Johanna Lindsey: Romance Superstar
For a while–except for maybe Jude Deveraux–there was no other mass-market Romance author in the 1980s-1990s whose prolific writing achieved such commercial success. Lindsey even reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the Heart.
During this time period, Lindsey was at her peak, and in a span of 10 to 15 years, churned out book after book (with the best covers ever!), that, for but a few exceptions, were all great reads or rank among my most beloved romances. For sure, they were not always the best written, often rambling on about unimportant characters and telling more than showing, and so often, I wanted to strangle the heroines for their stubbornness and TSTL tendencies.
Yet, oddly I loved her plots involving kidnapping and forced marriages and overbearing, handsome men who usually treated the heroine like crap one minute, and then was passionate making lurv to her then brushing her hair as afterplay. I ate her books up like candy and have the emotional cavities to prove it!
In Defy Not the Heart, Ranulf Fitz Hugh is a bastard, mercenary knight simply working on another job. He is to kidnap Lady Reina and bring her to her “betrothed,” Lord Rothwell, an elderly man who Reina’s never met. Reina, not being a stupid girl, is sensible and realizes that she’s in a precarious position as an unmarried woman. Since Rothwell hasn’t yet paid Ranulf for his services, and Rothwell’s claim to marriage is false anyway, why doesn’t Ranulf wed Reina himself? She’s a wealthy heiress and such a union would make Ranulf a wealthy lord. A marriage of convenience takes place, and the two seemingly different spouses settle into married life.
I’ve read other readers complain about how little interaction Ranulf and Reina have with each other. Perhaps because Lindsey has a penchant for making her protagonists constantly fight, this scarcity is a good thing. The scenes with Ranulf and Reina are all the more memorable: from their first interaction, when after waiting hours to meet the Lady whose castle he’s invaded, an impatient Ranulf unknowingly picks up an armor-clad Reina and throws her to the floor, causing Reina to crack jokes about housekeeping, to the sexy bedroom sessions with light bondage and spanking punishments (which, although rather vanilla today, were a bit controversial at the time).
Defy Not the Heart combines some of my favorite tropes to make this book a truffle-bacon-cheese-and-macaroni comfort read.
The Wonderful Characters
Ranulf is a brute, a knight with no time for chivalry: he bangs slutty, fat chicks, parties with his buds, pisses where he likes, and is an all-around ill-mannered boor. But he’s secretly insecure. He’s so beautiful, so handsome that women chase him wherever he goes. Nevertheless, he’s never received any genuine affection or love from a woman in his rough life. The illegitimate son of a noble lord, Ranulf, has had to fight for his way, and finishing this one job to kidnap an unmarried heiress and bring her to a “fiancée” will enable him to have enough funds to buy land and show up dad once and for all. But Reina’s offer of marriage is impossible to resist.
Reina’s one of Lindsey’s best heroines, not a hard feat to achieve considering how caustic so many of them are. She is short, plain-looking, except for her pretty eyes. Reina’s charms are her brains and ability to lead. However, she’s no shrinking violet, a no-nonsense girl who’ll pull up her sleeves to protect her castle and people. Reina’s witty, and yes, she gets prissy, although she’s no shrew. Some call her a mouse, but Ranulf’s pet name is “Little General.” And though not beautiful, she’s not “Woe is me, my looks suck,” but knows it’s her practical qualities that get her the hunkiest man around.
I hate when arranged marriages in historicals are approached with the attitude of “I won’t have sex until you love me.” That’s so phony and modern-minded, so, fortunately, Reina has no problem looking forward to her marriage bed, and Ranulf has no problem performing his duties.
Alas, he’s terrible in the sack.
I love the fact that Ranulf’s an oaf in bed. Ranulf visits a prostitute to listen to advice on how to please Reina, as his lust is too great to let him last longer than a few seconds. Unfortunately, Reina catches him in a compromising situation, though Ranulf shrugs it off and doesn’t apologize. He just asked for advice, not set it into practice, so why be sorry? It’s his wife and only his wife he wants. And the results of his lessons are…memorable.
There are so many enjoyable scenes in this one: Ranulf’s reaction when Theo, Reina’s gay male attendant, bathes him is priceless, and Ranulf’s kindness to a club-footed young boy who is bullied makes me sigh with girlish glee.
Plus, I adore cats, and there’s something sexy about a man who does, too. Ranulf has a beloved kitty named Lady Ella. If, like me, you own cats, you may be familiar with the experience of waking up to a warm furball laying on your chest, tail up, butt planted directly in your face. This is what Ranulf’s jealous queen cat does to Reina, though much worse. It’s a riot!
And, saving the best for last, I adore the fabulous original cover. It’s a dazzling Elaine Duillo masterpiece of camp. Backed by a pink-purple sky, it features a blond Fabio looking like Prince Adam of Eternia in a white poofy shirt that drapes off his shoulders, baring his massive pecs & biceps, and purple tights that cling to his bulging muscles. There’s that female model who’s always posing alongside Fabio, this time with flowing raven hair, her fingers clutching Fab’s purple thighs. At the same time, she sports a sexy red dress that shows more boobies than most infants see their first months of life (Reina’s supposed to have itty-bitty titties, so that was a major exaggeration on Duillo’s part!).
Final Analysis of Defy Not the Heart
Along with Gentle Rogue, The Magic of You, and Secret Fire, this is ranks as one of my favorite Lindsey books, and there are a lot to choose from! Every year or two, I pull it out and re-read it. Check your brain at the door, and simply appreciate the ride. Don’t expect literary perfection. If you’re in a goofy frame of mind, have a blast reading about two silly characters that make you fall in love with them just as they do.