From time to time I pick up a romance of the overwrought bodice-ripper variety. They’re guilty pleasures, the literary version of cotton candy. I don’t have to think and I know I’m not going to feel anything but amusement, so I settle down to enjoy the ride.
In the case of Rebecca Brandewyne’s No Gentle Love, the book was even better than I expected, but then one scene (which I’ll mention later on) completely derailed it. First, though, the characters. All you need to know about them is:
He’s arrogant, jealous, violent; an earl, a ship’s captain and a highwayman; incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly rich; capable of killing any man and seducing any woman. Oh, and he’s determined never to love. No reason for this is ever given,
She’s innocent, naive, incredibly beautiful, incredibly feisty, incredibly spineless and capable of attracting any man within fifty feet of her without doing a thing.
And does this book have it all!
- Forced marriage due to I-want-grandchildren-damnit ancestor’s will stipulation
- At least two insane villains who lust after the heroine
- A miscarriage due to a suspicious fall down stairs
- Two jealous ex-mistresses of the zero
- A trip to an African village, complete with tribal chieftain who lusts after the heroine
- A trip to exotic India, complete with a Maharajah who lusts after the heroine
- A trip to the mysterious Orient, complete with foot-binding, fortune-telling Chinese. But none of them lusted after the heroine. Maybe they thought they were in a different book.
- And rape on every other page.
…he forced her head down. He groaned with pleasure as her swollen lips closed over his heated pride.
Described in the purplest of prose, their relationship proceeds in a predictable cycle throughout various international locations:
- They are separated
- She believes that he’s dead or that she’ll never see him again
- She is either raped by another man or allows another man to seduce her (yet never feels the world-shattering ecstasy that she knows only in his arms)
- They are reunited
- He’s furious that she would allow another man to touch her
- He rapes her while she sobs, shrieks or scratches at him, but of course it feels amazing
- Rinse and repeat
And this was an ordinary puppy, mind you, which had never done anything similar before. I felt like I’d wandered into a Tintin comic by mistake.
I would be able to recommend this novel wholeheartedly for any readers wanting to enjoy the silliness, except for one particular scene. Remember the black chieftain who lusted after the heroine? Well, he kidnaps her (get in line) and takes her to his village, but she escapes. The zero and his loyal men storm the village shortly after, only to be told that she’s lost in the African jungle and probably dead.
So the zero drops to his knees screaming at the sky — as you do — while his men kill everyone in the village. After raping the women, that is. Then they walk off, and the author describes how a child who’s survived the slaughter crawls out of cover, sits among the corpses and cries. The chapter ends.
That came close to being the most disgusting thing I’ve read in a romance novel. Though with the zero being a misogynist (he despises all women) and a classist (he sneers at a suitor of the heroine because the man is a doctor, meaning he actually has to work for a living instead of being an earl), he might as well be a racist too. So I can’t recommend this novel even for readers just looking for ridiculous, campy fun.
Oh, and one other reason I wanted to read this book was because the zero is the captain of a ship, and I’m in love with all things nautical at the moment. Well, they’re on the high seas and there’s a terrible storm that leaves the heroine cringing in terror, but after it’s over the zero tells her everything’s fine, they just lost a mast which can be replaced. This is like coming in from a battlefield and saying, “Hi honey, I’m fine, I just had a leg chopped off. It should grow back, right? I can haz sex now?”