Lovely red-gold-haired, violet-eyed Lenore is the female protagonist of Valerie Sherwood’s This Towering Passion and the primary heroine of its sequel, Her Shining Splendor, which tells the tale of both Lenore and her daughter, Lorena, from the English Civil War to the Restoration eras.
Lenore’s beauty is of little use to her because while she can get a man, she has trouble keeping him.
First, as is standard in a Sherwood novel, the heroine gets together with her first lover, who’s typically a hunky block of wood. Here, Lenore becomes infatuated with the hottest guy in town, a big blond stud who’s a charismatic black hole. Although he’s a mite too friendly with other ladies, he and Lenore get handfasted.
But, alas, he leaves Lenore behind, looking for adventure by fighting against the English army. Lenore, who has no one else in the world, won’t be left all alone and seeks him out, only to find he’s killed in action.
Meanwhile, the dashing Cavalier, Geoffrey Wyndham, is on the run himself. He and Lenore meet on the road, and within hours of finding Lenore’s “husband’s” dead body and with Roundhead troops hunting them down, Geoffrey says, “What the hell, life’s too short!” and takes what he wants from Lenore.
And oh, does she like it! He’s so much better than old what’s-his-name ever was!
Geoffrey and Lenore move to Oxford, where they live as husband and wife under the last name Daunt, although they are unmarried.
Then the anvils start dropping: Lenore is pregnant, but Geoffrey is a married man! So their baby is doomed to illegitimacy.
After a semi-sweet idyll, reality intrudes. Blond baby Lorena doesn’t look a thing like Geoffrey… Oops! There’s no Maury Povich in the 17th century to help a brother out. Hasn’t anyone ever told these folks that just like baby birds, many human children can have fair (or even dark hair) that changes color over time? Well, Geoffrey’s not going to stick around long enough to find out; he’s splitsville.
Lenore gives Lorena to her “first husband’s” sister to raise while she looks for a better life in London. She takes to the stage; however, she finds out she is no superstar. Not when Nell Gwynn is her competition. Nell takes advantage of Charity’s inability to perform one night and upstages her completely, drawing the eye of King Charles.
If you thought it would be Lenore who’d end up as the King’s mistress, history shows you’d be wrong. An aspect of Valerie Sherwood’s books that I enjoyed is that even though her heroines would be stunningly gorgeous, there could always be another woman–usually an adversary for a man’s affection–who was just as lovely, or even more so. A sobering reminder that no matter how great a person may be, there’s always someone else who can outshine them. I appreciate that Lenore is not the “best ever,” simply an all-too-human character with depth and failings.
Despite having been abandoned, Lenore is faithful to Geoffrey’s memory and is known as “Mistress Chastity” and the “Iron Virgin.” So no more sex romps here, although there were some fun cat-fights with Nell Gwynn and Lady Castlemaine.
The conclusion of the book reunites the lovers. However, there are plenty of loose ends: Geoffrey’s calculating wife; what will happen to Lenore’s child; and what happens to Christopher, a Cavalier gentleman, who is an ardent admirer of Lenore.
Final Analysis of This Towering Passion
There was not enough action with Geoffrey! He’s missing in action for the latter half of the book while Lenore experiences her own adventures. I wanted to see more of him, for, unlike Lenore’s first love, he was a debonair leading man who’s hard to forget.
I had a good time spent reading this one, but because its main draw–Geoffrey–was out of the picture for a substantial period of time, it was far from flawless. That’s always a common complaint with Sherwood: I want more of the hero and less filler. Unfortunately, 500-plus pages of old-time tiny font weren’t enough for the long-winded Sherwood to tell Geoffrey and Lenore’s story, so it’s on to that 600-page sequel to find out what happens…