Neo Bodice Rippers & Epic Historical Romances That Are Not for the Faint of Heart!
Category: Old-School Romance
Not bodice rippers, or even necessarily historical romances, these books are simply vintage works from the 1950’s to 1990’s that explore the male-female dynamic of romance in a more “traditional” manner, with often virgin heroines and inscrutable heroes. These are represented well by the Harlequin Romance & Presents lines and Mills and Boon publishers.
I just realized I had A Heart So Wild on my Kindle and since I hadn’t read it in 25 years why not give it a re-read? And you know what? I loved this book more the second time than the first.
-Heroine & hero “meet” when the heroine is getting sexually assaulted by an outlaw, and hero shoots the bad guy dead.
-Enigmatic hero with a mysterious and tragic past.
-The heroine needs a gunslinger to guide her through hostile Indian territory to find her missing father.
-Hero fights, beats, kills men who try to kidnap or try to rape heroine.
-A snakebite where the heroine sucks blood out of the hero’s wound for an hour (!) and then he gets sick, revealing more in his fever dreams than he would if he was fine.
-Quick love scenes that express passion, aren’t too purple in prose and don’t go on for endless pages.
I’m so glad I gave this one a reread, as it made me remember why for such a long time Johanna Lindsey was my favorite author: she’s easy to read. Sometimes reading is a chore, and it shouldn’t be, if it’s a hobby I supposedly love.
Courtney is a likable heroine, and Chandos is just… well, he’s the kind of hero that made Lindsey sell tens of millions of books.
“You’re my woman, cateyes. You’ve been my woman since I first laid eyes on you.”
That didn’t satisfy her. “Say it!”
He grinned and jerked her down onto his lap, where she sat stiffly, waiting, until at last he said, “I love you. Is that what you want to hear? I love you so much I’ve got no direction without you.”
“Oh, Chandos.” She melted against him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I love—”
“Uh-uh.” He stopped her. “You better think real carefully before you say anything, cateyes, because if you give me your love, I’m not going to let you take it back. I can’t keep worrying about whether or not I can make you happy. I’ll try my best but there isn’t going to be any changing your mind later. Do you understand what I’m saying? If you’re going to be my woman, there’s no way in hell I’ll ever let you go.”
Wow…what an experience! “Edin’s Embrace” by Nadine Crenshaw is a Zebra Lovegram romance published way back in 1989. With a shimmering Pino Daeni cover featuring a muscled guy who looks a lot like Fabio, embracing a blonde on a Viking ship (spot the horse on the cover!) this could just have been another ho-hum romance.
But it’s not.
This is how the tale begins:
“The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.”
Ok, that definitely piqued my interest.
The ominous effect is spoiled a bit in the next paragraph with a glaring misspelling, thanks to the ever so diligent Zebra editors who were so lackadaisical that even I could’ve easily found work there ;-). The word hardier is used instead of heartier. There are a lot of typos in this book, which is a shame, as such a good book deserved more cautious editing.
Crenshaw diligently tries to portray the authenticity of the Viking era and sticks to lots of historical facts. This book also borrows heavily from the Icelandic sagas… setting the stage for Vikings as pitiless warriors. The heroine is a lady, not the clichéd young girl trained by her father as a boy in the arts of war. I’ve never read a Viking book with such authenticity, making sure that it was noted which helmets were worn when, the importance of bathing, the treatment of slaves. Slaves are to have their hair shorn, and they are to be killed if they try to escape. When Thoryn has neither of these things done to Edin, it is a cause of strife amongst his peoples.
Despite its authentic, violent, stark Viking feel, I do have to admit that there were a few anachronisms. The mentions of potatoes and squash threw me out of the authenticity for a moment. When a Muslim trader mentions that Constantinople was founded in the year 300 AD (Anno Domino, In the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ), I wondered why he just didn’t say it was founded about 600 years ago, instead. And as I said, there were so many typos for a book printed and edited in 1988. These are minor gripes, and I fault the editor in this. Crenshaw did try her damned best to make this as accurate as possible.
While the genuine Viking atmosphere is a major plus here, the real draw is the love story. Edin is Thoryn’s thrall, but he in turn is enslaved by her. What I really appreciate is that there is no other woman for Thoryn (except for a brief encounter with a prostitute), no other great love of his. He is a primal force of a man and love is not part of his mentality. “What is love?” is a phrase often queried here. Sometimes this book gets quite philosophical about the nature of man and woman and their bonds together. Women are a biological need for Thoryn, but before Edin came along, they offered little in terms of mental stimulation and affection. With her he becomes a better man and a better lover.
There is a scene where Thoryn approaches a Viking friend and asks him if women enjoy sex, and if they do, how can men go about pleasing them? Despite’s his friend’s poor advice, Thoryn learns how to please Edin and he she in turn pleases him. Their passion however soon turns into what could be a doomed love.
There’s a lot of introspection than action here, far more than I usually enjoy, but somehow in Edin’s Embrace, it works. Edin and Thoryn are two very deep individuals whose lives and souls are drawn together.
One thing I wasn’t crazy about was ***SPOILER***Edin’s failure to accept her place in the violent Viking world. In the end, Edin convinces Thoryn to basically say, “Hey, let’s eff this Viking pillaging stuff, and move to Constantinople to become merchants.” That might seem a bit odd, as I have no qualms when a gunslinger hangs up his guns and becomes a rancher or a pirate stops raiding and becomes a plantation owner. But when one of the most hardcore Viking heroes I‘ve ever read about hangs up his sword, it made me a bit sad. I knew it would ensure for Edin the stability she required, but it made the ending less perfect for me.
As a reader of historical romance, I have always been searching for that great Viking romance. I still rate Johanna Lindsey’s “Fires of Winter” a 5 star read because, for that 13-year-old girl who read it, that was a 5 star read. I’m not the kind of reader who looks back at books she enjoyed and said well, I don’t like them now. However, 23 years later, I’ve changed as a person and a reader. I need something different. Something more hardcore. “Edin’s Embrace” comes close, but it’s not perfect. Nevertheless, I loved it.
This is the scene that won me over in this book, and made me realize I was not reading another tame, ho-hum Viking book:
There he held her. She felt the sword point keenly. She became aware of her ribs beneath it, how delicate the bones were how easily they could be pierced.
“I’m waiting thrall! What say you know?”
She whispered, “I-I am free, a nobleman’s daughter.”
Why was she doing this? He had no scruples against murder—he’d already murdered Cedric before her very eyes!
“You suffer from unnatural belief in your own immortality,” he answered softly…Quickly another sword appeared. She looked from Thoryn to the sword Rolf held out to her.
“Take it!” The jarl stepped back half a pace, removing his sword point from her breast, yet not removing it.…She took the sword from Rolf with both hands. Even so, as soon as he released it, its point fell almost to the floor. She struggled to bring it up again, but couldn’t raise it even to the height of her waist… “Lift it!” he said. He waved his own weapon as if it were a twig. “All it takes is a good arm.” She saw the sinews in his forearm, the muscles rippling. “It’s Rolf’s own sword, a good killing blade…If you aren’t my thrall you’ll lift it and defend your claim. I say you’re mine, my property to dispose of as I see fit. Prove to me I’m wrong!” She stood as she was, her arms and shoulders and back trembling in effort of keeping the heavy sword point from falling to the floor completely.
“Well?” He was like a dragon in his fury, rending and unreasonable. Those who resisted, he would always mercilessly overcome, if not with his muscles then with the tremendous strength of his mind and purpose. ¨
“You know I can’t fight you.”
“Come,” the jarl said dryly, lowering his sword. “Take it; charge me with it. I know you can kill if you want to.”
“You killed Ragnarr.”
“I can’t!” ¨
He made a sound of contempt. “You are a race of slaves, you Saxons.”
Her gaze dropped to somewhere near his feet. She wanted to cry, but somehow kept the sobs held in.
“I’m challenging you—fight me, my lady!”¨
“I can’t fight you, Viking, as well you know.”
Aye,” he said slowly, lowering his weapon at last, “as well I know.”
Her gaze lifted again, all the way to his face. “But I will never be your slave,” she said stubbornly.
This time he reacted with immediate anger, the most parlous kind of anger, the kind born of frustration. The jerk of his head told her of his ire, and her breath froze at the cold flare of temper in his eyes. In an instant, he became fearsome, furious mad. His mighty sword swung again, and he closed in. There was an ice storm rampaging in his eyes. The flat of his sword lifted her chin, until she was looking at him down its long gilt and silver length. All he said now was, “Slave or sword point?”
The flames snapped in the fire pit behind her. The cold, steel point pricking her throat never moved the slightest. For an immeasurable extent of time she stood perfectly still, living in a state of strain. She searched for an answer. And impaled on his gaze, feeling all those wild and hungry eyes on her, something of her pride broke inside her. In the end she could only whisper: “Slave”
I’m so excited to announce that in just a few months I will release my firstbook, a retro-styled historical romance! The Savage Noble will take place in Regency-era England and I will offer it as a free e-book for a limited time. I hope readers will find the turbulent love story between Justin and Linnet as enthralling as I have while writing it!
One caveat I must give regarding these novels: my historical romances aren’t catered to every reader’s tastes. I do not write them with modern sensibilities.
I grew up loving the epic romances written from the 1970sto mid-1980s, devouringevery book I could get my hands on. So many authors influenced me, from Jude Deveraux to Johanna Lindsey to Rebecca Brandewyne to Valerie Sherwood to Rosemary Rogers to the vast stable of writers of the Zebra historical lines.
While many excellent romances are being published today, they rarely strike an emotional chord with me. I prefer the “Old-School” historicals, with some rough bodice-ripping here and there, over-the-top, pulpy plots and careful attention paid to not just to historical facts, but to theattitudesthat were prevalent way back when.
There’s much to be said of the well-written love stories created by various talented authors. Over the years, I’ve read thousands of romances and have enjoyed too many to count. Nevertheless, as I grew up on a steady diet of the (now) much-maligned bodice-ripper romances, I have always preferred them to contemporarily-written historicals. I miss the wild fun, the emotional heights, and depths of those old-time romances, and, yes, even the cheesiness of some of the plots! Not to mention the beautifully painted covers by artists such as Robert McGinnis, Elaine Duillo and Tom Hall.
If as a romance devotee you prefer historicals with forward-thinking heroines and heroes, mixed with a generous dose of modern-day politics, perhaps my books may not strike your fancy. Many might categorize my books as “politically incorrect.” The stories are often epic in scope, spanning months, or even years, not days or weeks. My heroes are not the always rakish Dukes with hearts of gold. They will leave you swooning with their unrepentant machismo.
It is my deepest hope that book lovers can enjoy a purely fictional story for escapist thrills.
Readers, I welcome you to give one of my novels a try. One promise I can make is that the plots will never bore you! After The Savage Noble, my following novel will be What She Says with Her Eyes, set in France during the reign of Louis XIV, about a calculating French widow on the prowl for a new husband and an ascetic English swordsman who is more than what he seems. I hope to release this book in Spring of 2022.
There is a vast untapped market for readers hungry for something different, yet a little retro. For those romance fans intrigued by that writing style, I promise to always keep my novels thrilling, sexy, and wildly unpredictable.
I’d love to hear from all my readers, detractors and fans alike. You can reach me here at WordPress, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Please be on the lookout for more Jacqueline Diaz historicals. I will keep you posted with updates and if you contact me I’ll always try my get back as quickly as possible (although my rheumatoid arthritis due to lupus might delay my responses by a day or so). Still, I will do my best to respond to all your queries.
Whatever your opinions, I can’t wait to hear what you think!