2 1/2 stars
From the opening pages of Andrea Layton’s So Wild a Rapture, we are introduced to the 16-year-old heroine, the noble Juliette de Condillac, and her “won twu wuv,” Francois du Quesnay, a slightly older boy from a neighboring and also noble family. They quickly consummate their love and, like high schoolers, vow to be “togetha 4 eva” after Francois finishes his university education. But life has other plans for Juliette and Francois, first in the name of Roger du Deffand, and then in the name of the French Revolution.
Against her will, Juliette is betrothed to the foppish and much older Roger. Francois hightails it back to school, but not before giving her his ring, which he tells Juliette will protect her whenever needed. Juliette dithers about her future: maybe she will marry Roger, maybe she won’t. In the meantime, she is to be educated at a convent and spend time with nobility, learning what she needs to be a proper bride for Roger. What does she need to learn? Oh, the usual: being pious, educated in the wifely arts, properly social, and perhaps take part in a bit of girl-on-girl love, because her husband-to-be loves to watch a good show (or even take part). Juliette is, of course, shocked, but curious…
Unfortunately her lessons are cut short when the horrors of the French Revolution begin to take over. Death, thievery, arson, destruction, rape ravage the countryside but Juliette is protected wherever she goes by Francois’ ring. Eventually, Juliette and Francois meet again, and she is shocked to learn that he is a powerful and respected leader in the Revolutionary movement.
I don’t know how Francois reached such high status, because, to be blunt, he’s a bit of a dickless wanker. When men try to rape Juliette over and over, he pleads for mercy, fights as a last resort, but would never dream of killing her would-be rapists, because, as he says, the men have had hard lives and can’t be blamed for their actions. When Francois’ family is killed and his home destroyed, he laments the loss as a natural and necessary part of the new movement.
Okay, what a lame hero. Maybe the villain is better?
Eventually, Juliette makes her way to her fiancé, Roger, who lets Juliette know in no uncertain terms that as she’s damaged goods he no longer has any interest in marrying her, but will still make use of her comely charms. First Roger makes Juliette his own love slave and then he pimps her over to a bored King Louis XVI who is taking refuge in his palace as France crumbles around him in bloody chaos. Roger forces Juliette to have an abortion, thus destroying any tender feelings Juliette had for her former betrothed. In the meantime, she waits for Francois to free her from her courtesan life before the guillotine takes her head.
This wasn’t a bad ‘ripper; it wasn’t great either. Juliette’s youthful resourcefulness makes her willing to do anything to survive, no matter how degrading, sordid or arousing, but she also is kind of vapid and silly, with plenty of scenes lip-chewing and foot-stomping.
Here’s another bodice ripper to file in the hero is dishwater dull and missing-in-action while heroine bangs it out with the lecherous villain and gets some historical dong along the way. But hey, I do give it credit for keeping to the history and not being all wall-papery in that regard.