Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.
I was curious as to what all the hype was about, so I decided to read it. First-hand experience is the best when trying to create a personal opinion, don’t you think?
Well, I read it, keeping in mind the “romance fashion” of the day with bodice rippers being a-la mode and we all know what bodice rippers entail, don’t we? The first bodice ripper I read was The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss back in the day when I first started reading actual romance novels (I was more of an A. Christie and E. Wallace fan). TFATF didn’t shock me, but I did wonder as to the “romance fashion” of the 80s. For someone to willingly put rape and/or forced seduction into a book struck me as strange for someone who was but a baby when bodice rippers were the height of romance novel sophistication.
Anyway, Ms. Woodiwiss’s “bodice ripper” has nothing on Stormfire. Now, if someone asked me to list all the required elements of a true bodice ripper I’d merely suggest they read Ms. Monson’s “bodice-ripping masterpiece”. Like a Knorr mix, this book has everything one needs to become perfectly acquainted with all the necessary elements for a bodice ripper—there’s physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, rape, kidnapping, borderline pedophilia, torture, physical retribution (read: castration), murder, incest…and all other kind of mayhem you can think of. Oh, let’s not forget an extremely beautiful heroine that such a beauty can only come from the Devil, so she must be a witch, so everything that happens to her is justified. She’s the spawn of the Devil, she’s evil, she must be punished. And not only the men in this book think so, but also the women (but you know how we chicks are—she’s intruding on our turf, let’s be rid of her).Seen like this, I guess it could be cringe-worthy, but lucky for us who decided to read this, there is some semblance of story thrown into the mix, a love/hate relationship that somehow, inexorably, between one type of abuse and torture and the next, blooms into a love-story. Maybe not so believable, given today’s standards in romance (and life in general), but a love-story nonetheless. And it sort of a “redemption” for everything that happens at the beginning of a book. A cleansing of soul and spirit so to speak.
That said, I couldn’t help but admire Ms. Monson’s style and writing. She succeeded in turning this 500+ page monstrosity with all the baggage that came with it into a rather enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say it was quick-paced, because it sure did drag its feet in some parts, but the time did fly during those flowing passages.
I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed any of the characters, I rather developed a love/hate connection to them. When Sean was at his worst I’d love nothing more but for him to be quartered alive, but he had those few, but previous moments of lucidity (if I could call it that) when he showed true romance-hero-coloring. Pity, they didn’t last that long.
Catherine affinity to Catherine was the same. All that is female in me rebelled at her SS, falling in love with her abuser and captor, while on the other hand I couldn’t help but understand her. In those rare moments of lucidity, Sean was a prince (until the moment she betrayed him), and besides, he was the one constant in her three-year-long captivity. He was both her tormentor and savior, both angel and devil, something was bound to give…And, as the old adage states, there’s a fine line between love and hate. Which goes for both, Sean and Catherine.
So, while I didn’t particularly like them, I understood where they came from.
All in all, this is really a (really twisted) sort of redemption story. He needed to atone for his sins, she (don’t ask me why) needed to atone for the sins of her father, they both went through hell—multiple visits—but in the end love prevailed.
I wouldn’t have minded a more lengthy resolution—after so long a few more pages wouldn’t hurt—but what we got sure was better than nothing.
That said, having read this book with an open mind and taking in consideration the decade in which it was written, I cannot help but give this one an overall rating of 5 stars. Because it is a prime example of a bodice ripper, it is well-written, it does take you on an emotional rollercoaster (for me, feeling something for the characters, be it love, hate, disdain, sympathy… is better than feeling nothing), and it comes with a nice bow tied in the end.
P.S. Looking at it with the eyes and mind-frame of a 21st century woman, comparing it to the historicals of today, the rating is much, much lower. First, because of all the abuse and “forced seductions” and second (which for me is the most important), because I cannot stand my hero and/or heroine being intimate with anyone but each other after they meet. It’s a personal standard of mine and I’m pretty particular about it. All the “rutting” Sean does (including the threesome with his older mistress and the Indo-Chinese chit) and Catherine’s consummating her marriage to Raoul severely chafes.
80s mind frame—5 stars
21st century mind frame—2 stars (for the writing)
P.P.S. A comment-related rant, read at your own discretion.
And now, Zosia’s review thread has so many comments I didn’t want to intrude, so I decided to post a few of my thoughts about them here. There’s still time for you to stop reading.
How in the world did this book get published?
Well, Ms. Monson wrote it, her agent pitched it to a publisher, they signed a contract, the manuscript was proofread, the corrections approved, and then it went through the printing process. That’s how books get published today as well.
In the 80s these bodice-rippers were all the rage and publishers clamored for them, the more outrageous the better. I wonder if someone from the 80s succeeded in traveling through time and picked up an erotica book. I guess they’d wonder how that got published as well.But, WHY would someone write this book?
Hmm, for the money?
I just...don't understand how a woman could actually write these words.
Would've made a difference if a man wrote them?...And, it’s called fiction. I think that pretty much anything is allowed in fiction and as long as there are people willing to read that anything, so it shall remain.
Monson ended up committing suicide, so I think you have to approach her as a special case re: what she wrote and why.
Well I'm going to sound mean but I can't say I'm surprised! To write a book like that as a romance (because I could accepted it simply as historical fiction) you really must have issues!
I agree, I'm not overly surprised. I just can't imagine the type of person who would write something like this, so it makes sense that, like you said, she had issues. However, I can't imagine this getting published, but that's the world we live in I guess.
Wow, issues, huh? She wrote fiction, people! F-I-C-T-I-O-N. Anything remotely involving a man and a woman in close proximity to each other was categorized as romance back in the 80s, so calling on her issues is really a moot point.
And bringing up her suicide is in really poor taste, if you ask me. We don’t know why she committed suicide, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t because she wrote this book. This was her first published work, she published 5 more after it.
What about other authors out there writing horror and suspense rife with abuse, battered women, and, yes, gasp, rape? Shouldn’t they have offed themselves by now? Yet, they’re still breathing, and writing horror and suspense rife with abuse, battered women, and, yes, gasp, rape.
And now to answer all those who keep asking themselves how can people read this?
It’s pretty easy. You pick up the book, open it and start with the first word on the first page, and continue from there. Yes, just like they taught us in school. See, how easy it is. Then you keep turning the pages, reading word after word in an orderly fashion.
Then, when you come to the end, you close the book as set it on the shelf, donate it to your nearest UBS, or give it to a friend, so they can benefit from it as well and create their own opinion based on the words they read in the book and not on a reviewer’s subjective opinion.
For those, like me, who found this book online (which is cheaper, BTW), you open the file and start with the first word in the first line. And you go on from there. But since that’s not particularly good for the eyes, you can easily transfer the book file onto your favorite ebook reading device (it comes in different formats—.html, .epub, .prc and .lit—or you can print it out (putting additional strain on the environment).When you’re done, you calmly close the file on your computer or favorite ebook reading device and maybe send it to a friend, so they can benefit from it as well and create their own opinion based on the words they read in the book and not on a reviewer’s subjective opinion.