5 stars

Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri

Sea Jewel, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1986, Pino cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Five-Star Book, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly

After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.

The Story: Part One

This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.

Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.

Wilone gave birth to twin boys. One, Farant, was a studious, bookish, quiet individual. The other, Alaric, the “hero” of this book, was more warlike, in particular after finding out what happened to his mother. Alaric vowed revenge on Thorfast and all Danes. He would get his chance many years later.

The book fast forwards. Freya is now the head of her hall, and she, like her sire, pillages English villages. She decides to pillage the same village Thorfast did many years ago, against the advice and admonition of Sven, who is a psychic and envisions, correctly, that the raid Freya is planning will have grave consequences for her. What Freya doesn’t know is that there is a traitor, who informs the English that an attack is coming.

When Freya and her men attack, many are killed and Freya is captured by Alaric. When he finds out who she is, he decides to exact his revenge on her father through her, by raping and dishonoring her the same way her father did his mother. Alaric rapes Freya, although she fights him, and even though he is her master and she his slave, they eventually fall in love! This relationship draws the ire of two people in particular; Alaric’s sister-in-law and former lover Kendra, who wants Alaric both for his sexual prowess and his money and power. Kendra accuses Freya of two murders that Kendra herself committed. The first time, Kendra has to withdraw her charge after being caught committing adultery. The second time, Kendra kills Farant, and Freya mistakenly believes that it was Alaric who was killed. Freya runs away and faces various perils.

The second person who disapproves of their relationship is Alaric’s uncle, Ordway, who hates all Danes for what Thorfast did to Wilone, who, after seeing her husband and other children killed and being raped, became mentally unstable and now lives out her life in a religious abbey.

The Story: Part Two

After Freya escapes, she finds out that she is with child, and faces various perils as she makes her way back from England to Denmark. Freya eventually returns to Denmark, where she meets up again with her childhood friend, Olaf, who is in love with her and they get married. Freya, however, doesn’t tell Olaf that she’s not in love with him or that she is pregnant with Alaric’s child. This truth, however, eventually comes out. Freya gives birth to twins, a son and daughter, and she and Olaf have a pleasant, if not totally loving, marriage, as he accepts her children despite their not being his by blood.

However, the specter of Freya’s love for Alaric-who she believes to be dead-hangs over their marriage. Olaf later learns that Alaric is not dead, although he doesn’t tell Freya this. He tells the truth after being mortally wounded in another Viking raid on England. Freya then decides to return to England to be with Alaric, no matter what their relationship status is, and is accosted and imperiled, which Alaric has to rescue her from. They do eventually get married, and Freya becomes a Christian and changes her name to Marissa-the Christian name meaning “of the sea.”

Ordway, however, incensed that Alaric and Freya are marrying, kidnaps the twins and tries to kill them, he dies in a fire at the abbey, but the children survive thanks to Wilone, who saves them the same way she saved Alaric and Farant when they were babies. And they lived happily ever after.

Positives:

As is the case with all of Penelope Neri’s books, the main positive is the heroine. Freya is a strong, warlike, capable heroine. She never accepts being enslaved, fighting every step of the way, although Alaric overpowers her both physically and sexually. She faces many difficulties and survives and prospers. I always appreciate the strength that Ms. Neri’s heroines have.

Negatives:

The biggest negative is, of course, the fact that Freya is raped twice by Alaric and another male, and that she falls in love with the person who raped her. Since this book was set in the 9th century, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” wasn’t invented, but that’s exactly what this is. I have a big issue with that, as well as the fact of a heroine falling in love with the individual who rapes her, which, sadly, was a rather common thing in romance novels of the past.

As much as I care for Ms. Neri’s heroines, I never feel the same caring for her “heroes.” Primarily because Ms. Neri’s heroes are just slightly above vermin.

Sex:

Lots of sex scenes. They are not overly graphic, but they are many.

Violence:

Mildly graphic violence.

Bottom Line on Sea Jewel:

In the past, I have stated that I would never give a book where the heroine is raped by the “hero” a positive grade, yet I am doing so with this book. Let me explain why I am doing so. My views have somewhat evolved. I feel now that it is important to view the books I read in their complete context, not solely based on one act. This is a very good book. As stated, there are parts I wish would have been changed, but that doesn’t completely diminish the positives of the book. If one likes medieval romance, this book may be a good one to have.

2 replies »

  1. HI, Everyone.

    “Sea Jewel” is a book I read many years ago. I would like to add a few things now.

    1. I probably wouldn’t give the book 5 stars if I read it today; probably closer to 3 or 3.5 stars as few of the characters in the book are likeable and the storyline bogs down and is over-wordy, which is typical of Ms. Neri’s writing style.

    2. One of many things I am learning from Jaqueline is to try not to take a “one size fits all” approach to reviewing books. Using “Sea Jewel” as an example: the book was published in 1986 and set in Medieval times (1000-1400). During this time period, both for publishing and the setting of the book, violence was common and “accepted”. Therefore, it is important to view the book through that context, rather than through a narrow view of what I think by 21st century standards and my own personal views. Will I always succeed? Probably not, but I will try, and I have Jacqueline to thank for opening my eyes and mind to that. Thank you, Jacqueline!

  2. Dear Blue Falcon,

    Again it’s so nice of you to say I’ve been helpful and given you a new perspective on how to review books! Your reviews have also been a great aid to me, as I try to organize my thoughts in a more coherent manner.

    Because I read more Historicals than contemporaries and more vintage contemporaries than modern works, it’s not unusual to come across words, ideas, or actions that if viewed though the lens of a 21st century reader can be seen as uncomfortable or worse. Sometimes books do make feel uncomfortable, but I’m ok with that if it’s the story is authentic or resonates on an emotional level.

    And yes, I agree with you that our tastes change as time goes by, so what I read 20 years ago I might not enjoy as much today. I have far less patience for too-stupid-to-live or too-good-to-be-true heroines than in the past. Although, if I liked a book way back when, I won’t change the rating to suit what I feel today, simply because that denies my previous experience. For example, if I read The Sleepover Friends series today, I probably wouldn’t rate them 5 stars, although back when I was 10 they were my favorites. The same with certain romances. 43 year old Jacqueline may not be amazed by the same book 13 year old me loved, still at one point it gave me joy and I won’t forget that.

    Happy reading and reviewing!

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