4 stars

Historical Romance Review: Sarina by Francine Rivers

Sarina, Francine Rivers, Jove, 1983, Morgan Kane cover art

MILD SPOILERS AND CONTENT ALERT ⚠

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

Some Things We Don’t Talk About In Public

Sarina is a bodice ripper-lite written by Francine Rivers, the best-known and most successful author of Christian-centered or “inspirational” romances. This was written before Rivers became “born again,” however, she was still nominally Christian. Rivers has tried to distance herself from her first 11 books, dismissing them as: “BC (before Christ) books. They are all out of print now, are never to be reprinted, and are not recommended.” She purchased the rights to all those and will never allow them to be republished as she feels they don’t represent her faith today.

As a free speech proponent, I think it’s unfortunate that Rivers has deemed these books verboten. Furthermore, I disagree that their sexually explicit content dishonors Christianity.

WARNING! I Talk Religion Here, Sort Of

A Non-Church Goer Goes to Church

I worked for a small company many years ago where the boss’s wife (BW) took a friendly liking to me. She was Evangelical and I was a lapsed Catholic (My mother worked for this company too & BW was close to her. So Mami told her about my “lack of faith,” which they both found disturbing.).

Long story short, I got hoodwinked into attending a two-day, one-night religious revival at a local hotel. Gathered to worship there were hundreds of people. I’m Hispanic (Dominican heritage), and I’d say the racial makeup there was 80% European-American, 10% African-American, 10% Mixed/Other. For two tedious days, I sat through mass, concerts, prayers, and a couple of conferences. It was charismatic-based: laying of hands, people speaking in tongues, collapsing, crying, etc.

I felt… uncomfortable. I had no patience for the ceremonial Catholic Mass as a child: Sit, rise, sit. Kneel, rise, consume the Eucharist. Kneel, sit, rise, kiss a stranger, sit. Rise, wait for twenty minutes while churchgoers socialize, go home, take off church clothes, and see if any good cartoons are on TV. Mass had been dull but at least predictable. This was strange to me.

Sex and Religion

Anyway, the best part of that weekend (besides the rum cocktail I was able to sneak during a rare minute of solitude) was a panel given by a Black married couple who talked about the importance of sex in Christian matrimony. They did not speak obscenely but openly and honestly, and yes, biblically. The couple talked about how sacred sex is, how physical bonding reinforces the spiritual bonding in a marriage. They spoke about the equal pleasure both men and women receive in sex and how it joins two people together just as much as faith and children and everything else that matters.

I sat fascinated. This spoke to me! Finally, something that had actual utility! However, like George Costanza, I can sense discomfort in other people. I saw it in that audience by the awkward expressions and the fiddling of hands. Afterwards, the couple asked if anyone had questions, which no one did. The session ended and the room quickly emptied out. No one remained to chit-chat with the speakers–as was usual with these panels–except for me, who complimented them on a speech well done.

My Point, And I Do Have One

The point of that extemporaneous babbling–and there is a point–is from this non-adherent’s perspective, sex and Christianity do go hand in hand. It’s lamentable that Rivers views her “BC romances” through a lens of shame. She now writes works that, in my estimation, preach to the choir rather than spread the Word to “unbelievers,” for lack of a better term (I am a believer. Although I’m not entirely sure in what.)

Now, About the Book!

Sorry for all that. You know me and my meanderings. So, let’s focus on the plot of Sarina and my opinion of the book.

Sarina Azevedo-Cahill is the daughter of a Californio family who’ve lived in southern California for centuries. Her father, Dale Cahill, married into the Azevedo family to take control of those lands. The time is the 1850s, and new American settlers are moving into the newly-minted 31st state by the droves.

Sarina’s father, also known as El Señor, is a stern, cruel patriarch who gives his daughter no affection. Their ranch Vallecitas and his legacy are all he cares for. Sarina tries to be a dutiful daughter but finds herself butting heads with her father instead.

The hero is Lang Rossiter, son of an Anglo family that runs the neighboring Val Verde ranch. Incidentally, El Señor would love to have the Rossiter lands, as they would combine with Vallecitas to form the greatest ranch in the area.

Sarina and Lang first meet while out riding alone. There is an instant attraction between the two. They arrange to meet again. However, when they are caught in a compromising position, Lang becomes furious with Sarina, accusing her of arranging a setup. Obviously (insert eye-roll here), she’s scheming with her father to snag Val Verde.

Lang’s enchantment with her turns into bitterness. He’s a big dick and becomes an even bigger dick before he gets nicer.

A Marriage Made Neither In Hell Nor In Heaven

So, their families force Sarina and Lang to marry. Sarina finds herself tied to a man who is attracted to her but resents her. Lang is at times incredibly cruel to Sarina, who fights back with a resilient will (until the end of the book, where both she and Lang get personality transplants).

Despite their rocky beginning, Sarina and Lang find unity through their passion and faith, which helps them through strife. During a sensually charged love scene, when they finally come together after those rough patches, the ever-dominant Lang places Sarina’s hands upon his body and tells her: 

“A woman has the real power…” 

SARINA

And then they erotically wash each other with before engaging in passionate love-making. 

A kind of baptism. Washing away the past and beginning again.”

SARINA

Final Analysis of Sarina

The two stern heads of the different families receive nuanced characterization. Well represented here are the politics and contentiousness between the old Spanish families and the new Americans. (I do question the authenticity of the name Azevedo as a Spanish surname because I’ve always thought it was Portuguese, but that’s a minor quibble.)

Sarina is a wonderful romance. Lang and Sarina’s tale is of a love transformed from innocent sweetness to resentment, to a lifelong bond affirmed in myriad ways.

Lang and Sarina’s faith helps fortify them during difficult times in the story. Religion is not hamfistedly inserted anywhere. It plays a historically accurate and natural part in their story, just as Sarina’s complicated relationship with her father does.

I do not understand why Rivers feels that her “BC” romance Sarina is a misrepresentation of Christianity. Actually, I think I do, but that would require a much more extended essay.

Suffice it to say, if you can get your hands on this hard-to-find book, give it a chance. It may surprise you as it did me. And that’s a good thing.

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