Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New Review: Jennifer Blake’s LOVE’S WILD DESIRE – A Bodice Ripper with a Message—and a Compelling NY Times Bestseller set in Louisiana

This is Blakes's first historical romance and her first NY Times Bestseller—and it’s amazing. I recommend it.

Set in 1810 in New Orleans and environs in Louisiana, this is the story of Catherine Mayfield, a wellborn young woman with a bit of a reckless side. Maneuvered into attending an infamous “quadroon ball” where the light brown women of color were displayed for men to acquire as their mistresses, Catherine becomes the object of Rafael Navarro’s desire. Rumored to be a pirate, Lafitte’s “right hand,” Navarro is a compelling and dark figure. He and Catherine’s companion, Marcus, have a history and eventually lock rapiers. Once Marcus is defeated, Rafe who thinks Catherine is Marcus’s mistress, abducts her and takes her to his home where he rapes her. When he realizes she is a virgin and not one of the quadroons, he offers her marriage. By that time, the whole town considers her a ruined woman (which she is) and she has little choice but to accept his offer.

Following a hasty wedding, Rafe escorts Catherine to his secluded plantation Alhambra, located up river where mysteries and a rising slave discontent abound as Catherine tries to make the best of a bad situation, all the while Marcus is lurking in the background.

I might have wanted Catherine to show her backbone earlier and call Rafe’s action the night they met what it was (rape) but in those days trying to make the best of it was likely the only avenue open to her. At first she seemed to drift along on the desires of others, first Marcus’s desire that she attend the quadroon ball, then Rafe’s various desires and her mother’s desire for her to wed Rafe. If she had any desires of her own, they were veiled. But she is stronger than she appears.

Blake writes beautifully weaving in the politics of the era and bringing this time in America’s history to life, including the great slave uprising of 1811. She provides many twists and turns as she tells a captivating story of true love coming from a rather bad beginning. This is so much more than just a great romance, however; it’s an exploration of attitudes toward women in the era and a woman’s options. I commend Blake for taking on those issues, particularly in 1977 when this novel was first published. Our heroine goes from pampered, well-educated miss, living well in new Orleans, to being a maid in a bordello, witnessing first hand how far some females could fall due to circumstances. Even with this, however, Catherine maintains her dignity and her desire to make her own way, concluding, “…I have no one to depend on except myself.”

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