SPOILER ALERT ⚠
This review is based on the Zebra print version of the book published back in 1983. Kathleen’s Surrender by Nancy Henderson Ryan–known better these days as Nan Ryan–is without question one of the best, most emotional romance novels I’ve ever read.
As the book opens, we meet the Beauregard family of Natchez-on-the-Hill, Mississippi. Patriarch Louis Antoine, Matriarch Abigail Howard Beauregard, and the heroine of the book, their only child, daughter Kathleen Diana Beauregard. At the start, Kathleen is a starry-eyed 15 year old who loves her Southern Belle life. She soon meets a handsome, wealthy man named Dawson Blakely and falls quickly and fully in love with him. They fall in love and want to get married.
However, Louis is vehemently against their relationship, although he and Abigail are nice to Dawson. Louis’ objection: Dawson’s ancestry isn’t as blue-blooded as the Beauregards’ is; Dawson’s ancestors are rather notorious people. Louis tells Dawson they can’t marry, and Dawson loves Kathleen enough to let her go without telling her that her father is the one who’s trying to keep them apart. They do have an intimate encounter before they part, which results in Kathleen’s pregnancy.
To avoid losing face, Kathleen marries a doctor named Hunter Alexander, to give their child-a son named Scott-a father. Dawson, meanwhile, goes to Europe to drown his sorrows over losing Kathleen in drink and women.
As time goes on-the book encompasses 10 years-Kathleen realizes she’s not in love with Hunter and freezes him out-emotionally and sexually. Dawson eventually returns to America and Kathleen realizes that she and Dawson still love each other and they become involved again. Hunter sees them kissing and decides, when the Civil War begins, to join the Confederate Army, ostensibly to die in combat to avoid living with a broken heart, knowing that Kathleen will never love him the way she loves Dawson. Dawson also does his part for the Confederacy, acting as a blockade runner on one of his many ships.
As the war goes on, Kathleen later realizes she does love Hunter and goes to the frontlines of the war in Vicksburg to be with him-they make love. On the way back to Natchez, Kathleen and her servant are set upon by Union soldiers, one of whom tries to rape her. That is prevented by Dawson, who is shot and seriously wounded in the process. Then Kathleen decides she wants to be with Dawson again. She finds out later that Hunter is listed as a casualty of the war and decides to go ahead and marry Dawson. Things don’t end there, but I won’t reveal all of what happens.
While you might think that Kathleen is a flighty and self-centered five-letter-word-for-female-dog flipping back and forth between her husband and her lover, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Ms. Ryan does a tremendous job exploring and describing the emotions Kathleen, Hunter, and Dawson are going through. None of the three are villains, nor are they trying to deliberately hurt each other. They’re just three people caught in a love triangle that none of them want but they also can’t get out of easily. I felt each of their joys and sorrows, and it is an emotional rollercoaster that touched every one of my emotions.
There are some sex scenes, and although they are multiple pages long, they are not overly graphic.
Since the latter half of the book takes place in the Civil War, there is some violence. Most is not graphically described, except for the scene in which Dawson shoots and kills Kathleen’s attempted rapist. That is graphically described.
Final Analysis of Kathleen’s Surrender:
One of the most important things that a book–or tv show or movie–has to do to get and keep my attention is to make me care about the people I’m watching/reading about. Ms. Ryan does exactly that. She made me care about Kathleen, Hunter, and Dawson, and it was incredible to read this book. One of my favorite novels ever.
BTW, on Amazon, where I first posted this review, Ms. Ryan wrote to me to tell me that she appreciated my review!