Boy oh boy, does this book bring back the memories. I was a devoted reader of Johanna Lindsey in the 80’s, but I hadn’t read any of her books for years, so when I saw this book on sale for $.99 I suffered a fit of nostalgia and uploaded that sucker to my kindle. Here’s the plot:
Kristen Haardrad was looking for one last adventure with her brother Selig. However, nothing prepared her for the fact that they are going Viking. As soon as they landed, they were attacked then captured. Saddened by the death of her brother, Kristen disguised as a boy to avoid rape. However, when Lord Royce entered the scene. It was love at first sight, or at least for her. She couldn’t help the mixed feelings that she had for him. She longed to escape this land of strangers, yet her feelings for Royce held her back from her freedom. Lord Royce of Wyndhurst was attracted to the Viking beauty. However, his memories of the past held him back from his attractions toward her. However, her family is not ready to lose her to this Saxon man, they will fight for her freedom. Will Royce lose his head and his heartmate in this battle against a family of strong Vikings that are out for blood?
I hadn’t read it since it was first published in 1987. It was like mental time-capsule, and I was in high school again. As I read it I could practically smell the coco-butter I used to try to get the perfect St. Tropez tan. I longed to ‘pick out’ my permed mane of frizzy hair and adorn it with a massive bow. I yearned to clothe myself in a mixture of green and pink. I think my face broke out.
Hearts Aflame (Dear God how I miss the old-skool titles) was Lindsey’s 14th book and by this time she was writing at the peak of her game. You know those cliches about about romance novels? How they had impossibly beautiful protagonists and could be rapey? Well, Lindsey helped create those cliches. Her books shot up the NYT best seller list with regularity, and she was one of the major romance writers of the late 20th century.
I loved her books back in the day. I had them all. Moreover, my friends and my mother were fellow readers of the Lindsey romances, so they enabled my addiction. I re-read them often. In fact, I could remember chunks of this one even after 30 years.
Nevertheless, I was prepared to sneer as I picked up my kindle. After all, I was now a grown woman, a feminist, and had read some of the excellent work later romance writers had produced. Once beloved in my youth, what had Lindsey to offer me now, besides creating a tendency within me to slip into hyperbolic writing style? How could I forgive her her historical inaccuracies, and allow her to again rule my rebel’s heart? How would I response to the purple prose of the sex scenes? Would I now mock terms like the “throbbing love shaft”, since it has been long ere my innocence was torn asunder by my love’s rampant manhood?
Some of the things I dreaded to find were there. The heroine was indeed a vision of loveliness. Water sparkled like diamonds on her lashes, which shaded her aqua eyes, which resided above her high cheekbones and small straight nose. The hero was ‘impossibly handsome’, had a chest like a aircraft carrier, and eyes of ‘dark, crystalline’ green. Better yet, his ‘long legs were think and powerful’. I am sure it was an unintentional allusion to ‘the strong root of him’, since surely no author would be trying to get the reader to think of other long, thick and powerful body parts the hero might have!
There were also certain ‘holes’ plugged in the plot by sheer denial. How did Kristen hid her femininity from the Saxon guards? Simple. A little dirt on her skin, a bloody bandage to hide her (natch) glorious hair and no one, and I mean no one, not even captive prisoners chained together in a small house, needed to take a leak or go poo. The castle, rare for 9th century Britain, had lots of privacy.
The sex did, I am sad to say, get rapey in places. It was the 80’s. That kind of sex scene [in romance novels] happened a lot back then. Nevertheless, the sex reminded me that Lindsey’s books were the reason I expected guys to provide oral sex (and do it well, dammit) and why I still like a little BDSM for variety.
But you know what else I found? I found the seeds of my future feminism.
Kristen could kick some righteous ass. She stood up to the hero with gusto. She had no problem, and certainly no shame, with the fact she wanted to ride him into the ground. She didn’t cry and wait for the hero to save her. Hell, no. She beat the bad guys up, frequently, and rescued the hero. It was clear that Royce (I miss old-skool romance hero names) was only over the top so he could qualify as worthy of her. It made me think, and remember. Lindsey’s heroines were all like that. Sure, her books were neck-deep in impassioned adjectives and imperiled adverbs, but there was feminism buried in the glistening mounds of embellishments.
So, to my surprise, I really enjoyed the book. Not quite as much as I when I was teenager, but still I had a lot of fun reading it. Her writing was colorful to the point of garish in places, but it was a pleasure to read. As silly as the plot was, it still managed to be a page-turner. That’s some good writing right there, y’all.
Would it pass muster if it had just been published for the first time this year? Probably not. Romance has evolved in new directions, tends to have more coherent plot lines, and seldom has the florid writing style that marked a Lindsey. No one uses the term ‘heartmate’ with a straight face anymore. But for the 80’s this thing rocked.
I give it two grades. It gets an A for it’s 80’s incarnation, judged against the norms of the time. It gets a C- for it’s present printing, with the understanding that it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Now, someone help me find my jelly shoes and come watch Real Genius with me.