The Windflower is one of those mythical romance novels that many speak of, that more often than not appears in top 100 listings and it has been granted DIK (Desert Island Keeper) status by a lot of people. I had been looking for it for months now but the book is out of print and living in the UK makes it nearly impossible to find a used copy. Then I found out that Ciara had found it! I begged her to send it to me once she was done with the book and she did. We then had this idea to pass around the book to other bloggers and start a discussion about the genre, the merits (or not) of old school romance novels, and to see if The Windflower stands the test of time.
Ciara kicked off the Tour early today with a post about the idea, the rules and the list of participants. The Book Smugglers is the first official stop on the Windflower World Tour and I am supposed to review the book now.
Except, I find myself in a bit of a predicament. Because I lost all sense of objectivity, I lost my temper and nearly lost my mind whilst reading the book and ended up at the other side of the spectrum – a side I suspect will be lonely and unpopular for I absolutely abhorred The Windflower! Does that sound harsh? I suppose it does, but in all honesty, this is how I feel. But before I give you my reasons, a little bit of a background.
I started to read romance novels one year ago. Before that, I kept away solely because I, like many non-romance readers out there, thought the genre was populated with bodice rippers and some of the tiles and covers out there did not help changing my perception. Until a trusted friend spoke highly of the new authors and new storylines and convinced me on trying it and I never looked back.
I found out that I like reading romance because I love to read about two people falling in love with each other and going through the motions of that relationship, in any shape or form towards a satisfactory happy ending. I love reading romance because it’s heart warming, entertaining and because most of these books speak directly to my highly emotional soul.
I have read close to 200 titles in the last year and even if that doesn’t make me a specialist, I believe it gives me some scope to be able to assess the differences between old school historical romance (as written for example, by Judith McNaught and Kathleen Woodiwiss ) or what I call, new romance (Julia Quinn, Loretta Chase, Lisa Kleypas) and to say which one I prefer and why: the latter, because the power balance between the protagonists are resonant with my modern sensibilities.I explain: in old school romance (for example, Whitney My Love, The Flame and The Flower and The Windflower), as far as I can tell and very generally speaking, the basics are: a much too young, innocent, virginal heroine that charms everybody but who cannot stand her own in front of the alpha hero, who is the only one who thinks her innocence is acting and that she is actually, the greatest whore of the world and/or a conniving bitch and who likes to use his punishing kisses as a weapon of mass destruction, or seduction or whatever. There are quite a few scenes with forced seduction and some of them result in rape (in the Flame and The Flower, “hero” rapes heroine 3 times, whilst she begs and cries for him to stop – but because he believes her to be a prostitute, it’s alright. Seriously). The so called hero then proceeds with more acts of cruelty, fuelled with sarcasm, rage. Some very serious physical and emotional abuse ensue until through a deus ex machina, he finds out the truth (because the heroine can hardly express herself through her tears or her fear, or her god only knows why, admiration for the hero) and then miraculously he realizes all that he has done was out of love and grovels his way back to the heroine, who forgives all. The end.
Sometimes I wonder if I am not being too anachronistic when I state my preference for new romance novels and my dislike of old school romance because of the reasons above. I mean, wouldn’t the reality of 19th century be exactly like that? Older men marrying younger, innocent ladies and having all the power in the relationship? Wouldn’t that reflect the sensibilities of the time? Maybe. But then I remember that some 19th century writers like Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, wrote wonderful love stories where the heroines stood their ground in front of the hero, in any capacity. One can say Heathcliff was cruel, but so was Cathy. In fact she was the catalyst of all cruelty in the book. Jane Austen hasn’t written a single scene of cruelty or forced seduction in any of her books – and if she could do that, if she, a woman who was most probably attuned with the sensibilities of her own time, could do it, then I dare say that it’s possible that at least some of the men of her time did not go around being alpha and terrorising innocent girls. So the fact that old school romance novels are what they are, is solely because of the way writers choose to tell their stories. They are not by any means, trapped by History in what they can or can not do. New romance novelists seem to appreciate that fact and the conflict in their books are much more realistic (social status, inner turmoil, sense of inadequacy coming from past behaviour, etc) and satisfactory – at least, for me.
This is a rather long introduction for the matter at hand which is to talk about the Windflower.
I was so happy when I got the book! Finally I was going to read this classic. But right from the very first pages, I was disappointed. It was so freaking boring. And full of paragraph after paragraph of endless descriptions of things I couldn’t care less. Ok. Granted, that can just be me and my tastes – it doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. I carried on. Things got worse.
I am not going to mention the amount of stupid, contrived plotlines used to further the story ; I am not going to mention the ridiculousness of having an entire pirate ship crew falling head over heels in love with the heroine because she was oh so poor and innocent; or the fact that at least 2 of these pirates are dum dum dum, Peers of the Reign (rolling my eyes here – again); Because in all honesty even if all of the above require a huge amount of suspension of belief – I am always and forever prepared and willing to do just that. But it has to be worth it. It has to be because the characters are so amazing and the writing is so good, I don’t care about anything else other than the emotional kick.
So I am going to talk exclusively about the relationship between the hero and heroine of the book and why it just didn’t work for me.
So basically, The Windflower rehashes all of those basic details of old school romance. The heroine, Merry, is a 17-18 young virgin (who has no idea of what sex is, how it is done, etc) who is kidnapped by pirates and taken to the Black Joke, a ship captained by the dreaded pirate Rand Morgan. Morgan’s half-brother Devon, our hero, is a Duke-Pirate who believes Merry is the lover of his old enemy and because of that he behaves like a boar for about ¾ of the novel, being cruel, sarcastic, threatening her with bodily harm and using his punishing kisses to try get to the truth of who she is (the sister of an American idealist in the throes of an American-British war and who is keeping her identity a secret in order to protect him). Merry can hardly defend herself, because she cries and trembles all the time.Everybody on the ship falls in love with her but she obviously, falls in love with the hero. I failed miserably to see what was so attractive about him especially because of all those parts where he either ignores her, threatens her, calls her a slut or more specifically when he is dragging her for two days through Britain, with her wrists bound (and bleeding) refusing her sleep or proper food. And that is, believe it or not, near the end of the book.
When he finally learns the truth that she was covering for her brother to protect him which meant she was not his enemy’s lover, Devon simply says (brace yourselves):
“That’s rich. Do you understand what I might have done to you if I’d been a shade more convinced you were Granville’s light-skirt?”
This was when I nearly lost my mind, had an attack of hysterics, laughing manically and wondering if I was going insane because this was part of the romantic resolution of the book.
What? So the fact that he thought she was not a virgin, or that she was other man’s lover is sufficient excuse to abuse, terrify, force himself on her? How does that make this man a hero? Because it all comes down to this, doesn’t it? That we, romance readers must, above all things, believe that the hero is well, a hero. If not for us, at least for the heroine.
And this is when I discovered something about me as a reader . I always thought of myself as a hero kind of girl. That I would always relate to the hero and that the development of the heroine was not as important. I was wrong – Merry showed that to me.
Because I can’t stomach the heroines in the old romance novels I have read and because more and more I appreciate how a strong, fleshed out heroine is as important as the hero. Merry, as many other TSTL heroines of old school romance behave like victims for most of the time, at least that’s how I seen them. Always and forever at the beck and call of the so called heroes, who are the ones that hold all the power in the relationship and the ones that we, the heroine, everybody and their dogs must wait to make up their minds about what they truly feel. I need some backbone, some spine. Something more. Something like shooting the hero when he is a jerk (like Jess Trent in Lord of Scoundrels).
To some, a good amount of grovelling in the end of these books is enough to redeem the heroes but to me, no amount of grovel is enough to absolve them of their past misbehaviour. I can not, will not condone downright cruelty and forced seduction that leads to rape. Note: the Windflower has no rape, in case you were wondering. And this is the most positive thing I can say about the hero: at least he didn’t get to rape her – not that he didn’t try mind you – the motivation, the frame of mind, the rage was all there. But things and people kept interrupting them. And this is my whole point: I do not want to finish a romance novel thinking “well, at least he didn’t rape her”.
I like alpha males as much as the next girl, but I prefer my alphas to be like Nalini Singh’s alphas – they would rip their own limbs out before laying a finger on their heroines.
In the end I hurled The Windflower across the room furiously. Depressed that I wasted six precious hours of my reading life but still somewhat content that I got this out of the way sooner rather than later. And I made a promise to myself that I will stay away from old school romance from now on. It is obviously, not for me.
And this is what I have to say on the subject of The Windflower and Old School Romance – It seems my thoughts are all over the place and I feel a sudden urge to go into hiding after writing this post as I wonder: am I messing with a beehive?
I can’t wait to see what the other bloggers who are going to read the book think about The Windflower, about old school romance, about romance in general. What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Am I the solitary voice of dissent?
In any case, the Windflower is therefore, a nay from me.
Next Stop: Jenb – The Ginger Kid’s Den of Iniquity