3 stars

Historical Romance Review: This Ravaged Heart by Barbara Riefe

This Ravaged Heart, Playboy Press 1977, Betty Maxey cover art

Her own flesh and blood, her own fetus grown to manhood had fallen in love with her!

THIS RAVAGED HEART

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*** Spoiler alert ***

This was one freaky-deaky read.

Barbara (Alan) Riefe’s This Ravaged Heart is a 1970’s Playboy Press bodice ripper and while it wasn’t a great book, it had enough bizarre twists to qualify for a grudgingly positive review.

The book opens with Ross Dandridge aboard a ship headed from Europe to the US. He has brought his bride, the English Rose, Lisa, to meet his wealthy ship-building family in Rhode Island. They make love on the ship while sailors bet on when they’ll finally leave their room for some fresh air. And that’s it for romance. That’s right, the hero and heroine have already met, fallen in love, and gotten married before the book starts, so what the hell else is there?

I tend to enjoy bodice rippers penned by male authors as they usually bring a lot of crazy-fun into their works. Unlike Mr. Melissa Hepburne who knew how to keep the pages turning with rompy, rapey/forced seduction stupidity; or Mr. Janette Seymour who threw bodice ripping tropes one after another handled with surprising grace and sentiment; or Mr. Jennifer Wilde’s penchant for verbose purple prose and clothes porn, Riefe’s like a monkey banging away on a typewriter putting letters onto paper in random chaos, attempting for anything remarkable to appear. And sometimes it does, but there are a lot of dull parts to trudge through to get to them.

Ross has zero personality and is really quite stupid. Lisa has a good head on her shoulders, but the situations she’s in aren’t that engaging, despite how bat-guano crazy they seem. Don’t expect any fun between Lisa and Ross; they’re separated for almost the entire book. Yup, this is a romance novel, without any romance.

The best thing about This Ravaged Heart is Lavinia. In her early 40’s, Lavinia is Ross’s aunt, who is engaged to her brother-in-law, Ross’s father. However, she hungers for her nephew, Ross… But it’s revealed she is actually his mother! Her twin sister was unable to conceive, so Lavinia switched places with her, slept with the husband, and gave birth to Ross in secret while the wife pretended to be pregnant.

And she’s a witch. Not just any old witch, but one in league with Satan’s minions, who engages in sexual romps with the local witches, and has the devil’s demon, Ledion, lusting after her for hot demonic sex. Her lack of remorse for her evil deeds and incestuous love, her unwillingness to surrender in the face of failure, and her tireless efforts to get what she wants made Lavinia the star of the show.

Lavinia plots to get rid of Lisa and does so in a completely unexpected way. Lisa is retro-incarnated back to England in the 1660’s into the body of a dying blonde. Lisa awakes to a confusing world that her post-Enlightenment, Industrial-Age mind has trouble accepting. Lisa is raped various times, makes some friends and loses them, is jailed for murder, and becomes a witch so that she can get back to her beloved, but absolutely boring Ross. Sounds exciting, right?

Well it’s okay, but not great.

Plus, the last third of this book really draaaaagsss. Thank the Devil for Lavinia’s malicious, murderous and incestuous shenanigans. She knows how to get what she wants.

“He had adored her, reveling in her body, in her movements, unable to control his passion. She laughed…a man half her age, in the prime of his youth and in one hour she had worn him down to the brink of exhaustion. It was fantastic, too beautifully barbarous to be believed. Her own flesh and blood, her own fetus grown to manhood had fallen in love with her!

It’s so freaking sick, but that’s Lavinia.

(Sidenote: These 40 year old Playboys were made of real crappy material. The book looked in good condition, but literally disintegrated in my hands, falling apart, piece by piece, the glue cracking in the spine, the cover chipping and tearing until it fell off completely. Even my old Zebras have withstood the test of time and various re-reads with ease. )

So this is the first in a series of three, which I have to read since I own them, although I’m not feeling compelled to do so anytime soon. Alan–that is, Barbara may have gotten the WTF factor right, but there’s no romance or engaging leads in the slightest to draw me in. This was Lavinia’s book to shine.

The main characters blew, still, I had to give this an overall positive rating just for Lavinia’s wicked, son-loving heart, her ridiculous Satan-worshipping, witchy antics, and her cat, Mody, who was also awesome.

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!