This book fascinated me because I get the feeling this was a heroine that most category readers would not have expected. Roberts spends a lot of time slowly building the character of Suzannah Morningstar, which is partially accomplished by a gradual reveal of her backstory. There’s no giant dump of revelation, where she spills her life’s story to the hero. She reveals herself deliberately and in small portions, and that slow discovery reveals as much as the actual details. Within that backstory, Roberts tackles some heroine standards head on and knocks them around a good bit. She plays with the virginal expectation of the heroine (Suzannah is a single mom; she’s definitely not a virgin), the purity expectation of the heroine (See #1), and in doing so creates a tough, edgy, unapologetic heroine who doesn’t think much of her son’s father because he obviously doesn’t think much of them, if he thinks of them at all. No angst, no bitterness, no self-pity—just factual hard reality. Savannah is not a victim; she made her choices and learned to work through them.
Conflict jumps into the wading pool when Jared, the idealistic hero, gets caught up in feelings of jealousy and rage. In his mind, it’s unacceptable that there WERE other men in her life, and she was a stripper and she has no regrets about either. Moreover, he has to confront the idea that she doesn’t need a man to ride in and sweep her off her feet, to make all her troubles go away. He can walk up to the door and ring the damn bell, thank you, because Suzannah has taken care of her life and her son’s well-being just fine on her own. Jared gets his BVDs in a right twisty knot and ends up asking himself the question, “What would his mama say?”
Which, in my mind, became, “What did readers say about this novel when it was published?”
In a lot of Roberts’ trilogies, there’s usually, out of three women, one “tough heroine,” the one who is prickly, standoffish, irritable, or exceptionally independent and autonomous, sometimes to the point of misanthropy. Suzannah seems almost like an early prototype of a lot of those “tough heroines” – I can see shades of a lot of other fierce, ballsy characters to come.
That said, I didn’t actually like her much. She didn’t grow on me until later installments of the MacKade brothers quartet. I thought she was too rude, too brash, too mean, and often her actions overplayed themselves when compared to the rationale behind them – however emotionally charged that rationale was. I didn’t buy the mercurial shifts between caring, doting mom, and ready to throw punches at Jared, and I didn’t get her repeated abrupt descent into rudeness to several ancillary characters. She crossed the line from independent and fierce to just over the border of batshit unstable, and it made me distrust her, while also making me question why the other characters so easily excused her behavior.
Jared, on the other hand, I imagined as a relatively standard romance hero dropped onto a wild horse and told to ride for the duration of the story. He got a lot more than he bargained for in Suzannah, and he couldn’t necessarily tame her. He has to learn to understand her, but then set limits for her behavior, limits based on respect and affection – which she’s not used to. He’s very used to control, order, and balance in his life, and has to confront that messy is sometimes very necessary.
But the title, in this case, is entirely appropriate. The main conflict between these two is pride, and as a result, the internal conflict and external conflict between them is layered, complex, and not easily resolved but worth doing so, both for the protagonists (obviously) and the reader.