Pub Date: 1974
Book Series: Ginny & Steve #1/ Morgan & Challenger Saga #1
Published by: Avon
Genres: Bodice Ripper, Historical Romance, Western Romance
More at: Goodreads
Purchase Book: Buy on Amazon
A tale of human emotion that lays bare the heights and depths of love, passion and desire in old and new worlds…as we follow Virginia Brandon, beautiful, impudent and innocent, from the glittering ballrooms of Paris to the sensuality of life in New Orleans to the splendor of intrigue-filled Mexico.
A tale of unending passion, never to be forgotten…the story of Virginia’s love for Steven Morgan, a love so powerful that she will risk anything for him…even her life.SWEET SAVAGE LOVE by ROSEMARY ROGERS
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Sweet Savage Love, The (Other) Mother of Romance
Ooh boy, where to begin with this review? Sweet Savage Love by the great Rosemary Rogers is–along with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss‘ The Flame and the Flower–the blockbuster historical that launched a new genre, the modern romance novel. Published by Avon in 1974, this 700+ page doorstopper epic was a monumental game-changer in an era of social transformation.
Sweet Savage Love showed that women could have passionate sex with the hero outside of marriage and have passionate sex with men besides the hero. Of course, the hero was laying pipe across the United States and Mexico, the main settings for Sweet Savage Love. This is a true bodice ripper, featuring rape, forced seduction, abduction, cheating, adultery, multiple sex partners, a dominant, magnetic hero, and a heroine who stomps her feet in anger while her eyes flash in defiance.
The Hero & The Heroine
Our heroine Virginia “Ginny” Brandon is the half-French, half-American convent-raised daughter of a US Senator. She has fiery copper hair and flashing, slanted green eyes. She loves to dance like a gypsy, kicking her legs up in the air, her skirts swirling around her. You will hear this repeated constantly throughout the book.
Steve Morgan is this romance’s–ahem–hero. He is a darkly-tanned former Union soldier with dark blue eyes and black hair. Rogers modeled him after Clint Eastwood, among others. I also got a Gregory Peck from “Duel In the Sun” vibe about Steve.
Imagine the most macho, virile man you possibly can. Picture ovulating women throwing themselves at his feet and low-T males shrinking in self-awareness as that male confidently swaggers by. That imaginary ideal isn’t fit to be a pimple sprouting hair on Steve Morgan’s muscular chest.
Steve is not only a soldier, a spy, a cowboy, a former Comanche ally, but he’s a wealthy ranchero of mixed American and Spanish-Mexican descent. He is muy hombre, as you shall see.
The Epic Plot of Sweet Savage Love
Steve the Stud
The lovely Virginia Brandon returns to the United States from France, where she had been raised in a convent. Her widowed father has remarried a much young younger and lovely woman.
Ginny’s stepmother Sonya is very familiar with Steve Morgan, as they shared a passionate night together. In fact, there are few women who haven’t fallen prey to Steve’s animal magnetism. A scandal ensues from Sonya and Steve’s dalliance, and Steve finds himself potentially facing the death penalty. He agrees to be a spy in exchange for his life, as it’s suspected that Senator Brandon is up to traitorous acts.
Senator Brandon has interests in Mexico, particularly with the controlling government of Emperor Maximillian. Steve, who is against the French, is charged to accompany the Brandons. He plans to draw them into a trap with the help of some bandidos. The plot takes off from here.
Steve kidnaps Ginny and though she fights him like a hellion, she–like all women with a pulse–falls for his ultra studliness. Circumstances find Ginny and Steve caught in a compromising situation, and they are forced to marry.
But do you think marriage will stop Esteban Alvarado (Steve’s Spanish name) from being el tigere that he is? No way. He’s kissing broads in front of his new wife and banging other women on the side.
Two Strong-Willed, Beautiful Idiots
The best part of the story is when Ginny and Steve are together trekking through the Western wilderness. But Rogers doesn’t like her characters being happy. She throws everything imaginable at them.
Then the action takes us to Mexico, where Ginny and Steve are separated multiple times. There are lies, deceptions, and double-crosses. Mexican soldiers violate Ginny. A deranged doctor tortures Steve…and then some!
Ginny believes Steve is dead, so she becomes the willing mistress of a young señor.
When she finds out Steve is alive, she goes in search of him. Steve believes Ginny has betrayed him and despises her, even as he lusts after her beautiful body. Lack of communication and big misunderstandings rule the day.
Oh, will these two crazy kids just get over themselves and stay together permanently?
The book is divided into sections, with a prologue. It’s a huge epic novel with tiny font. Thankfully, Rogers’ prose isn’t as purple and verbose as Woodiwiss’, and it’s fast-paced. Still, Rogers has a penchant for over describing her characters. Mentions of Ginny’s coppery hair and slanted green eyes and Steve’s lean, muscular figure seemed to be on every page. It got tedious after a while.
One thing I recall about Sweet Savage Love is that much of the Spanish written looked like gibberish to me. This was a common occurrence in a lot of 1970s and 1980s romances, be they Harlequin Presents or bodice rippers. Rosemary Rogers’ good friend Shirlee Busbee had that same issue in her books, as in While Passion Sleeps. Spanish is like the third most common language on Earth. It shouldn’t have been hard to get an English to Spanish dictionary and copy words down correctly. Ah, well, that’s a minor gripe.
Once the book got rolling, Sweet Savage Love was a quick-moving, gripping read. Rogers threw so much trauma at her characters; sometimes, you didn’t want to look! This novel is not for the squeamish, sensitive reader. I read this at 13, which I think was too young to truly appreciate the epicness of this bodice ripper. It scared me for a long time. I didn’t know that heroes and heroines could act the way Ginny and Steve did.
It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I could handle that kind of behavior because by then, my perspectives on romance novels had changed to be more open to new experiences.
Final Analysis of Sweet Savage Love
This is a saga all lovers of old-school romance should read. Sweet Savage Love is a seminal piece of fiction, even if I wouldn’t consider it the most incredible bodice ripper ever. Christine Monson’s Stormfire, Teresa Denys’ The Flesh and the Devil and The Silver Devil, and Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire are all better written. In my opinion, Rogers’ Wicked Loving Lies is her best work, with more sensitive characterization and deeper themes. Plus, it was more fun than Sweet Savage Love.
Sweet Savage Love is not a book I loved. The characters were wishy-washy at times despite being adults. (Well, Steve was an adult, anyway; I think Ginny started the book as a 16- or 17-year-old.) Steve was a slut. Ginny was too beautiful and too perfect. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to be together or not. The only thing these two could agree on was that they liked banging.
Even so, I did greatly enjoy this. The protagonists were larger than life in a story that was larger than life. Sweet Savage Love is an experience you won’t want to miss. It’s a worthy ancestor of the romance genre.
I’d rate this 4.24 stars. Although it’s not without its flaws, that’s high marks, in my estimation.