Book Review

Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, by Louise Allen

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Title: Virgin Slave, Barbarian King
Author: Louise Allen
Publication Info: Harlequin Historical 2007
ISBN: 0373294778
Genre: Historical: Other

I was most delighted when I got the email from the Teach Me Tonight Professors Brilliant asking if I’d review Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, because after the Bindel article wherein she held up this book as an example of the horrors of mysogynistic hate speech contained within the genre, I thought, HOT DAMN. A book about a Roman maiden kidnapped by a Visigoth? BOO YAH. HERE be a chance for an author to take that old accusation of romance=misogyny and say, “Look! A woman in a patriarchal ‘civilized society’ is going to be kidnapped by “barbarians,” and be forced to not only confront her own attraction to her captor but the empowered role of women in a society she dismissed as being uncivilized! She has more freedom as a slave than as a Roman virgin! See? It says so on the back cover copy! Here is a big hopping chance to prove how the titles of these novels do not represent the contents, and what can be dismissed as mere drivel is actually a subversive avenue of presenting gender roles and expectations of women within ancient societies so as to facilitate consideration on the part of the reader regarding how women are treated in modern society!”

Unfortunately, after reading the book itself, my reaction to my own aspirations is thus: “Wishful thinking much?” You can certainly smell what my disappointment is cooking.

Is it fair that I judge the book based on what I thought it could have been, simply because it was picked out by someone bashing it for its title and making assumptions as to its content? Of course not. Certainly Bindel’s accusations heightened my anticipation that this might be a smarter romance that operated on deeper levels and did more than mere storytelling, but it’s not fair for me to penalize the book because I was hoping it would do more than it did.

But the opportunity which was present for examination of culture on the part of a heroine who is removed from one and moved forcibly into another was seriously underdeveloped and weak, leaving me underwhelmed and not at all as engaged as I might have liked by the book. I finished the book deflated and disappointed that a premise that could have yielded so much was flat, predictable, and ultimately a big yawn.

By far the biggest disappointment was the heroine. Julia Livia is kidnapped by Wulfric just as she is about to be raped by two Roman men during the Visigoth’s sack of Rome. The two men, hoping their crime won’t be noticed, kill Julia’s servant and are about to assault her when Wulfric cracks open the Romance Hero Can of Whoopass , takes care of their lousy selves, and rides off with Julia. He needs a home slave and decides this woman he’s just saved from assault is the one for his hearth and home, nevermind her incredulous protests to the contrary.

As Julia is riding out of Rome behind Wulfric’s teenage apprentice/cousin, she makes a stunning realization of the inequality within her own culture—before she’s even out the gate as a kidnapped war prize.

Is that what I am? His enemy? What have I done to him to deserve this?

One of the groups of slaves trudged past and she looked down at them, seeing for the first time what a mixture they were, the people who made life in the Empire run with the smooth efficiency of a water clock…. What have they done to deserve it? These barbarians have learned from us and now we reap what we sow.

That would be page 26. Enlightenment on the back of a horse, take one!

Julia moved into global understanding of the flaws of her own society with such ease, I was hoping next she’d set up the first Visigoth soup kitchen. And speaking of kitchen! She learns to cook savory-smelling tummy-happy food that satisfies Visigoth warriors like Hungry Man Meals from Swanson satisfy your favorite lumberjack, and all in a matter of days. Does she suffer from culture shock? Does she attempt to preserve her own culture in midst of Visigoth nomadic wagon-life? Any prejudice against their group for their rustic, nomadic lifestyle consisting of tents and wagons and farm animals without a bathhouse or shower to be found?

Nope. She blends in and gets comfy immediately, and has no problem learning the ropes of cooking, mending, and generally being handy with knives within mere days. The apprentice is half in love with her,Wulfric tries to resist her, and with the exception of some hot girl-on-girl fighting with her man’s aspiring fiancee, everyone looooves her. She’s pure and noble and cute, too.

Julia so easily embraces the increased power she has within her new community, she longs to stay even when she knows plans are being made for her return to Rome. It’s not Stockholm Syndrome. It’s effortless integration. I hate to make the comparison, because this book was poor but a significant jump away from the Cassie Edwards F Line, but Julia’s ease of adjustment reminded me of Savage Moon where Mishi blithely became a Shoshone with absolutely no backstory detailing her adjustment.

Another oddity I wasn’t sure how to reconcile is the use of words in the ruminations of the characters that were far, far too modern. At one point Wulfric is having a bath, and massages a sore leg: “trying to give proper attention to the condition of his muscles and the feel of the tendon he had strained two weeks before.” “Tendon?” Would there be such anatomical knowledge? The Online Etymology Dictionary lists a usage dating back to 1374 but not to the sack of Rome.

Later, as Wulfric rides to sack another Roman town, she is told to “get the medical kit out.” “Medical kit?” Seriously?

Speaking of Wulfric, he’s rather delicious, but still, his long-haired hotness and effortless leadership skills are still subject to lines of dialogue that are too pat and too perfect. Wulfric’s tribe of Visigoths sacked Rome because the Roman emperor repeatedly promised them land of their own, and did not honor his promise. The Visigoths value their word and their honor is a very plain and simple thing: you say you will do something, then you will do it.

But after conversations with Julia, Wulfric suddenly realizes and understand her culture, that the Romans act within honor as they define it:

“…The public face is what matters, what goes on behind the scenes—” [Julia] shrugged. “The ends justify the means, I suppose. But for you, and for your people, I do not think there is that separation—you are the same at your own hearth and at the king’s Council, making love or making war…. I am only just realising that. Forgive me.”

“No, forgive me. I think we should begin again. I thought your people treacherous yet they are acting within their concept of honour.”

HUR? Leaving aside the utter saccharine blooey of “making love or making war,” what the crap is this crap? He’s going to put aside or amend his understanding of honor just because Julia’s people define it differently, using terms that are the opposite of his own definition? I can only rest with a deeply confused look on my face that I hope passersby will mistake for one of profound contemplation.

Oddly, the forces acting against the couple are merely cultural, which of course are easily resolved as each comes to Simple and Truthful Realizations about their own society. The other conflict caused by the imbalance of power – created by the fact that he slung her over the back of his horse and rode away with her during the sack of Rome – is resolved by his decision to return her to Roman society, which would soothe his honor and allow her to return to him on her own terms. There are sizable questions of Wulfric’s kinglyness, or, his ability to inspire people so that they depend on and look to him for guidance and safety, and Wulfric’s role in the Visigoth tribe after the death of their current king, but all of those issues are resolved without Julia’s presence, and therefore are told, now shown. Much is made of Wulfric’s natural leadership and inspiring qualities, yet little comes of that buildup of tension.

Beyond the cultural differences, which are easily mended with the Superglue of effortless assimilation and blithe acceptance, there is no villain, no issue to be overcome except that of choice and geography. Would Julia choose to be with him if she had the option to select her mate? And where would they go since she’s damaged goods as far as the Romans are concerned, and a slave to the Visigoths? These questions aren’t really answered so much as assumed to be solved, and as a result I didn’t feel there was a truly believable happy ending.

But really, the lack of struggle to accept a completely different culture on the part of both protagonists – Julia’s ease of integration into the Visigoth community and Wulfric’s easy conquest of Julia’s Roman habits and expectations – made for a limp and tensionless storyline. Thus I was yawning, not reading, and had little to no reaction when I was done.


The Professors Brillliant have many links to other reviews of this book, and Dr. Frantz’s analysis of the concept of honor within the novel, and Dr. Vivanco’s examination of the mythologies referenced in the story are particularly fine reading. And today Dear Author’s dueling reviews will feature Jane and Jayne battling it out over their own impressions of the novel.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    SusanL says:

    Awww Dammit.  I was gonna be the Barbarian Virgin.

    While now knowing I do not want to read this book, I was compelled to check out the cover image up close on Amazon.  I feel quite certain, in my heart of hearts, the light fixture and fairy lights on the tent top are historically accurate for the Visigoths.  Not. 

    MAYBE they are supposed to be stars, but they look like fairy lights to me.

  2. 2
    Elizabeth says:

    “Tendon” I can forgive.  “Medical kit” made me laugh harder than I have all year.

    PS: Fairylights?  I just thought that the tent was full of holes, and the sun was really bright, though then I wondered why a dude with only fire to dry things would be taking a bath in a richly-carpeted tent.  Maybe mold hadn’t been invented yet?  Or he’s allergic to sunshine?  Nah.  You must be right.  Fairylights make way more sense.  Especially considering the disco ball effect that the Bohemian light fixture is giving off.

  3. 3
    Sarah Frantz says:

    The complete lack of villain or tension or anything really approaching a plot was what bothered me the most.  Especially when the one tension in the book was resolved off-stage and didn’t seem to count for much in the end.  That was just strange.

    And we’re going to have to keep interacting online—I love seeing what you’re going to call us next!  ;)

  4. 4
    Mads says:

    It was a fairly silly book. The Big Misunderstanding was that they loved each other but neither would say so *EYEROLL*
    Julia was very bland- she was good at everything, and as Sarah said, she just slotted into her new life style. There was not much plot in this book and the resolution was tied together in about three pages. I too wanted to like this book. After the scalding review it got I wanted stand up for it- but it was really pretty darn crappy.
    I hated when Julia fought with Wulfric’s Visigoth fiancé and instead of being annoyed that Julia was HURT and had been threatened with a knife by the psycho bitch blonde Visigoth he was pleased that they had been fighting over him. I know that’s typical male behaviour but it still annoyed the heck out of me.
    The dialogue was rather bad. Medical kit indeed! The very casual dialogue annoyed me. I know that they were speaking Latin but calling children ‘kids’ just sounded too modern for me.

  5. 5

    I just wrote a very long reply with lots of links in it, and it’s vanished. Has it disappeared into a spam filter?

  6. 6
    Charlene says:

    Tendon is fine: that dictionary references the first use *in English* of the word tendon. Romans and Greeks knew all about tendons; they may not have autopsied, but they treated wounds suffered in war and sacrificed animals.

    And “medical kit” is no more inaccurate than the hundreds of stories where the heroine whips out herbs and saves the hero. In real life, those nasty, poisonous, bacteria-clogged herbal concoctions did FAR more harm than good, but no: we have to make all the herbal medicine fans feel good about themselves, so let’s put in a wise woman who can cure anything with a plant!

  7. 7

    OK, I’ll try again. Maybe my last post was too long, so I’ll cut it up into bits and see if that works better.

    the opportunity which was present for examination of culture on the part of a heroine who is removed from one and moved forcibly into another was seriously underdeveloped

    I think part of Allen’s point was to show that although Julia, because of her prejudice, initially thought of the Visigoths as barbarian and very different culturally, she came to realise that, in fact, they were highly romanised. That romanisation of the Visigoths (most of them can speak Latin well, they live in tents based on the design of Roman military-issue tents, they enjoy Roman wine, own Roman wine glasses) means that in fact there’s no reason for the kind of culture shock you seem to have expected.

    On the other hand, I do think Julia would have experienced a shock at having to perform manual work. As you say

    She blends in and gets comfy immediately, and has no problem learning the ropes of cooking, mending, and generally being handy with knives within mere days

    Julia does adapt rather quickly to having to wash dishes and clothes, cook dinner etc. That said, I doubt many readers would be interested in long descriptions of how difficult it is for an upper-class Roman lady to get used to doing the washing etc.

  8. 8

    Does she suffer from culture shock? Does she attempt to preserve her own culture in midst of Visigoth nomadic wagon-life? Any prejudice against their group for their rustic, nomadic lifestyle consisting of tents and wagons and farm animals without a bathhouse or shower to be found?

    I’ve partly addressed this above. If anything, as I’ve suggested in my analysis of the novel, the Visigoths, in the person of Wulfric, embody some of the old Roman values. Wulfric can, I think, be seen as a modern counterpart of Aeneas, a mythical ancestor of the Romans. In her analysis, Sarah Frantz concluded that in this novel

    Ideal masculinity, then, is embodied in a man who is a natural leader, but unambitious, a fighter and warrior who just wants a home where he can farm

    and as I pointed out in response to Sarah, this is in fact the type of masculinity embodied by the Roman hero Cincinnatus.

    Allen uses the word “over-civilized” to describe the Romans of Julia’s culture, and I think that’s also suggested, subtly, by the way in which the Visigoths come closer to embodying some of the ideals of old Rome.

    The Visigoths value their word and their honor is a very plain and simple thing: you say you will do something, then you will do it.

    This would also have been an attitude shared by the Roman hero Regulus.

    As for the lack of bathhouses, that’s understandable in a nomadic camp, and the Visigoths make frequent use of portable, wooden tubs.

  9. 9

    I wasn’t sure how to reconcile is the use of words in the ruminations of the characters that were far, far too modern. At one point Wulfric is having a bath, and massages a sore leg: “trying to give proper attention to the condition of his muscles and the feel of the tendon he had strained two weeks before.” “Tendon?” Would there be such anatomical knowledge? The Online Etymology Dictionary lists a usage dating back to 1374 but not to the sack of Rome.

    As Charlene has pointed out, the etymology of the word “tendon” in English is really irrelevant.

    Herophilus […] founded the science of Anatomy (he is often called the “father of anatomy”). He was thought to have lived between 325 and 255 B. C. […] Herophilus described the delicate arachnoid membranes, the cerebral ventricles, the venous sinuses especially the confluence of venous sinuses near the internal occipital protuberance (torcular Herophili), origin of nerves (he divided them into motor and sensory tracts) and differentiation of tendons from nerves (which were confusing at that time), the lacteals, coverings of the eye, liver, uterus, epididymis, amidst many other structures. The name “duodenum” is attributed to him. He knew that damage of the motor nerves led to paralysis. (from Malomo, A. O., O. E. Idowu and F. C. Osuagwu. “Lessons from History: Human Anatomy, from the Origin to the Renaissance.” International Journal of Morphology 24.1 (2006): 99-104.)

    So yes, in the period in which this novel is set there would certainly have been knowledge about tendons, and it had been around for centuries.

    Later, as Wulfric rides to sack another Roman town, she is told to “get the medical kit out.” “Medical kit?” Seriously?

    Yes, seriously. There’s a detailed description of a medical kit from a few centuries earlier here. There are also details from an archeological dig at Colchester here. Neither of those are from precisely the period or location in which this novel is set, but the Roman army had doctors who would have had medical “kits.” And it wouldn’t be very surprising if some of the soldiers, particularly in cases where they didn’t have a doctor on hand, had some items which could also be used for healing the more common and easily-treatable of battle injuries.

  10. 10

    “I think we should begin again. I thought your people treacherous yet they are acting within their concept of honour.”

    HUR? Leaving aside the utter saccharine blooey of “making love or making war,” what the crap is this crap? He’s going to put aside or amend his understanding of honor just because Julia’s people define it differently, using terms that are the opposite of his own definition?

    I didn’t read this the same way you did. As I saw it, Wulfric was suggesting that the “beginning again” occur between him and Julia, and the use of the word “their” implies that while Wulfric can now understand the model of honour which these Romans are using, it’s not one which he plans on making his.

    Beyond the cultural differences, which are easily mended with the Superglue of effortless assimilation and blithe acceptance, there is no villain, no issue to be overcome except that of choice and geography.

    I suspect this is a matter of personal preference, but given the characterisation, I found the “issue to be overcome” quite sufficient to generate enough tension to keep me interested. And in fact I was glad that there wasn’t a villain. I think that could have led to a less nuanced exploration of the the characters of all those involved. I liked the fact that Willa was ambitious, but not a villain, that Julia’s father was authoritarian, but not a villain, etc.

    Would Julia choose to be with him if she had the option to select her mate?

    Well, at the end, when she’s confined to her room, she’s given the choice to stay there or marry as her parents direct. She plans to escape and look for Wulfric.

  11. 11

    And where would they go since she’s damaged goods as far as the Romans are concerned, and a slave to the Visigoths? These questions aren’t really answered so much as assumed to be solved, and as a result I didn’t feel there was a truly believable happy ending.

    She’s only comparatively “damaged goods as far as the Romans are concerned”, certainly as far as her virginity is concerned. It wouldn’t have stopped her marriage going ahead. By the time she escapes, she’s “damaged goods”, but that’s because of assaulting a Roman, and I doubt her father would want her back after what she’s done to his associate, so that just means he won’t be sending anyone after her to disrupt her future with Wulfric.

    She’s not a slave as far as the Visigoths are concerned. In the scene at the church with Sunilda, Wulfric says Julia’s a “guest”, and he formally frees her when he tries to leave her behind, so she’s certainly not a slave after that.

    As for where they’d go, in the historical footnote (in the print edition), Allen says that she imagines their villa lying “in the shadow of Mont Ventoux in southern France.”

    a limp and tensionless storyline. Thus I was yawning, not reading, and had little to no reaction when I was done.

    As I’ve said, I had a very different reaction. I also think that the parallels between Aeneas and Wulfric may, at least in part, make the ending more satisfying for me. The Aeneid ends with the death of Turnus, Aeneas’s rival for the hand of Lavinia. Allen’s novel concludes with Wulfric defeating his rival, Antonius Justus. And the Aeneid concludes before Aeneas builds his city, just as Allen’s novel ends before Wulfric and Julia can find and build their villa.

    And the confirmation word is “longer63.” Yes, sorry, this was very, very, long. But that’s the last chunk of my monster post.

  12. 12

    I have nothing intelligent to add to this conversation, it’s all been said by people brighter than me.  I just want to say how pleased I am by the depth of discussion and the scholarship brought to the table.

    You ladies rock!  Take that, Ms. Bindel!

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    I think Expression Engine might have passed out from the strain at the length and breadth of that comment were it one long piece. Weak, silly EE. It needs to apologize to you!


    I suspect this is a matter of personal preference, but given the characterisation, I found the “issue to be overcome” quite sufficient to generate enough tension to keep me interested. And in fact I was glad that there wasn’t a villain. I think that could have led to a less nuanced exploration of the the characters of all those involved. I liked the fact that Willa was ambitious, but not a villain, that Julia’s father was authoritarian, but not a villain, etc.

    I agree that characterization instead of stock villainy is certainly preferable, but I definitely did not sense the tension and obstacles as you did. My lack of satisfaction and my impression that the story was flaccid stems mostly from my perception that the tension was missing, or minimal, and what there was in terms of obstacle was far too easily resolved through the noble, nubile purity of the heroine and the effortless leadership skiznills of the hero, or was taken care of, as Dr. Frantz says, off-stage. In the end, I simply didn’t care about the characters as much as I would have liked, and I look to the lack of sustained and not-big-misunderstanding tension as the reason.


    Would Julia choose to be with him if she had the option to select her mate?

    Well, at the end, when she’s confined to her room, she’s given the choice to stay there or marry as her parents direct. She plans to escape and look for Wulfric.

    Absolutely! She ultimately does make the choice for herself, and does so dramatically and with much lip directed at her mother about her hot hotty Visigoth man – but I chose not to answer the question because I feel bad revealing the ending, even if you can see it coming a mile away as soon as she’s returned to Roman society.

    Etymologically speaking, though, I concede – clearly the Visigoths and the Romans had medical and tendon-y concepts down. While I did suspect the use of “tendon” to be kosher, though, “medical kit” certainly threw me for a loop.

  14. 14
    Chicklet says:

    I didn’t need a D-letter review to dissuade me from reading this book, since I can’t get beyond the frakking ridiculous title. *eyeroll*

  15. 15
    Teddypig says:

    I was hoping next she’d set up the first Visigoth soup kitchen

    Goth & Broth?

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    “Goth Broth” sounds like a great (as in really foul) euphemism for dude juice. Man pudding. Etc.

  17. 17

    I think Expression Engine might have passed out from the strain at the length and breadth of that comment were it one long piece. Weak, silly EE. It needs to apologize to you!

    It wasn’t until I’d reconstructed my comment and chopped it up into chunks that I realised quite how long it was. And of course EE isn’t designed for people with a tendency to write an essay rather than a short comment. Blogger isn’t really designed for that either, which was why when I wrote my monster-length analysis I had to post it elsewhere. This novel seems to be bringing out epic-length responses in me. So apologies to anyone who didn’t want to have to wade through all the sections of my comment.

    I chose not to answer the question because I feel bad revealing the ending, even if you can see it coming a mile away

    Sorry. Is there some way to add “SPOILER” to my comment, to protect anyone who doesn’t want to know?

    my perception that the tension was missing, or minimal, and what there was in terms of obstacle was far too easily resolved

    I suspect that my tension-measuring gauge is very different from yours. I bought C. J. Barry’s Unmasked because you’d given it an A-, but I found the conflict and characters too over-the-top for my liking and so I found them a bit boring. I can see quite a few similarities between the two books (e.g. a setting that’s quite unusual, the hero’s honour and commitment to his mission, the heroine being forced to re-evaluate her culture).

  18. 18
    SB Sarah says:

    Now that is definitely an interesting comparison. You and I should go head-to-head on dueling reviews sometime since our tastes are very different in terms of tension and conflict. Of course, you would easily whoop my tail on the ability to identify mythologies woven into the story, whereas I wouldn’t by able to tell my ass from my Aenid if you spotted me an Odysseus.

    Anyway, Unmasked is an excellent book to contrast with VS,BK as you are right: it does feature a heroine forced to reexamine her own culture and values, and the definition of honor within varying cultures (Visigoth vs. smuggler/thief). As for the over-the-top-ness, I definitely have a guilty-pleasure proclivity towards angsty heroes. I freely admit it.

    And don’t worry about the spoiler part. It’s normal in academia, as Dr. F. noted, that discussions of text assume familiarity with the text and its ending, whereas over here in review-land, it’s not assumed that the reader has already read the book – so a collective review and examination with reviewers and academics has to be different. I shy from discussing the ending by habit, but by this point, the ending was long revealed, which is a really long ass way of saying, “No worries.”

  19. 19
    RfP says:

    I haven’t read the book, so I’m only commenting on your reactions.

    It sounds like the RT reviewer, Kathe Robin, did an excellent job of writing a coded review that romance readers could interpret in light of their feelings on Cassie Edwards—and ‘80s romances:

    Accurate political details, a noble savage hero, a heroine who comes to appreciate another culture and a jealous woman who schemes to win the hero’s love all harken back to the classic ‘80s Indian romances. Allen proves that timeless themes always entertain.

    Also, your comments below (and Sarah Frantz’s on TMT) make me wonder if some relationship points in the story are belabored while the plot is underdeveloped.  I’ve had that reaction to a number of romances recently.

    the lack of struggle to accept a completely different culture on the part of both protagonists – Julia’s ease of integration into the Visigoth community and Wulfric’s easy conquest of Julia’s Roman habits and expectations – made for a limp and tensionless storyline.

    I sometimes find in *short* category romance that compressing loaded stories (rape, murder, culture gap), and the sprint to the happy ending, gives the book a strangely made-for-Oprah feel, with lots of emoting instead of actually showing a credible struggle.  Allen’s book is well over Hqn Presents length, but I had a feeling when I looked at it in the store that it might tackle some big topics but not resolve them to my satisfaction in the space allotted.  And then the RT review decided me not to read it.

    OTOH that “lack of struggle”—while not very satisfying—might be better than the opposite extreme.  In September I discussed a Macleans article on sexual health in romance novels.  The article points out the danger of big emotional themes without that bland, easy resolution:

    Sometimes… the serious plots are too intense for their format. A recent book featured the European sex trade, physical abuse, pornography and the hero’s prostitute sister beaten to death by the heroine’s father. The mandatory happy ending after 187 pages felt anything but romantic.

    Just a different form of poorly balanced writing, to my mind.

  20. 20
    RfP says:

    I suspect that my tension-measuring gauge is very different from yours. I bought C. J. Barry’s Unmasked because you’d given it an A-, but I found the conflict and characters too over-the-top for my liking and so I found them a bit boring. I can see quite a few similarities between the two books (e.g. a setting that’s quite unusual, the hero’s honour and commitment to his mission, the heroine being forced to re-evaluate her culture).

    Ha—I did the same.  And also found it over the top.  However, that wasn’t why I thought it was boring; I don’t think the lack of tension is a cultural issue.  I thought there was a disproportionate amount of angsting, given there was little development of the plot beyond cartoon spaceships and a pro forma conspiracy.  I also thought the resolution looked easy but didn’t address the big issues between the h/h.  I had the same suspicions about The Virgin’s Barbarian Who Would Not Be King, which is why I decided not to read it.

    I’m liking this analysis-of-books-I-haven’t-read.  I should do more of it.  I could do a sequel to How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.

  21. 21

    Ah good, someone already mentioned the validity of the whole “tendon” and “medical kits” thing.

    I am a big Jack Whyte fan; a big “fall of the Roman Empire” genre fan.

  22. 22

    I read this book after hearing about the upcoming reviews and I was pleasantly surprised. I’d give it a B-. I thought the forces keeping them apart were fer reals. I mean, how can you get past the “He can’t be king if he marries you?” That’s a pretty big obstacle. I did have problems with the book (namely the noble savage aspect), but otherwise… Yeah. B-. I thoroughly enjoyed the unusual setting!

    I’d love to know what the author’s original title was.

  23. 23

    I wanted to like this book, too, and had very much the same reaction as Sarah.
    I think, to be honest, that when I’m reading a book with the words virgin and barbarian in the title, I both expect and want a bit more fun sparkly trashiness than I got in this book.
    The girl fight was, for me, about the most emotionally satisfying bit of the entire book—yay, real conflict and a Bad Girl to be vanquished!  Except that when it was over they held hands and had a chat.
    I also found Julia just too calm—about everything.  She experiences so many things that would freak me out (near rape, abduction, unrequited love, pregnancy scare, someone else after her man) and she just kind of sails through it all.  Which meant I very rarely felt empathy with her.
    And I’m truly irritated by a hero who has sex with one woman when he’s intending throughout to marry someone else.  I know Wulfric had good reasons for thinking he needed to marry not-so-Bad Girl, butstill, they didn’t convince me he was really stuck in a no-escape situation.
    This may have been, partly, because of what I felt was a modern atmosphere about the book.  I accept that medical kit isn’t actually anachronistic, but still, the book just felt modern.  Not that I’d have been grateful for faux-Goth dialect, but surely there should have been something—authorial voice, I guess—to make it feel as if I was reading about a world not my own.

  24. 24
    darlynne says:

    … the lack of struggle to accept a completely different culture on the part of both protagonists – Julia’s ease of integration into the Visigoth community and Wulfric’s easy conquest of Julia’s Roman habits and expectations …

    makes me think of the Borg. “Resistance is futile, babe.”

    That’s all I got. The rest of you talk so intelligently about Cincinnatus, about the Aenid, and I get “Star Trek: TNG.”

  25. 25
    MplsGirl says:

    This book was perfect for reading after I put my kiddo to bed on Christmas. I had no energy left from all the hullabaloo but couldn’t sleep. Voila! A story with no serious emotional tension and nice scenery descriptions every once in a while—a good ‘I can’t quite sleep and need to wind down my mind’ read. But when my husband asked me what I was reading I made him read the title—I just couldn’t make myself say it out loud.

  26. 26
    Abney says:

    Why is it that reading one of your bad reviews actually makes me want to go out and get the book so I can see for myself just how bad it really is.

    I have the same problem with milk past its expiration date… I smell any way ~A

  27. 27
    Jane says:

    I don’t think we’ll be posting our review today – it will either be either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

    I agree with SB Sarah about the anachronistic language.  At one point, Julia Livia says she “conjured up” something.  Another time she points out Wulfric’s “charisma”. 

    This story read so superficially that I was never engaged. I only liked the storyline regarding who was going to be king and even that was a bit manufactured.

    I really questioned Julia Livia’s total acceptance of the Goth’s relentless march south in Italy – as if the sacking of towns and (I am sure) killings of people didn’t occur on a near regular basis.  There was one scene in which criminals were executed and there wasn’t even a twinge of any feeling toward them.

    I would think that a society girl like herself would be appalled at that type of physicality.  Speaking of physicality, the girl fight in which JL engages in with the Goth girl – laughable.  There is no way you could convince me that some soft virginal senator’s daughter from Rome could kick the ass of some Goth girl who grew up in a nomadic existence with her father sacking town after town after town.

  28. 28

    There was one scene in which criminals were executed and there wasn’t even a twinge of any feeling toward them.

    I actually thought that was one of the most honest moments I’ve ever read in a romance! None of this modern “sanctity of life” stuff. Criminals were executed every day in Rome. Publicly, for all of society to enjoy. Feeding of the condemned to the lions, gladiator battles… There are several mentions in the book of high society women enjoying gladiators as sexual pets. And I assume that society folk watched them fight and kill on a regular basis. That was pure enjoyment for them.

  29. 29

    There was one scene in which criminals were executed and there wasn’t even a twinge of any feeling toward them.

    I would think that a society girl like herself would be appalled at that type of physicality.

    Julia’s a Roman. Admittedly

    Harries makes a good case for the impact of Christianity on certain substantive aspects of late Roman legal practice. In ch. 7 (‘Punishment’), she argues that ‘Christianity’s insistence on greater humanity in punishment’ (135) resulted in important changes in practice and attitude. Executions by crucifixion and by being thrown to wild animals in the arena are no longer heard of after the fourth century, developments which she attributes at least in part to the influence of Christianity and whose significance she draws out effectively: the former was replaced by a more humane mode of execution, hanging (I 39), while the disappearance of the latter meant an end to criminals being used for public entertainment in the notorious ‘fatal charades’ of the Early Empire” (page 192, from a review article by A. D. Lee in The Journal of Roman Studies, 92 (2002): 185-193. In this instance Lee is citing J. Harries’s Law and Empire in Late Antiquity)

    Anyway, even though the Romans weren’t quite as keen on using public executions as entertainment by this period, I still don’t think any Roman would have had qualms about the death penalty being applied to criminals.

    Speaking of physicality, the girl fight in which JL engages in with the Goth girl – laughable.

    It is mentioned in the novel that Julia had exercised at the baths. I did find some evidence to suggest that Roman women did do so:

    Decius Iunius Iuvenalis, in his Saturae, written between 100 and 110 CE,
    assumed that women enjoyed the baths, including the exercise and the
    massage. He described a married woman who would leave her guests and
    go to the baths at night. She was glad to sweat amid the great tumult. After
    she had lifted weights […]
    (137, from Bowen Ward, Roy. “Women in Roman Baths.” The Harvard Theological Review 85.2 (1992): 125-147).

    I’ve not turned up any information on Roman women and exercise in the later period in which the novel is set, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did exercise of some sort.

  30. 30
    Kim says:

    I actually thought that was one of the most honest moments

    I would have to agree with this.  Romans, those wild and crazy guys, loved their violent entertainment including the public executions of criminals, christians and exotic animals.  This was the reason they built the Coliseum.  I watched a show on the history channel last weekend about the coliseum and they estimated that 700,000 people died there and as many as 500 exotic animals a day were killed.  As an upper class citizen, Julia would have thought nothing of watching executions.

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