Spoiler & Major Douchebag Hero Alert ⚠
I acknowledge that not all readers can tolerate a cruel, rapacious hero in their romance; that’s why I gave a rare warning for this book. It’s fair to compare So Speaks the Heart (which should be subtitled: Medieval Norman Psychopath Falls for French Co-Dependent and Fellow Anger Management Classmate) to another of Johanna Lindsey‘s works, A Pirate’s Love, which had a similar captor/captive trope.
However, So Speaks the Heart is IMO better than the latter because: 1) This heroine is not a spineless jellyfish, fights back, and is strong in her own way; and 2) The hero is more than just a good-looking rapist who eventually falls in love with the woman he’s been tormenting. Ok, he’s as deep as a crack in the sidewalk, and, yeah, he’s still a bully and a douche. But his background is fleshed out a lot more; therefore, we understand why he’s such an arsehole. So I can sort of forgive this hunk of a warrior for his caveman behavior. Plus, this is not a book to take seriously; it’s too whacktastic.
The heroine is spunky, although not in a too-feisty-she’s-annoying-way. She gives as good as she gets to a hero who is a thick-headed block of wood.
The Violent Hero
After his life is saved in battle, Sir Rowland de Montfort vows to repay his savior by visiting the knight’s castle and ensuring all is well with the knight’s beloved sister, Brigitte. Instead, greedy relatives trick Rowland into believing Lady Brigitte is in fact a trouble-causing serf.
Rather than listen to reason, the dude is dead set against hearing anything the filthy “peasant” has to say. Rowland is a crazy character and would be diagnosed today with Borderline Personality Disorder and maybe Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well.
He goes from spouting things like this:
“On the contrary. I know a woman can have sweet words when she wants something, and that otherwise, she is a bitch. No, I want no wife nagging at me. I would sooner rot in hell than marry.”
To being nice:
He brought his hand up and caressed her cheek with his fingers. “For you I will change…”
There was a long, surprised pause, and then she asked, “Why?”
“To see you smile more often.”
To back to crazy, this time rapey and violent:
“Before Brigitte could find the words to plead with him, Rowland’s belt descended on her back. She gasped and cried out.”
He’s crazed and all over the place. Most sane readers would stop after one of Rowland’s brutal outbursts, but for some reason, I went on, fascinated. Rowland is a primitive Dark Ages knight who believes he has a right to treat disrespectful servants with discipline, as he is the son of a powerful lord. Rowland refuses to believe Brigitte is who she claims she is because he’d prefer to think he’s merely kidnapped and violated a serf girl rather than pissing all over his “honor” by abusing the sister of the man who saved his life.
The Beyond Feisty Heroine
Rowland is cruel to Brigitte, but she doesn’t cower or cry. She knows she is a lady and rages at the injustice of her situation. Although perhaps her reactions are not “lady-like,” she responds as with righteous anger:
“I do not ever want to hurt you!” he said furiously. “You force me to it!”
“Oh, of course, milord,” she said, just as furiously. “I am the cause of all my pain. I even beat myself.” He stepped toward her menacingly, but she stood her ground. “What? Am I going to beat myself again, milord?”
“You are awfully saucy for a wench who has just been beaten.” He frowned. Her eyes grew larger.
“Norman bastard! If I were a man I would kill you!”
Rowland’s not the only one who catches Brigitte’s ire. When catty ladies call Brigitte a bitch, she gives it right back:
Brigitte laughed humorlessly. “Well, perhaps a bitch is what I am, but of the two of us, you are the whore. I have heard the gossip about you, and surely Rowland has, too.”
Hey, at least they have being jerks in common. That’s a solid basis for a stable, long-lasting relationship, right?
Final Analysis of So Speaks the Heart
So Speaks the Heart is a no-holds-barred, non-PC, old-school romance. If this kind of stuff melts your twisted heart, regardless of how dickish the hero’s been:
But there was a rage in him that fought to be released, the rage of a little boy begging for love, the rage of a little boy beaten, scorned, humiliated cruelly. All of it, his rage reminded him, need not have been.
Then you might enjoy the emotional ride.
Rowland denies his actions against Brigitte were cruel or excessive. In the end, though, he realizes what a jerk he was and tries to become a changed man when he realizes he’s in love. Rowland does get a sort of comeuppance, a humbling, where he comprehends how badly the situation was FUBAR’d. He does a decent grovel at the end if that matters. Not that I think groveling makes up for all of Rowland’s misdeeds, but this is a romance novel, a fantasy, so reality has no bearing in this story.
“What do you want to hear from me? That I could not bear to see you go? That if you are not near me I feel as if a part of myself is gone? I am a man of war, Brigitte. I know nothing of tender words. So do not expect them from me.”
“You just said them, Rowland,” she whispered softly.
I’m twisted. Plus, I have bad taste, so I like this sort of thing. It’s understandable if this book turns you off; it certainly didn’t turn me on!
This was a dark descent into the minds of two beautiful, self-centered people who lived in a time where, perhaps, such brutal, fanciful events could occur. I kept turning the pages to the very end. I’m not sure about So Speaks the Heart as a romance, but as a character study, it’s fascinating.
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader