3 stars and a half

Historical Romance Review: The Wildest Heart by Rosemary Rogers

The Wildest Heart, Rosemary Rogers, Avon, 1974, cover artist Tom Hall

We gave each other, with our bodies, the commitment that neither of us dared put into words. We mated. There is no other word for it. We were equal—man and woman; neither asking what we could not give…

THE WILDEST HEART

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert*** 

In Rosemary Rogers’ The Wildest Heart Lady Rowena Dangerfield is a beautiful woman who’s valued by many men for her beauty or her wealth, or both. She was a heroine who intrigued me right from the start. Rowena was indifferent to men; despite their passion for her, she could not love anyone except outlaw Lucas Cord. For Lucas, Rowena was willing to renounce her inheritance or even die with him in the perilous mountains. Despite his conflicted past, Lucas was the only man to love Rowena for herself alone.

The negatives aspects:

If The Wildest Heart hadn’t been written primarily in a 1st person diary format, I would have LOVED it for the epic range of emotion and intrigue. It would have been a thrill ride on a par with Rogers’ other great bodice rippers Sweet Savage Love & Wicked Loving Lies. As much as I understood and loved Rowena, she was the overwhelming focus of this book and I needed other perspectives.

Although the main reason I read romance is for the love story, what really matters to me is heroine’s travails. I can enjoy a great romance novel about a heroine’s struggles through life and the hero can be relegated to the background while the heroine grows and matures. In a way “The Wildest Heart” is one of those books and normally I would love this, but Rogers is too passionate a writer to keep the main man as just the prize the heroine wins at the end for completing her journey.

On top of that, it was too long. I know WLL was longer, but every page of that novel was packed with action and I couldn’t wait to see what WTFery occurred next. Here the 1st person POV hinders this book because by default there is going to be a lot more introspection on one character’s part than action overall.

The only trope I despise more in a romance than a hero who is constantly weeping over his dead wife or lover is a Mama’s boy. Now Lucas is no Mama’s boy, but the fact that he’s obsessed and in love with the woman he thought was his mother as a boy only to find she’s just a stepmother puts him in a weird gray category until the end of the book.

The bewitching Elena is much older, but doesn’t look it. (Wouldn’t it be nice for once if the sexy older woman actually looked like a sexy older woman rather than always preternaturally young?) Lucas was a lonely boy raised by the Apache then taken in by his Mexican father who had no love for him. Elena manipulated him and gave him love when he never had known any before. She taught him to hate Todd Shannon, part owner of the SD Ranch. But this was all heard by Rowena. I think if I had seen or read about it through Lucas’s eyes I’d appreciate his story more and thus feel more satisfied overall.

It would have been fine if interspersed with Rowena’s diary entries there would have been other character’s perspectives, but to have only the prologue and epilogue be 3rd person was a huge mistake. With a book this long of such a grand scope, I needed more than just Rowena’s thoughts.

One thing I’m certain about is that Rebecca Brandewyne’s read this novel, for I can see the influences of The Wildest Heart in Brandewyne’s magnum opus, Love Cherish Me. It’s all there: the grand scope of a western epic, the fast-shootin’ cowboy of Spanish descent raised among the Indians who speaks with a pronounced Western drawl, the black-haired heroine on her way west to an unknown future, the powerful, older rancher who demands the heroine’s hand in marriage, the rancher’s younger relative who loves the heroine and fools her into thinking he’s a good guy. Then, of course, the murder trial at the end, the scandalous couple united against the world and the epilogue as they head into town with their children, while the townspeople wag their tongues about their past shocking antics. But I adored Love Cherish Me. It’s one of my top 10 bodice rippers, along with a couple of other Rogers’ books. For me, The Wildest Heart doesn’t reach that level of adoration.

Why not? Well, for one, for such a smart woman, Rowena certainly made some stupid decisions. Like not ignoring her dead father’s urgent request to read his diaries because she was too lazy. Sloth is certainly my favorite sin, but she could have just skipped to the end of those diaries and taken a gander at what it was all about. Then there was her dumb mistake to trust the obviously telegraphed villain.

Now the positives:

When it came to Elena vs. Rowena that was awesome. I wanted more Rowena-Elena showdowns. Two alpha women fighting not just for a man but for power over everything. I love a great villainess; it makes the heroine stronger. As I said, I appreciated Rowena’s cold character, which was her coping mechanism to deal with a crazed life. She was certainly passionate where Lucas was concerned. I also appreciate that there’s no annoying gypsy dancing on Rowena’s part. A heroine dancing like a gypsy in a Rogers novel is akin to a woman from the British Isles beings captured and enslaved in a harem for Bertrice Small. It’s what they do.

The climax of the book was thrilling as in the last chapters Lucas and Rowena head into the mountains to flee from her wicked husband and fight off armed soldiers. Then there is that wonderful epilogue where we finally get to see Lucas’s opinions. How much more fabulous would this have been if we had been allowed to know more of Lucas’ thoughts! Or if not his thoughts, then witness his actions without Rowena present or hearing of them second-hand.

The ending did make up for the first third where Lucas was nowhere to be found. I adored this passage near the finale:

They looked into each other’s faces; searching, renewing, re-evaluating. It was as if, without words, Rowena was saying: “I love you, and I have chosen you. There is room in our lives for other people too, now that we are sure of each other.”

This was a gripping read, but I can’t say I loved it.

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!