The Beginning: Love & Betrayal
As the Civil War rages throughout the United States, Miss Savannah Russell is on a ship in the Caribbean. They are bringing food and medical supplies to her Southern brethren, a noble effort. Then, she spots a body floating in the water. She urges the sailors to bring him aboard. However, when they see the man’s Union buckle on his uniform, everyone but Savannah wants to throw the enemy back into the sea. Savannah is defiant, swearing to save the handsome Yankee officer, despite everyone’s potestations, including her Uncle, who’s in charge of the mission. Savannah takes the Yankee on land and brings him to an inn. With a doctor’s aid, she helps the Northern officer recover, saving his injured arm from amputation. Savannah is instantly attracted to the blond-haired Lt. Commander named Skyler Reade. He, too, quickly falls for the woman who saves his life.
Upon a tropical beach, Savannah and Skyler exchange their words of love, promising to be together. As they begin to make love, an explosion shatters the silence. In horror, Savannah realizes that the Union army has taken her Uncle’s ship. Skyler tells her that the ship was loaded with weapons and ammunition, not medicine and supplies. As a Union soldier, he had a responsibility to report it. He vows his love for Savannah, while she sees that every man on board, including her uncle, is now a prisoner of war. In a rage, Savannah strikes at Skyler, reinjuring his arm, and flees away in horror, declaring her eternal hatred.
Thus begins one of my all-time favorite romance novels, Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom (aka Nancy Gideon). Yes, it’s a cheesy-looking Zebra Heartfire, with a bosomy-clinch cover and cornball title. But this book was so emotional, wrenching from me tears of sadness and joy. Seriously, it’s one of the best Zebras I’ve read. (Not surprising, Dana Ransom’s Zebras are almost all among my favorites, along with the great Deana James and to a lesser extent, Penelope Neri).
The Plot: The American Civil War
Savannah is the oldest daughter of three children. Her father was a casualty of war, her brother is off fighting, and now with her uncle imprisoned, she finds herself burdened as the head of the family with an enormity of responsibilities on her shoulders. Unconventionally beautiful, she has no time for gaiety as the war rages on, destroying everything she ever knew.
Skyler Reade has no real purpose in life, bouncing aimlessly along from adventure to adventure. As the middle son of an upper-crust Philadelphia family, he’s flitting along in life when the war starts. His father is a respected doctor, his older brother is settled down with a family and fighting for the Union, and even Skyler’s wayward younger brother seems to be following in the family’s footsteps of pursuing a medical degree.
Skyler has a “girlfriend” at home, not someone he feels serious about. Although, she absolutely does about him, and she encourages him to pursue politics. To be a politician, he’ll have to have some military experience. As Skyler was not keen on fighting a war he cares nothing for, he entered the Navy because he figured that’s where he’d see the least battle action.
The one thing I adore about Skyler is that he is a genuinely nice guy. Yes, he is a bit domineering at times, but if 19th-century women weren’t 3rd wave feminists, you damn sure can’t expect the men to have been. He is relentless in his pursuit of Savannah, vowing to make her love him once again. Most times he’s generous and kind, at other times he’s demanding, and there is one bodice ripper-type scene (there’s a rape/forced seduction after Savannah taunts Skyler telling him of her many lovers [a lie]), which he is instantly regretful of it. He pursues Savannah across the North and South, confident that there is nothing that could ever shatter their love.
Then again, maybe there is.
A Sensitive Subject Matter
As this is a book set during the US Civil War, slavery is a large part of the plot. I can understand that the sensitivity on this topic repels a lot of modern romance readers from this era. However, there’s no sugar-coating it. Savannah’s family owns plantations, and as such, they own slaves. As far as Savannah’s views on slavery, like the war, it’s complicated. Ever since she was a child, Savannah’s father has allowed one slave to be freed at her request on her birthday. Although Savannah herself questions the righteousness of slavery, she will not betray her family, her state, and “The Cause.”
On the other hand, Skyler is aghast at the practice. He finds purpose in life through two motivations: to reobtain Savannah’s love and trust and fight for his nation until slavery is eliminated.
Final Analysis of Rebel Vixen
I adore the conclusion of this book. It’s a bit reminiscent of the end of John Jakes’ mini-series North and South Part I, especially the scene with Lesley Anne Downs and Patrick Swayze, which always makes me chuckle. What the hell, that series was so good, so it’s ok with me that Ransom borrowed a bit from that ending.
If you’re in the mood for an old-school romance read that skirts with being un PC yet doesn’t have an over-the-top-Alpha hero you’d want to hit in the head with a frying pan, I can’t recommend a better read than Rebel Vixen.