Paige’s review of Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Historical romance released by Avon in 1977, republished in 2016 as part of their Diamond Anniversary
From New York Times bestselling author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss comes one of her most iconic and beloved romances of all time…
A pact is sealed in secret behind the foreboding walls of Newgate Prison. In return for one night of unparalleled pleasure, a dashing condemned criminal consents to wed a beautiful heiress, thereby rescuing her from an impending and abhorred arranged union.
But in the fading echoes of hollow wedding vows, a solemn promise is broken, as a sensuous free spirit takes flight to a lush Caribbean paradise, abandoning the stranger she married to face the gallows unfulfilled.
Ruark Beauchamp’s destiny is now eternally intertwined with that of the tempestuous, intoxicating Shanna. He will be free . . . and he will find her. For no iron ever forged can imprison his resolute passion. And no hangman’s noose will keep Ruark from the bride— and ecstasy—that he craves.
Originally published in 1977, Shanna tells the tale of a spoiled little rich girl and the convicted criminal turned bondsman (which is a nicer way of saying “slave who works to pay off their debt and eventually can go free but are treated like trash by anyone with a title”) whom she marries in order to gain a name. Why does she do this? To get her father off her back, because she’s so spoiled that every man she meets, she finds fault with. She even rejects one because his shirt is fraying a bit at the edges.
When I told one of my friends that I was getting ready to read a Woodiwiss novel, she got super excited and told me that Ruark (how do you pronounce that, anyway?) was her very first book boyfriend and that I was just going to love him.
I didn’t. At all.
When we first meet him, he’s rude and gruff. I suppose it’s understandable because he’s in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit, and then after she strikes a bargain to marry him, she finds a way to screw him over (I told you she’s a spoiled brat). So, of course he’s pissed. But the thing is, he’s already calling her “my love.” How is that possible? He’s known her for what, a day? Sorry, I don’t buy instalove. Not even in historical romance. Or maybe especially in historical romance, because back then men were expected to court women for some time. Granted, this isn’t the typical HR, but still.
I was supposed to have this review to Lime by 5/28. It’s now 6/6. For that, I’m truly sorry, but it really did take me that long to read this book. Usually I can power through a novel in a single day (I read the last few Harry Potter books all on release day, making my roommate think I’m insane), but I had the worst time getting into this book. I didn’t really have much interest in the characters until about 70% into the book—after they’re captured by pirates and Shanna starts showing that she’s growing up a little bit, and she’s got some backbone.
For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Ruark loved her from the beginning. She was like a Katy Perry song. Hot one minute and cold the next. If I were him, I would’ve gladly walked away the first time she told me to sod off. I’m too old to play games. And (I know I already said it, but it bears repeating) she’s such a spoiled, childish, selfish brat! But apparently, her beauty excuses all that…or something. I swear, every single person that she came across in the book talked about how gorgeous she was. It got to the point where my eyes hurt from rolling so hard every time I read about her beauty. She was such a [expletive deleted] every time she got near Ruark that I wanted to slap the supposed pretty off her face. Every sexual encounter between Shanna and Ruark ended with her calling him names and accusing him of taking advantage of her. Um, there were quite a few times that she went to him, if I recall correctly. And she’s the one who struck the original bargain, which included them spending the night together “as husband and wife.” She screws him over, berates him, and teases him, denies him his rights as her husband even as she gets viciously jealous when he even looks at another female (though he’s so head-over-heels for her—for whatever reason—that he barely notices anyone else exists). What does he see in her?
At 672 pages, there is far too much book. I found myself skimming through the endless description of trees and landscape and clothing. I almost felt like I was reading the romantic version of Moby Dick. So. Many. Words. And it’s soooo slow.
I feel the need to draw attention to the insane amount of references to rape in the book. Performing a search on my Kindle, there are eight different instances where rape is mentioned (although that doesn’t count the times it’s referenced indirectly), most of which are Shanna afraid she’s about to be raped or Ruark talking or thinking about it. A few examples that I highlighted:
“It was all Ruark could do to hold in check the urges that flooded him and to keep himself from simple rape.”
“Madam, rape does have its rewards, even if they be one-sided.”
“She rose from the bed and sought cover, aware that she must garb herself or face the prospect of rape.”
“Perhaps she seeks from me some violence so she can have reason to hate me.” (Shanna is wearing a sexy nightgown found in the bedroom they’re essentially trapped in while they’re with the pirates.)
I was so disturbed by these casual mentions of rape that I talked about it with Lime. I also noticed that my friend who’d told me she loved Shanna was re-reading a Woodiwiss book as she took time off from her own work. I looked through the comments, and noticed that someone said the books were rather “rapey” but they still loved them. *jaw drops* Whaaaat?
If a book were written like this nowadays, the author would be slammed with hate mail and the book would receive a million one-star reviews. Long, ranty posts would appear on Facebook and on blog posts about the mistreatment of women in fiction and how rape is never okay—not even to joke about. But apparently, it was okay enough in 1977. As it stands now, Shanna has 3,536 five star reviews, 2,409 four star reviews, 1,365 three star reviews, 409 two star reviews, and 174 one star reviews. It boggles my mind that so many people loved this book so much. To each their own, I suppose, but I just can’t get behind a book that nearly bored me to death with a heroine that I wanted to stab in the throat, and a hero that was basically a doormat (who excused, if not glorified rape in his thoughts).
Going on Limecello’s grading scale, I’d give Shanna a D (can I give it a D- ?) only because the last 30% was slightly entertaining.
You can buy a copy here.
I still need to get through my copy of Shanna… However I can’t read super long stories anymore because they’re just too long. But this being an oldie HR, I couldn’t even handle one rape scene from Christina Dodd’s A WELL PLEASURED LADY so I’m not sure how I’ll get through this.
Confession: have never read Woodiwiss.
I read this book back in or around 1980. It’s been my experience that the heroes of that era used phrases like “my love” the way the modern day man says “baby” or “babe”. It’s just a generic term of endearment. And a bit of goad, in my opinion, to infuriate Shanna. I have always loved this book.
In her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, the hero did rape the heroine. Grr. I do reread the books, but I start farther in, past that part and pretend it doesn’t exist. I like to read of the growth of the characters, his falling in love and her maturing and becoming woman of stronger character. I won’t say woman of strength because I don’t believe she achieved that by the end.
In The Wolf and the Dove, her second novel, there was a forced seduction bordering on rape. Ms. Woodiwiss played this one close to the edge. He didn’t “take” his captive until he overheard her discussing her attraction to him. It takes place in 1066, during the Norman invasion. His patience probably is not something the real women experience at the hands of the marauders.
These were the books of their time. And I have to say, now that I think about it, the only historicals I will read of that era. Was it Rosemary Rogers who had her poor heroine hella raped by half an army? I can’t remember, I never read them after learning how much abuse the poor heroines had to suffer. Other authors of that time were way more harsh and I eschewed their books. OH, I did ready several early books by Joanna Lyndsey. Forced Seduction was born of this era.
If you want to see the evolution of the behavior of characters in romance books, acquire all of Jayne Ann Krentz’s books (in all her various names) and read them in date order. My sister is a big fan and has them all. I borrowed them and read them all, it was quite an interesting read seeing the evolution of heroine, hero, and the storyline through the decades.
Back to Shanna. Rourke is outrageously H.E.R.O. He’s falsely accused, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. He escapes as a bond slave and wins favor by being knowledgable in the ways of building distilleries and making rum. He is a swash-buckling pirate, a man well versed in the sailing of a ship and how to bomb the crap out of an island. He’s a country gentleman/squire. He’s a colonist hero at one with the new lands and respected by the indigenous people. He’s quite adept at sneaking in bedrooms. Which is where I suspect he learned saying “my love” gets him further than a polite “my lady”. And he can tame the shrew, the spoiled brat into a right proper wife and mother.
I LOVE it. The epitome of escapism. Talk about someone who cannot possibly exist in the real world. The heroyist hero, the heroineyist heroine, the foppyist fop, it’s all so delicious.
Those are my thoughts and do not reflect the beliefs of anyone now living or dead.
Note: I only reread the first five books by Woodiwiss. Something changed in the depth of the writing at the end of five and gone completely with book six so I gave up.
The Flame and the Flower
The Wolf and the Dove
Ashes in the Wind (favorite)
A Rose in Winter
Hmmm thanks for sharing, Crissy. I’m not sure how I’d feel about these books. As a “just now” thing … I think my head would explode. Trying to read it as a “throwback” and “this is how things were not necessarily okay” might change things but … maybe not. :X
If I were to ever study romances, I might.
I read almost ALL the Amanda Quick books up until the mid 00s (I think) and I can’t remember anything being THAT outrageous. I read some HPs in the late 90s and there was a lot of seduction but little forced seduction IIRC.