Book Review

Season of the Sun by Catherine Coulter - A Guest review by R.

Title: Season of the Sun
Author: Catherine Coulter
Publication Info: Signet 1991
ISBN: 978-0451206480
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverR., better known as RedHeadedGirl, is back with another wayback-when old-skool romance review, with plenty of layered WTFery to go around. Enjoy!

You never forget your first. 

You don’t forget your first kiss (Mike, and I had to guilt him into kissing me, because he was too much of wuss to try, and I was too much of a girly-wuss to kiss first), your first flower (Dave, whose great moments were always involving flowers but didn’t have a lot to back that up), your first Doctor (Oh, Nine.  Your time was too short.  But fantastic!). 

This was my first romance.  Again, around the age of 12 or 13.  Picked it up because it was about Vikings, and my family is Scandinavian therefore Vikings are AWESOME, and I found the whole “slave/master” thing to be very…. intriguing (oh god, I hope my mother doesn’t EVER track these reviews down). 

And, um, the guy on the original cover? Fabio. Yeah.

You never forget your first. 

(Also, and here’s a confession that could ruin me, I once made a (really shitty) version of the dress that Zarabeth is wearing on the cover for an SCA event (middle ages and renaissance re-enactment).  TO BE FAIR, it was the first set of garb I made for my own self, barring the very first attempt that failed miserably, because I had NO idea what the hell I was doing, and I did wear the underdress for years later, because it was serviceable but this was before I knew that $5 linen from Joann’s was to be avoided.  OH GOD THE SHAME.)  (And the cover dress is not anything like Viking Apron Dresses in any way or form, but the descriptions in the book itself are pretty close and about what I would expect from the state of research in the mid to late 90s.  So there’s that.)  (Which is to say that the rest of the clothing descriptions are…. not always as right as they could be, but that’s about normal.)

So this is Catherine Coulter at her early 90s, old school finest. I mean, for a taste of her early stuff, you can look at the review for Devil’s Embrace or Midsummer Magic (The first romance I ever read – SBSarah), and there’s many a theme that she runs with that shows up in all of her Viking books, and probably elsewhere too. We’re looking at the “rapist hero,” the “convoluted ways to keep your heroine a virgin,” the “hero is the one to inform the heroine she’s pregnant” but mostly avoids the “wedding night is a horribly awkward affairs where the hero loses his mind, and fall asleep right after with the heroine thinking “what the shit was that?”” which shows up in her other Viking books. Girl’s clearly got some issues.

First we meet Magnus. He is a Viking in search of a wife. He’s got himself a nice little farm, with his people, and son from his first marriage that ended with the wife dying (though not in childbirth, so props for avoiding that tired cliché- though there are plenty more to choose from). So now he’s in York, and he wants a new wife.

Enter Zarabeth, who is Irish, with flaming red hair “…dark as blood when there was no sun to lightening it” and green eyes like “wet moss.” (Magnus has blue eyes that change shades with his mood, I suppose we should be glad neither of them have purple eyes). She lives with her stepfather and little half sister Lotti- her mother died (read: killed by stepfather) while apparently running away with another man, and Lotti suffered a blow to the head at 2 years old that made her deaf. Zarabeth’s stepfather, Olav the Vain lusts after Zarabeth and scares away all the men that come sniffing around because her hair drives them wild, or something. Olav also has a son from a previous marriage, Keith, who is married to a real catch, Toki.

So Magnus approaches Zarabeth and says, “My name is Magnus, I am not cruel or vicious and I am going to wed with you.” She’s like “Whut” and he says that he’s clean, and prosperous, and he does not lie. She, after some hemming and hawing (for about a day) agrees, and just when you think that the HEA comes in a page 7, Olav announces that no, she is not going to marry Magnus, she’s going to marry him, and uses Lotti as a bargaining piece, saying unless Zarabeth does what he says, he’ll have Lotti killed.

(They are a very functional family, you can tell.)

A note about Lotti: She’s not really a plot moppet, because she an actual fleshed out character who has importance beyond “keep the heroine from doing the one thing that would solve her problems.” She’s cute, and smart, and the only thing in the world Zarabeth really cares about (and is really the only thing in the world that cares about Zarabeth).

So Zarabeth meets Magnus, and dumps him, and he gets pissy and storms off. Zarabeth, in a show of not being spineless, which is one thing I really like about her- she’s not stupid, she’s not spineless, she’s just really unlucky- drugs Olav, grabs Lotti and tries to find Magnus’ ship and run off with him. But he, in his snit, has left for Norway already. Olav marries her, (and she wears PINK at the wedding. PINK. ON A REDHEAD. NO.) but drinks and eats so much at the wedding feast that he can’t seal the deal, and then spends the next several weeks afflicted with bloody bowels, because Toki has been poisoning Olav.  When he does die, Zarabeth is accused of his murder. Instead of being killed, she is given to Magnus (who has come back for some unknown, but well timed, reason) as his slave.

Magnus’ defining characteristic is that he does not lie. And he assumes that the people around him don’t lie, until they do. When Zarabeth tells him that she won’t marry him (but can’t tell him why, because they were being watched), he decides that her previous “Why yes, handsome stranger who I’ve known for all of 12 hours and is a really great kisser, yes I will marry you!” statement is the lie, and anything else she says after that, with the exception of “No, I won’t marry you because I don’t want to” is also a lie.

So he brings her (and Lotti- she sneaks out and grabs Lotti and begs him to bring her, too. Again, not stupid or spineless, she’s trying control the one thing she can) home to his steading. At one point in the journey, they stop at a trading post, where she is given time in a bathhouse to get her and Lotti cleaned up, and a random man approaches them, and tries to convince her to go with HIM, instead of Magnus. Z is like “Go away” Magnus sees them talking and storms over all “ALPHA MALE SMASH” and the Random Guy is like “Dude, she called me over with her womanly charms and was telling me about how mean you are, and tried to get me to take her away!  TOTALLY.” and because Magnus will believe anyone except Z, even as she’s trying to tell him the truth, he puts a slave collar around her neck and everyone sulks all the way home.

He brings her home, and everyone is like “WHOA RED HAIR HOSHIT” and Z is determined to get along as best she can, and ideally avoid having to serve him in his bed (Given that this is a Catherine Coulter book, you can guess how well that last part works out for her). Magnus’ sister, Ingunn is the one who is running the household, and knows a rival when she sees one, and immediately develops a hate-on for Z. Everyone else is like “Dude, we can all see that you totes have feelings for her and she hurt you terribly, maybe you’re being a bit of an ass?” and Magnus responds THAT HE HAS NO FEELINGS SHE JUST A SLAVE GODDAMMIT and everyone is like “…ooooookay.”

So then we get to the Great Defloration. It’s rape- there’s really no two ways about it. The reviews on Amazon tend to be either “Uh, rape” or “LOOK ITS JUST DARK OKAY ITS NOT RAPE.” No, she says no, she says leave me alone, she runs. Sure, he makes sure she has her “Woman’s pleasure” afterward, but she’s “humiliated” and “felt desolate” and “completely separate from him.” He does this three times that first night and morning, including one in the bathing hut where….

…alright, this is going to be a case of “romance novels as sex ed” because when I first read the bathing hut scene, where he’s sitting and plunks her down on his shaft and he says “Move about, as you like” I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. Waist bends? Get up and leave? WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE. I eventually figured it out. Romance: also educational.

So, yeah. Ingunn hates her, Magnus’ mother offers to buy Z from him to restore peace, and he’s like “NO SHE IS MINE I NEED HER HERE.” His mother asks why; if she’s the cause of so much trouble and he says he doesn’t really know. His mother says “…possibly love?” and he says NO. The Viking doth protest too much.

(His mother also points out that Random Dude had a really good reason to lie about Z calling him over and asking him to take her- he didn’t want to get killed. This had literally not occurred to Magnus, who was so wrapped up in “Everything Z says = LIES” that any other possibility was automatically false.)

Finally, shit comes to a head when Ingunn is being a supreme bitch, Magnus keeps insisting on sex that is enjoyable but not wanted, Magnus’ son, Evil, is beating up Lotti, and Z’s like “I’m done” and tries to swipe a boat and just leave. But the currents in the fjords are tricky, and Lotti ends up overboard and is seen no more. Egil then vanishes, seemingly out of guilt for his beating her up being the proximate cause of her death, and so Magnus does the only logical thing:

He has the slave collar taken off Z and he marries her.

I’m not all that sure of his thought process here- life has finally hit rock bottom, so do what you planned to do in the first place?

At this point, the B plot shows up. There had been a couple mentions early on of a guy named Orm who had made an offer of marriage for Ingunn and was turned down by her father because he was a supreme asshole.  Ingunn disappears in a snit. Then some riders come along and tell Magnus of an attack on a neighboring household that killed everybody, but one 12 year old girl who was left for dead, and identified Orm and his men as the attackers. So in true Scandinavian fashion, they all need to gather up a meeting and talk about it (I’m from Minnesota, and third generation Swedish. WE STILL DO THIS).

Magnus goes off, and, naturally, Orm shows up and kidnaps Z (seriously, the way people disappear around here, you’d think they’d have some sort of lo-jack system). There’s a chase, threatened rape, eventually Z escapes (after knocking Orm out and stealing his sword, which was kind of awesome, and then refuses to let anyone take the sword from her, which was TOTALLY awesome) and runs into Magnus, who had been trailing them. He’s extremely relieved to see her alive, and allows that he may, possibly, have feelings after all. She’s extremely relieved to see him coming after her, and allows that maybe she kind of does like him, at all.

They go back to the steading, and then Orm attacks it and burns it down, and swipes Ingunn (again- I’m saying, Viking-era lo-jack), who had been involved with the entire plot. At this point, Z is taken to fainting for no reason, and Magnus smugly tells her that she is pregnant. Then they actually have a sweet little conversation about how this new baby won’t be a replacement for either Lotti or Egil, but will be it’s own little person and they can be happy about that. Aw.

So, somehow, someone finds a scrap of cloth that had been part of Lotti’s dress the day she drowned, and it’s proof that Lotti isn’t dead after all! And something Orm said to Z while he was taunting her indicated that the kids were both in York.  Because there are only two places in the world. I don’t know.

So Magnus quickly rebuilds the steading, because winter is coming and you need shelter, and then trots off to York. Z insists on coming with, and they argue, and she’s like “Fuck you and your whole “keeping me safe” shit- how well has THAT worked out?” and he’s like “FINE” and she’s like “FINE” and then he says that he’s horny and sad things will happen to him if they don’t get it on, and she says well that would be sad, and they have fairly normal, married people sex.

When they get there, they go see the king, who says, “Oh, yeah, I remember you, you were accused of killing your husband.” Z’s like “well, yes, that was me, except for the part where I didn’t do It.” and the king is like “Oh yeah, we know that- Toki confessed when she was drunk and Keith killed her. Our bad.” And Z doesn’t demand huge compensation, just the money the Magnus paid for her. I would have been like “DO YOU HAVE ANY FUCKING CLUE WHAT ALL HAPPENED THERE WHAT THE FUCK” and probably spit in someone’s face, so I guess it’s somewhat better that Z’s a more restrained person than I am.

….

Yeah. Anyway, Ingunn somehow managed to sneak into York and was trying to buy back the kids and have them sent back to Magnus, but Orm found her, and dragged her and kids back to his new homestead, and beat the shit out of her. She managed to lure him into a room, knock him out, and set the place on fire, and then promptly lost her mind. So Magnus shows up at that point, cleans up, finds the kids, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So, yeah. This is decidedly Old School. And not that good, and not really hillarable at all. There are parts I like- I really do like Zarabeth.  I like how she used Lotti in the narrative as an actual character and not a Plot Moppet.  I, god help me, actually kind of like her voice for dialogue- it sounds kinda Viking like without being too obnoxious.

I don’t like how Magnus has to get his rape on before he can figure his shit out.  I don’t like how Orem’s motivation for everything is because he (Orm) did not get to marry Magnus’ first wife.  That’s it.  He lost the hypotenuse game ten years before.  And because of this he….rapes and kills a bunch of people, kidnaps Z, burns down Magnus’ steading, kidnaps the kids…..  yeah, I don’t know.  (Or maybe the idea is, he was clearly an asshole, and that’s why he lost the hypotenuse game and the focused his psychopathy.  It’s not clear, and THAT is the frustrating thing.)

All that said, you never forget your first, and you often have a kind of soft spot for it, no matter how bad.  I mean, it did teach me a thing or two. If there wasn’t all the nostalgia factors wrapped up in it, it would be more like a C+, but I have a soft spot for this book.

There was, evidently, some research that Coulter did, but there is one flaw I cannot and will not forgive.  Early on, she’s describing the food Z is making for Olav, and talks a LOT about potatoes. 

I PROMISE YOU AND YOU AND YOU AND THE STALKER IN THE BACK SHE DID NOT SERVE ANYONE POTATOES IN YORK IN 900 AD. 

Potatoes are a NEW WORLD food, and they did not appear in England until the 1500s at the earliest.  SO.  Crack open your Oxford Companion to Food (what do you mean, you don’t have one?) and double check on what foodstuffs were available in the time and place you have set.  IT IS NOT HARD. 


Season in the Sun is available at Amazon, Powell’s, Book Depository, and BN.com.

9780451206480

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Marsha says:

    Catherine Coulter was my first, too.  It was one of the Sherbrooke ones.  Ah, memories…

    This I have not seen but may need to read for the potato anger alone.

  2. 2
    Sarah W says:

    Your reviews are absolutely marvelous:  Romance:  also educational.  Amen.

    You have the Oxford Companion to Food, too?  Isn’t is an amazing book?  I read mine for fun. I also like Fast and Feast, (by Henisch)—-I’ve become overly sensitive to the improper existence of forks and napkins in historicals . . .

  3. 3
    MicheleKS says:

    Awesome review. Nothing old skool historical romance. Or as I sometimes say, hysterical romance with all the WTF’ery going on.

  4. 4
    Chance says:

    ok great about the potato thing, however, the irish alphabet doesn’t have the letter z in it. that would bother me something wicked.

  5. 5
    jody says:

    Ahahahahahahahahaha!  Great review, thank you! 

    The potato thing drives me crazy, too—and happens a lot in the older historicals. 

    There are some shades of pink that look good on redheads, especially the dark auburn kind, but there’s something about a pink dress in the Dark Ages that doesn’t ring true.  What on earth would have been the dye?  Beetroot?

  6. 6
    Sandra says:

    The potatoes remind me of a Teresa Medeiros book set in Roman era Ireland, where the crowd throws rotten TOMATOES at the villain en route to his execution. HELLO, NEW WORLD FOOD!!! Threw me totally out of the story, and I was never that much in it to begin with. 

    Obvious anachronisms that even most grade-schoolers would recognize are one sure way to kill a book for me, all other WTF-ery aside.

    Great review, though, R. I’m not brave enough to slog through Old Skool any more. My brain would probably explode.

  7. 7

    I gave up on Catherine Coulter years and years ago because all her books were so rapetastic and the men (heroes, villains, the whole lot) were so twisted in their thinking about women, sex and everything. Reading her books left me feeling…icky. I can honestly say I haven’t missed them one bit.

  8. 8

    I have a whole shelf of historical foodie books. I’m very fond of Food in History and History of Food as well.  But if all an author needs to to check on the availability of food stuffs in a time and place, Go Big, Go Oxford. 

    As for the pink dye, you can use Madder to get reds, so pink is possible.  And given the human tendency to futz with things as much as possible to see what the limits of, well, anything is, I would go so far to say pink is probable.

    (I may, um, be a bit of a nerd)

    But the Viking era really isn’t my area.  One picks up a thing or two, though.

    (Captcha:  May47.  I may be 47 types of nerd.)

  9. 9
    Jayne says:

    These are fantastic. I hope RedHeadedGirl is here to stay.

  10. 10
    Isabel C. says:

    Ohh, Catherine Coulter. I remember her from my youth as well: rapetastic heroes and the Heroine Who Fears The Erection, which is one of my least favorite tropes ever.

    Also, the title of this book has ensured that I’ll have “Seasons in the Sun” in my head all day. Dammit.

  11. 11
    Laurel says:

    Yay! redheadedgirl review!

    I’ve never read a rape hero. Aside from rape=bad, it seems so very, very odd to me that the heroines have orgasms during this process.

  12. 12
    jayhjay says:

    OMG, you gotta love the original cover!  Fabio in all his glory.

  13. 13
    Venetia says:

    Oxford Companion to Food

    I had not heard of this! How had I not heard of this?!

    *adds book to wishlist*

    P.S. Awesome review!

  14. 14
    KatherineB says:

    Well, pink is plausible as an Early Ages dye – use madder root for a kind of coral type pink, cochineal bugs for a range from purple blue to dark pinks…blah blah. Yeah, curse medieval reenacting, it taught me too much. Though it’s true! Authors beware and also take pride – good nuggets of knowledge can be gleaned from historical romances!
    And I did steal a man’s shirt design from a book cover once, though it was a fantasy. Those open throat pouffy poet shirts – magic.

  15. 15
    Kate Jones says:

    Is it just me, or does the left panel on the Fabio cover look EXACTLY like the original Star Wars ep IV poster?  Maybe it’s just the menacing man in a helmet in the background…

    Thanks for the rockin’ review!

  16. 16
    Mary McElroy says:

    lol, redheadedgirl!  Another stellar review!  Thanks to you, I’m learning a whole new vocabulary too. 

    I finally remembered the name of the book where the ‘poor relation’ was actually the heiress, but made to be the governess and she only got an old piece of cheese to eat.  It was Moonlight Gondola by Janette Radcliffe.  Do you take requests?

  17. 17
    TracyS says:

    (I’m from Minnesota, and third generation Swedish. WE STILL DO THIS)

    LOL!! That is SO my hubby’s family!  He’s also from MN, but he is Norwegian. But STILL, a lot the same with those Swedes and Norwegians I’ve learned!

  18. 18

    @ Laurel:

    Sarah and Candy actually addressed the orgasm thing in Beyond Heaving Bosoms.  It’s not terribly uncommon, and leads to a lot more shame and humiliation on the part of the survivor.  It’s a physical reaction on the part of the body, not a psychological one.  In this case, Magnus was determined to make it happen, and he knew how to do it.  Z was pretty pissed off and informed him that the orgasm didn’t happen because he’s special, but because her body would react that way to anyone.

    ….he didn’t take that very well.  She does know how to cut him down with a sentence.

  19. 19
    NickieM says:

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Cathrine Coulter. Devil’s Embrace was one of my first romance novels, and I remember it freaked me out a bit. What with the stalkery and having unpleasant sex. Haha, romance novels do = educational! I started reading them at around 12 and they are how I learned about sex as well. I even remember my friends having me flip to the sex scenes in my book for them to read.

    And I don’t know. . . Sometimes rape in books really bothers me, and sometimes it doesn’t. It really weirded me out in Devil’s Embrace, like I said. But I was okay with it in A Pirate’s Embrace and A Prisoner’s Desire, both by Johanna Lindsey.

  20. 20
    Wendy says:

    A Coulter was my first too.  I don’t remember it well.  The Loch Ness Monster was involved though.  The heroine had some kind of mysterious Scottish powers over Nessie…and it scared the baddies.  (I think.) 
    I’d HABO it, but honestly, that’s all I have to go on.  ;) 

    These are hysterical reviews.  Thank you.

  21. 21
    Michelle says:

    Good Lord, that was hilarious. Sadly, I can’t remember the author or title of my first real romance novel (not counting the old Sunfire romances I read that were in the middle school library), but I vividly remember a scene wherein the word “jackhammer” was used to describe the motion of the hero’s hips as he and the heroine banged in a public restroom.

  22. 22
    AgTigress says:

    I agree with whoever said that some shades of pink look very good on some shades of redhead. 

    Alluding to potatoes or tomatoes in a story set in antiquity or the medieval period would enrage me, too, because that is such a simple, obvious matter that is, or should be, common knowledge.  Small errors over relatively obscure matters are forgiveable;  everyone makes mistakes.  But regarding potatoes as an article of diet in 10th-century Europe is almost as bad as having a Viking make a phone call…

  23. 23
    AgTigress says:

    Sorry for typo:  although it now says one can ‘edit comment’, this does not always work!

  24. 24
    Gwynnyd says:

    Probably not madder. Madder makes an very orange-ish red and always fades quite quickly to a rust color The most likely Viking-era pink dye was orchil, which is a fungus based dye and is known to have been traded around the North Atlantic area.  It is also a very fugitive dye and fades quickly, so pale pinks, orchids and purples are actually a bit more authentic than otherwise.

    On the other hand, I had to stop reading Coulter when I was throwing her books against the wall every other chapter for her blatant anachronisms.  I never felt her characters belonged in whatever era she put them in.  Their motivations and internal rationalizations always struck me as unlikely.

    Brilliant review!

  25. 25
    Karenmc says:

    I read this book way back. Rather than remember it as sexist and silly, I can now think of it as hilarious. Thank you, RedHeadedGirl.

    And I’m third generation Danish. Not quite so big on the talking things over, but then my family attended the sober Lutheran church, as opposed to the drinking one.

  26. 26
    Nadia says:

    My younger girl is an flamin’ orange redhead and wears pink all the time.  Granted, that’s because pink is her favorite color.  She looks better in cool tones like blues and purples, but most pinks don’t look bad.  Not like yellow, orange, light green – those make her look like she’s got hepatitis. 

    I read this book as a teen, and must have scrubbed it from my memory because I didn’t recall it at all until reading this review.  I’m thinking the review was better than the book!

  27. 27
    Daisy says:

    This particular Coulter is why I never read Viking romanaces. 

    Great review though – if only the book had been half as good!

  28. 28
    ks says:

    I read a hell of a lot of Catherine Coulter back in the day.  I remember all the Sherbrooke books.  I don’t think I could make it all the way through one now.

    But if you want to go really old school, with all sorts of rapetastic WTF-ery, try Purity’s Passion.  I don’t remember the author, but it was published in the late 70s and my mom’s copy was one of my very first romance novels ever, when I was probably 12 or 13.  I haven’t read it in probably close to 20 years, but I remember it being one hell of a book.

  29. 29
    ks says:

    On the other hand, I had to stop reading Coulter when I was throwing her books against the wall every other chapter for her blatant anachronisms.  I never felt her characters belonged in whatever era she put them in.  Their motivations and internal rationalizations always struck me as unlikely.

    I’ve had to more or less stop reading Stephanie Laurens because of this.  It didn’t bother me too much in the Cynster books, although I did notice it, but her latest series is crazy making.  Really crazy making.

  30. 30
    Randi says:

    @ks: Oh, I definitely think you should do the review for Pruity’s Passion. Doitdoitdoitdoit!

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