4 stars

Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey

So Speaks the Heart, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1983, Robert McGinnis cover art

Spoiler & Major Douchebag Hero Alert ⚠

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Caveat Emptor:

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, but not in a too-feisty-she’s-annoying-way. She just gives as good as she gets to a hero who is a thick-headed, stubborn 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, avaricious relatives trick Rowland into believing Lady Brigitte is really 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 believe 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 both jerks in common. That’s a solid basis for a stable, long-lasting relationship, right?

Final Analysis of So Speaks the Heart

This is a no-holds-barred, non-PC, old-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 to himself how cruel he was to Brigitte, although in the end, he realizes what a jerk he was and tries to become a changed man because he realizes he’s in love. Rowland gets a sort of comeuppance, a humbling, where he comprehends how badly he FUBAR’d things and does a pretty decent grovel at the end. Not that I think groveling makes up for all his 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. And I have bad taste, so I like this sort of thing. I understand if this book turns you off, it certainly didn’t turn me on! But it was such 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 this as a romance, but as a character study, it’s fascinating.

Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

3 replies »

  1. Hi, Jacqueline.

    Thank you again for another must-read review. I always have to remember not to be eating or drinking anything when I read your reviews, as I will end up expectorating various substances if I do.

    I haven’t read this book-nor any Johanna Lindsey for that matter-and I probably would hate it if I did. However, thanks to your tutelage, if I were to read it, I wouldn’t be as dismissive as I would have been previously thanks to your helping me see things beyond the surface of the words on the pages to what lies underneath. I do that in my real life, and thanks to you, I’m doing it in my reading life as well. Thank you again, Jacqueline!

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline. Ah yes, Johanna Lindsey. I’ve read a lot about her novels. Which is why I haven’t read any of them. Pretty obviously not my kind of reads.

    But I don’t like to yuck on someone else’s yum. So if you go for her, hey, it’s your free time. Spend it the way you want to!

  3. When I first read this as a 14 year old, I genuinely loved this book. Oh well, some teenagers go through vampire phases, I had my crazy bodice ripper hero phase. Although I liked vampires, too. I reread this last year and my feelings changed, but I still enjoyed this book as a study on personalities. If you ever read the “legendary” bodice rippers Stormfire or The Silver Devil, those are the absolute in dark psychological historicals. I call them “Romances that are not romances.”

    JL had different eras in her career, she was different writers at different times. Her early books like this one, were torrid bodice rippers, yes, but she had a knack for telling a story that got straight to the point. Many of her books were just over 300 pages, unlike the 500-700-page epics of the day. In the late 1980s to 1990s, she hit her stride, with witty banter between the characters, heroines you could respect, and heroes who not only felt guilt if they hurt their heroines, they wouldn’t hurt them to begin with (or tried not to). Defy Not the Heart or Gentle Rogue are greats from this era.

    Then she left Avon, her husband passed away, and her books lost some of the spark they had. Her stories were ok, but the magic wasn’t there. She went to the other extreme, her heroes were too “nice”!

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