Monday, March 26, 2012

New Review: Rosemary Rogers’ SWEET SAVAGE LOVE – A Worthy Classic That Influenced the Genre of Historical Romance, But More Savage than Love

This was Rogers’ first novel and it became a best seller and an all time classic in modern historical romance. Her writing is superb and her storytelling truly excellent. Published in 1974, it was also one of the first to throw open the bedroom door and include subjects like rape and violence against the heroine, all woven into an intricate plot. Set in the late 1800s in the American West and Mexico (during the reign of the Austrian who became Emperor Maximilian), it’s a fast-paced, moving story that will keep you up late at night reading. However, and this is the reason for 4 not 5 stars, there are some parts in this story where the hero and heroine go through such horrifying trials, I just had to skip over them. I’m not overly sensitive but we are talking gruesome!

Ginny Brandon was the French convent-raised daughter of an ambitious US Senator from California who didn’t mind putting his wife and daughter at risk to smuggle gold into Mexico to support the French military working for Maximilian. On a wagon train from San Antonio to California, Ginny and her stepmother will face more than the hardships and Indians of the Western plains; they will face the schemes of men who want to make sure Maximilian’s French troops never see that gold. One of those men is Steve Morgan, a half-Mexican former Union Army officer who is working undercover for the US government. Morgan has few scruples and almost no morals, taking the women he wants when he wants them. Though he speaks French and lived in Paris for a time, he also lived among the Comanches and has become a fast gun, so he can take care of himself. Though Ginny, an innocent red-haired beauty, has many suitors, she is drawn to the handsome Morgan who becomes the scout for her father’s wagon train. And Morgan is all too willing to take advantage of the girl’s innocence.

With superb storytelling, Rogers gives us a feel for the politics of the time and the life of the Mexicans and those Americans who chose to live in the West while she weaves a complex tale of a difficult, often combative, relationship between two strong-willed people. Much of the novel is told through Ginny’s point of view as she and Steve ride over the land, fleeing as escaped fugitives (she as his prisoner and plaything) and then live in Mexico. Ginny is a courageous heroine though at times seemingly weak in moral fiber. Steve is a man deeply affected by his past, his heritage and his many compromising decisions. Though he has some virtues (he is courageous and loyal to his friends) he is very selfish and hedonistic and treats Ginny most badly.

I was 2/3rds of the way through the story before there was an indication Steve felt more than lust for Ginny. Even then he behaved the cad. It’s hard to consider him a “hero” under those circumstances. (The real hero seemed to be his grandfather!) And unlike most romances that have a happily ever after at the end, while the end is happy, it is not really the end of the story of Ginny and Steve. Their story continues in DARK FIRES. The whole series is listed below:

Morgan-Challenger Series:

Sweet Savage Love (1974) (Steve and Ginny)
Dark Fires (1975) (Steve and Ginny)
Wicked Loving Lies (1976) (Dominic Challenger and Marisa)
Lost Love, Last Love (1980) (Steve and Ginny)
Bound by Desire (1988) (Steve and Ginny’s daughter)
Savage Desire (2000) (Steve and Ginny)

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