between the two that was established over the year she was his mistress. He pushes her boundries, and eventually she gives herself fully to him, but only after he makes her realize that she is not Verity or Soraya but both-the same way the Dom would enable the realization of a truth for a sub through exreme sexual play.

    Never lose sight that I could be wrong in all this. *g* I’m no BDSM expert, I can only analyse by what I’ve read prior, but some BDSM writers have come up with the same conclusion .

  11. 11

    Loved this book.  It stunned me.  I was riveted. It has a few first book flaws, but remember, it IS a first book.  The material is very complicated, and would have been challenging for even a very experienced writer. That Campbell pulled it off as well is she did is a tribute both to her intelligence and her talent.  I adore her for wading out there so passionately, for so madly flinging herself into the writing of it.  As Eva said above, the characterization is adroit and carefully layered; it’s a conversation about sex and love and where those lines are.  Yes, there is forcible sex, but good grief—there is so much in the genre now that pushes the limits that I was at first bemused, then startled, then angry that this particular thing should cause such a storm, particularly when so many who are criticising it have not read it.  It’s not an easy book, and maybe not for everyone, but it’s a genuine, rich story by a talented—and smart—writer. 

    Thank you, bitches, for actually reading it and thoughtfully reviewing it.

    And long live Anna Campbell.  I personally cannot wait to see what she does next.

  12. 12
    Kathleen says:

    Bleh.  I picked this book up by accident and regret it.  And usually I find forced seductions very sexy.  But the hero was so….so….okay, what’s the word for when you’ve got the “I’ve got to have it” mentality of a child combined with a special kind of rapacious crazy?
    I’ll just go with batshit insane for now.  I like a little forethought in my characters.  They should maybe debate a little before they propose/kidnap/save-from-a-cliff/propose again to their mistresses.  It wasn’t his actions that bothered me so much as the fact that he didn’t anticipate consequences.  THINK.  DEBATE A LITTLE.  Show another facet of your character besides “I GET WHAT I WANT.”
    You can pull the alpha male shit when the heroine is weak with some growth to do.  Not when she’s a year older, been through some rough times, and already provided for her future.  That just makes you a superfluous jerk.  :shut:

  13. 13
    Robin says:

    Yes, there is forcible sex, but good grief—there is so much in the genre now that pushes the limits that I was at first bemused, then startled, then angry that this particular thing should cause such a storm, particularly when so many who are criticising it have not read it.

    I’ve been defending this book for weeks, ever since I reviewed it on Dear Author, and sometimes I’ve felt like I was alone on a glacier.  A couple of times I seriously wondered if I had read a different book.  I know there’s a great deal of interpretive play that goes on in reading any genre, but good grief, to say, as some have, that this book is condoning rape is like trying to argue that the sky is pink with purple polka dots.

  14. 14
    Keziah Hill says:

    I’m with Robin and Barbara. I couldn’t put it down. Complex, dark and exploring ideas about sex, power and redemption in a new ways.

  15. 15
    CountessAmy says:

    I am so glad you reviewed this book. I am having the most difficult time getting through this book as I can’t stop thinking the hero is an utter ass and I’m not even that far in yet. I suppose I’ll just have to ignore that and trudge through now that i know there is so much more to the story.

  16. 16
    Teddy Pig says:

    Robin,

    You bring up a very interesting point in this.

    Are you saying… If the author was gonna break some rules here then would you have accepted a non-HEA in this case?

    You seem to be hinting that would be appropriate with this story.

  17. 17
    Eva Gale says:

    I know there’s a great deal of interpretive play that goes on in reading any genre, but good grief, to say, as some have, that this book is condoning rape is like trying to argue that the sky is pink with purple polka dots.

    Very true. Very, very, true. Despite the fact that I didn’t luurve it, I thought it was outstandinly written and that Ms Campbell is a major talent. I’m looking forward to her next book very much. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was so deftly layered with emotion.

  18. 18
    Poison Ivy says:

    Books like this make you think. They’re worth their weight in gold compared to the smoothly-crafted junk food that many bestselling romance authors hand us—easily consumed and easily forgotten.

  19. 19
    Najida says:

    For someone with very clear ‘personality problems’ or erm, batshit crazy to truly change, they have to hit a wall.

    Have an epiphany, near death experience, have their brain rebooted in a since.  We’re talking serious damage here and loss of the old so they can rebuild the new.

    So books where someone who is VERY BAD suddenly goes “Oh, I wasn’t very nice, was I?” and then becomes ‘good’ are fake at best or show at total lack of understanding of how the human mind works.

    I can take someone getting falling down a well chasing a puppy.  I will NEVER buy a someone with a clear psychosis becoming nice because he just, well, wants to.

    Doesn’t happen.  Never has, never will.  Fake fake fake fake.

  20. 20
    Robin says:

    Are you saying… If the author was gonna break some rules here then would you have accepted a non-HEA in this case?

    You seem to be hinting that would be appropriate with this story.

    I’m not wedded to the HEA in the first place.  And with this story, the ending felt a little more Romance novel-y to me than especially the first half of the book.  So yeah, I could have really embraced a slower build to a less HEA type ending.  NOT because I didn’t think these two loved each other—that was clear to me way before Kylemore even forces Verity.  But because I thought the first part of the book was so intensely emotional and the second part wasn’t as rich. 

    I don’t know if it would have changed anyone’s mind about the book, though, since part of what I think people either like about this book or don’t like is the dynamic of the first part. 

    In a way I think Sarah’s whole balance of power analysis is really the dividing line—some readers feel there can’t be a balance and others can.  And I don’t know how much of that is a product of the second half of the book or the first—or scenarios like this in general. 

    Or it may have to do with how we all see Verity, and there are times when Justin just seems to be so much bigger of a character than she is that she can appear overwhelmed by him, even in the writing.  She’s a character who has grown in strength for me upon reflection as opposed to when I had just read the book, when my initial sense was that her character wasn’t as deftly written.  I still think that to some degree, but she’s also become more present in my thoughts about the book than she was initially when I was much more focussed on the larger than life Kylemore.

  21. 21
    Teddy Pig says:

    Jeez, now I have to read this thing.

    Good discussion.

  22. 22
    Claudia says:

    This kind of book (Flame and the Flower is another example)  just isn’t my cuppa.

    I’ll never forget the day I thought I hit a romance jackpot when someone put out two bags full of old historicals at my apt complex. I put the bags back after three full reads and glances through the rest of the books revealed various rape plots. blechh. Thank goodness for the large variety of romances available today.

  23. 23
    Katie says:

    I’ve read one romance with a forced seduction/rape scene (To Whitney…), and I can safely say I will now avoid them like the plague. I loved the characters, and their development, and the love story, and then I hit that scene and it all fell apart. For the rest of the novel, I couldn’t believe the truth of their feelings for each other, and it ruined the whole thing for me.

    I know I haven’t read CtC, and so I can’t tell you if the same would be true for me here, but I think it’s HIGHLY likely. I don’t particularly care for stories with extreme power differentials either, but if the rest of it is good, I can get through it. It’s not the same with the forced sexual stuff. There may be a lot of it written about out there, but I hope I never get to the point where it doesn’t jar me.

    I just wanted to put this out there. Let’s not assume that all of those who don’t want to pick this one up assume the writer is condoning rape or are sexually close-minded… I know the difference between pushing sexual limits between consenting adults (hot), and forced sex (definately NOT hot, IMO). For me, I don’t want to waste the money on a book I’d only read to make some people feel better about my feelings. I don’t like fs/rape scenes in my novels, and reading more of them won’t change that.

  24. 24
    Robin says:

    Let’s not assume that all of those who don’t want to pick this one up assume the writer is condoning rape or are sexually close-minded… I know the difference between pushing sexual limits between consenting adults (hot), and forced sex (definately NOT hot, IMO).

    I’ve actually suggested directly to a couple of people I know are sensitive to sexual force NOT to read this book, so I completely understand what you’re trying to saw, Katie.  There are many readers who will find this too dark or too unpleasant of a read, and I would never want them to feel forced to read it.  I was referring to the people—many of whom haven’t read the book—who have been branding it as all flavors of evil.  Eileen Dreyer, who has made some provocative comments about rape in Romance in the past, wrote a pretty strong rant on the book, and while she refined her position in a conversation at Teach Me Tonight (the post on Elizabeth Thornton), her post (“Eileen the Angry,” at http://eileendreyer.com/blog/index.html) was written without a full read of the book.  If you haven’t seen the numerous conversations going on, Dreyer’s is one of the more articulate commentaries (and while I admire her passion, I gravely disagree with her conclusions).

  25. 25
    Lisa says:

    With the exception of the specifics, of course, that’s about how I felt about The Smoke Thief. I wanted to like that book sooo much, if only for the premise, but an over-riding theme of the hero dominating over the heroine (whom he is atoumatically betrothed to because they’re both “alpha,” though he is of course more alpha.)culminating in seduction-rape is not what I’m looking for in a romance.

    I don’t know if The Smoke Thief redeems itself in the end because I stopped reading there. On an airplane, with no other reading material. And I finish my books.

    And it had such a good heroine, too.

  26. 26
    Robin says:

    With the exception of the specifics, of course, that’s about how I felt about The Smoke Thief. I wanted to like that book sooo much, if only for the premise, but an over-riding theme of the hero dominating over the heroine (whom he is atoumatically betrothed to because they’re both “alpha,” though he is of course more alpha.)culminating in seduction-rape is not what I’m looking for in a romance.

    It’s so interesting, Lisa, because I thought Rue was an *incredibly* strong heroine in The Smoke Thief, and that Kit wasn’t at all able to overpower her.  Or more precisely, that they switch in terms of who has the power during their relationship, because both *are* alpha and both had such strong personalities and wills.  I don’t know how far you read, and you may have ended the book with the same opinion as you began it, but I felt the two were incredibly well matched at the end of the book.

    It’s interesting to me, actually, how forced marriage scenarios are so popular in Romance, even if one spouse feels more forced into it than the other.  I wonder how much difference there is in those forced marriage or cabin Romances from the captivity style Romances.  Of course on the surface one can say that one partner has physical control of the other, but is that always different than isolating two characters in different scenarios?  What about the hero who basically takes the heroine into protective custody? 

    I actually find that isolation of the lovers, either based on the actions of one or on an outside force soooooooooo prevalent in Romance that I think it’s interesting when certain books seem to provoke extreme reactions in readers on both ends of the love-hate spectrum.  Does the hero who imprisons the heroine to keep her safe, for example, stand higher on the acceptability scale?  How about a forced marriage when at least one partner is extremely reluctant?  Or what about the hero who manipulates the heroine into an isolated situation?  Is the hero who falls in love with the caretaking heroine who has basically had complete physical control over his bed-bound body provoke any objectionable hint of captivity? Why not?

  27. 27
    Lisa says:

    It’s so interesting, Lisa, because I thought Rue was an *incredibly* strong heroine in The Smoke Thief, and that Kit wasn’t at all able to overpower her.

    Unless something crazy happened in the last 50 pages or so, I didn’t notice Rue ever triumphing over Kit or in any way being his equal (in terms of power). Yes, she managed to live in London on her own for quite some time, but as soon as Kit found out about it he imprisoned her. Yes, she managed to bargain her way out of a death sentence, but only because Kit was hot to have her and she only got a two-week reprieve. And no matter how good she was at Drakon stuff, he was better. It rubbed me completely the wrong way. Everything Rue wanted and had worked for he could (and did) take away, and everything Kit wanted he inevitably got.

    You have a point, though, when you bring up isolationist settings, and that may have been coloring my dislike. I don’t mind so much if they happen to be stranded on a desert island together and then fall in love, but forced marriage, to me, feels like it removes the element of “I love you and choose you to be with forever” and replaces it with something that approximates making the best of a bad situation. I’m not saying love can’t blossom under those circumstances, but I like a tad more idealism in my escapist fiction.

  28. 28
    Eva Gale says:

    Huh. I liked the Smoke Thief a lot. I’ll have to reread that in light of this convo. I don’t remember any inequality.

    What I DO remember is how much, and long Rue loved Kit.

  29. 29
    Robin says:

    And no matter how good she was at Drakon stuff, he was better. It rubbed me completely the wrong way. Everything Rue wanted and had worked for he could (and did) take away, and everything Kit wanted he inevitably got.

    LOL, Lisa, my first thought was, ‘how does that make him any different from any other Romance hero?!’  And I’m only sort of kidding there. Sort of.

    Anyway, I obviously read the book differently:  SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:

    As a girl, Rue was in love with Kit and only left the tribe because a) she always felt like such an outsider, and b) once she knew she could Turn and was alpha, she knew Kit would *have* to marry her, and because she loved him and was sure he didn’t love her, she didn’t want him to feel forced or obligated.  There’s a wonderful passage early on in the book where her mother tells her that someday a man will love her for who she is, and I absolutely believe that man was Kit.  In fact, he loves her so much that he releases her from her bond at the end of the book.  He loves her so much that he tries to change his very nature for her time and time again, because he wants her to love him freely (I melted it at the end when he asks her if he loves him again yet, totally oblivious to how much she has ALWAYS loved him).  He never wants her to be weak, IMO; he just wants her to be *his*—and to be true alpha, she must be as strong as he is (in her own way, of course).  And what I loved about the way Abe crafted Rue was that she made her rebellious, independent, and strong, but also *female* and emotionally vulnerable. 

    That Kit’s alpha nature is such that he feels he must fight every other man who wants Rue, and that he must make her his bride is certainly true, but how does that make him any different from the average Linda Howard hero?  Except that I liked Kit better than most of them and thought Rue could match him, if not in physical strength, than certainly in cunning.

    As for Kit doing everything better, he definitely flew as drakon better, but that’s only because he’s had more practice (in London Rue hasn’t had the luxury until she and Kit fly together).  She’s a master swordsperson, though, and certainly a much better thief (she has “stealth” as her special talent), and she’s incredibly clever, figuring out what it will take to save Christoff and having the guts to carry it out, despite the great danger he poses to her physically in his gravely ill state.  And the reverence Kit feels for her knowing that . . . sigh. 

    I have to say I *loved* those descriptions of her lying over him in her dragon form, trying to keep him tied to his earthly existence.  OMG her love for him was so *fierce* and when she recognizes that she could take her “freedom” and let Kit die, she can’t because IMO it was never freedom per se she wanted, but freedom from what she thought was her unrequited love for Kit.  So IMO they *both* got what they wanted:  Kit got herte back and his mate, and Rue got the man who loved her for all that she was, who also happened to be the man *she* had loved forever. 

    Now I’m feeling all mushy and must go undertake a re-read.

  30. 30
    Janet says:

    I have to agree with Barbara Samuel on this.  Definitely a difficult plot line but the writer stretches herself farther than many authors today who just mail it in. (You know who they are!)  Thanks for reviewing this book. Some will not want to read it but down with reviewers who haven’t even read it!  I would like to encourage other authors to tackle something besides “who gets the latest duke by entrapment” plot.  The past is a rich place.  Why not leave the dukes alone for awhile and write some other fresh stories without noble spies involved.
    Campbell worked to give her characters a backstory and some depth.  Please give her that.

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