Does anyone remember the last time I did one of these? More to the point, does anyone even want to read my write ups of trashy romance novels?
Actually, scratch that last question - I find these hilariously stupid to read and really fun to write about, so other people reading and enjoying them is almost beside the point (although, of course, I certainly hope that you do).
I was browsing in a thrift store a couple of weeks ago when I came across this book, and I knew the moment that I saw the cover that it would be a classic - the heaving bosom, that expanse of chest hair, the utterly absurd blurb. "Only the fury of innocence can enflame such burning desire!" I think I paid $1.50 for it, and I was soon to find out if it was worth the price of admission.
Our cast of characters -
Brett "Devil" Dangermond: I had to start with him because he's literally got "danger" in his name. And they tell you right on the back cover that he's "Devil" Dangermond, and then he's only called that, like, twice in the book. After his mother deserted his family and almost got his father killed in a duel, he swore he would never let another woman past his defenses. He is, of course, dead sexy, with "cynical jade green eyes" (as they are always described) and black hair, so women are literally falling into his bed left and right, but they never penetrate his heart. That is, until he meets...
Sabrina del Torres: The privileged daughter of a wealthy rancher, the beautiful, untamed Sabrina... actually, I'm trying to come up with other defining characteristics, but her main thing is that she's rich, pretty, everyone loves her, and she's prone to slapping Brett. She does have "amber-gold eyes" (and, again, literally every time her eyes are mentioned they are described in exactly that way. What color even is "amber-gold"? I'm picturing yellow), though, and full breasts that swell temptingly over the top of every gown she owns.
Alejandro del Torres: Sabrina's dad. He's super nice, not too bright, way too invested in Sabrina marrying Brett.
Carlos de la Vega: Sabrina's cousin. He's evil.
The story opens in 1789 in South Texas (which was, at the time, Spanish territory, just FYI), with the wedding of Sabrina's aunt, Sophia, to Brett's father, Hugh. Brett's mom ran off when he was a kid, taking his little brother, Martin, with her. His father ended up fighting a duel over her and was badly wounded. Later, his mother dies in a carriage accident (and does anyone else want to read that book? Because her story sounds way more interesting than the one I actually read), and his father falls in love with Sophia. Everyone is worried about 17 year old Brett and his hatred of women, but he's surprisingly tolerant of 7 year old Sabrina's infatuation with him.
I actually thought this section was kind of cute for a minute because I remember being a little girl and having these huge crushes on older guys who were really sweet about the whole thing. BUT THEN IT GETS WEIRD. He starts to reciprocate her feelings, which, thankfully, he realizes is fucked up, so he distances himself from her. She's mad about it and to prove how tough and grown up she is, she tries to ride his new horse, which is a giant, half wild stallion. He saves her from getting thrown and spanks her, and that is the end of Part 1.
There's this whole thing about Brett's brother and how he's a bad seed (he puts a snake in a bird's nest that Brett and Sabrina have been watching), so you think he's being set up as the villain, but when we get to Part 2 he's dead. The law of conservation of detail is clearly not in effect here.
Anyway, we jump 10 years into the future. Sabrina's mother died shortly after the wedding we saw in Part 1, and her father, Alejandro, pretty much treats her like he would a son - she rides and wears pants and is involved in the running of their ranch. But (gasp!) he's worried that there isn't a man around who can tame her, until he remembers how cool his nephew-in-law was and is like "that's the man for her!" So, without telling Sabrina, he makes up an excuse to get Brett to come for a visit (planting sugarcane, and everyone who is not Alejandro is like "really?" Actually, I Googled this, and they do grow sugarcane there, but not until about 1820, so I guess Alejandro was just ahead of the curve), and Brett's like "hm, wonder how Sabrina's doing?" and rides right over from New Orleans. When he reaches the ranch, he sees what he thinks is a boy on a runaway horse and pulls "him" to safety. And then it turns out to be Sabrina, and she stabs him because she's like "the fuck? Who is this bandit trying to kidnap me?" And then they kiss.
That's pretty much the book in a nutshell. They constantly misunderstand each other, literally or metaphorically wound each other, then kiss.
I swear to god, my write-ups tend to be about as long as the books themselves, so I'll do this next bit in bullet points.
- Sabrina still loves Brett, Brett still loves Sabrina, and neither of them is willing to admit it
- Sabrina's cousin, Carlos, wants to bang her/marry her for her fortune, and he's pissed that Brett's appeared on the scene
- Carlos lies to Brett about having had sex with Sabrina (which Brett believes because, if you recall, he thinks all women are deceitful sluts)
- Carlos lies to Sabrina about Brett being a lady-stabbing wastrel and fortune hunter who only wants her for her money (which she believes because when the guy who has spent the past few years trying to marry you tells you that the guy you like is bad, why would you ask anyone else to corroborate his story?)
- Sabrina finally decides that Carlos might be full of shit and tells him so, and then he tries to rape her. Brett walks in, sees her ripped clothes and flailing limbs, and is like "well this looks consensual," calls her a whore, and stomps off
- Brett and Sabrina finally decide that despite their reservations, they want to be together, so after 207 pages of waiting they finally have sex. Brett realizes that Carlos definitely has not had sex with her before (although, it needs to be said, you cannot actually feel someone's hymen break, that is a myth that needs to die)
- Carlos convinces an old lover of his, who had a brief fling with Brett shortly after he arrived in Texas, to pretend to be pregnant and tell Sabrina that Brett promised to marry her, but broke things off because he wanted Sabrina's fortune
Side note - both of these people are absurdly fucking rich, but somehow Carlos manages to make both of them think that the other just wants them for their money. Literally every problem in this book could be solved if anyone, at any point, just said what they were actually thinking. It's a pretty common trope in romance novels, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.
- Sabrina breaks off the engagement, Brett rides back to New Orleans
Time jump! It's been 6 years, and Sabrina's dad has died, killed by "bandits". I forgot to mention it before, but there's this whole side plot about bandits robbing people in the del Torreses community. And if you think it's Carlos, yes, it's definitely Carlos. Anyway, Alejandro left a codicil in his will that Sabrina's guardian after he died would be none other than Brett, and that he would have complete control over her money, property, and who she could marry. Frankly, that's a pretty dick move after grooming her to live an independent life for the past 25 years, but whatever.
What happens next is an enthralling repeat of Part 2. They fight, they kiss, they briefly consider talking about their feelings before deciding that they couldn't possibly for *reasons*.
There's also some weird shit about Thomas Jefferson and an invasion of Louisiana which I'm pretty sure is only comprehensible if you're super deep into American history or if you know that this book is part of a series and have read the previous ones (which I did not and have not), but none of it is relevant to the plot in any way and I mostly skimmed it while rolling my eyes and wondering when they would get back to the sex.
Finally they get back to the sex. (You guys, this book was such a disappointment in this regard - 450+ pages and there were only two real sex scenes. Two!) It's kind of hot, though - he goes down on her, and apparently has her first real orgasm! Given how in romance novels ladies usually finish from p-in-v sex at the exact same time as men do, it's kind of refreshing. Afterward, Brett's like "be my mistress for 6 months and I'll give you your freedom." And then 5 minutes later he's like "actually, you can be my mistress... or you can be my wife!" Since both of them have desperately wanted to be together for years now, she's like "fine, I'll be your wife, but I'm not happy about it!" even though she's super happy about it.
If you're still reading at this point, I have to congratulate you on your stamina (which rivals Brett's, if you know what I mean), because I am exhausted. Around this point the book finally starts to come to its inevitable conclusion - they get married, she gets pregnant, she figures out Carlos has been lying to her, she has Carlos come over to their house while she's all alone so that she can confront him, Brett overhears their conversation and realizes that all of the obstacles to their relationship were caused by one dude lying his ass off, Carlos tries to kill them, Brett kills Carlos, and their house burns down but they're rich so they just rebuild it. Oh, and they find out that Carlos killed Sabrina's father, but we all already knew that so it wasn't much of a reveal. And they all live happily ever after! Well, except Carlos and Brett's brother, whathisface. They're still dead.
I had such high hopes for this book, but for all the "untamed passion" that I was promised, there are only, like, 2.5 sex scenes. Admittedly, the scenes that were there were fairly hot, but given how focused the author was on their bodies (I don't think a page went by without a mention of Sabrina's full breasts or Brett's muscular thighs), I would have expected those bodies to come together a lot more.
It was also incredibly repetitive. I cannot tell you how many pages were devoted to one of our lovers pacing back and forth in their bedrooms, fretting about how much they love the other one but how they can't trust them. If it's not half the book, it certainly feels like it is.
Also, this didn't come up until the very tail end of the book, but there's some real weirdness about the institution of slavery. Retrograde gender politics I can roll with - after all, this book is older than I am, and while romance novels these days often take a more nuanced and healthy approach to sex and power, that's a really new thing - but by 1985, the year this book was published, it was generally not acceptable to say that slavery was anything other than terrible. The book largely tries to dodge the issue by not bringing up the fact that Brett is a slave owner, but for some reason they slip in a couple of mentions at the very end, when we are simply told that the slaves on Brett's plantation are happy about the end of the sugarcane harvesting season because they get more time away from the fields and some extra drinks. I don't even know what to do with that.
Number of times Sabrina's eyes are described as "amber-gold" - 37
Number of times Brett is described at "cynical" - 20
Number of times someone thinks about the size of someone else's fortune - 39
Number of times Brett's penis is referred to as his "manhood" - 11
Best euphemism for a sex organ - There weren't really any great ones, but Sabrina's vagina is described as a "satiny sheath," so there's that
Accuracy of the cover illustration - 9/10
Overall score (quality of the writing, quality of the sex scenes, enjoyment of the characters, absurdity of the plot) - 3/10
This has been another edition of Bad Romance! If you have a romance novel that you would like to recommend, please drop me a note in the comments.