Historical Romance Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

historical romance review
Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1977
Illustrator: H. Tom Hall
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Colonial Era Romance, Georgian Era Romance
Pages: 666
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooksOpen Library (BORROW FOR FREE)
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss


The Book

I’ve long had a tenuous relationship with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ romances. Shanna is the fourth of her books I’ve attempted to read, but it’s the only one I’ve completed. That’s a net positive in this bodice-ripper-lite‘s column.

Now, did I love it? Love is a strong word. I’d say, overall, it was enjoyable, if a bit long.

The Characters and Setup

Shanna Trahern is the spoiled only child of a wealthy Caribbean planter and widower, “Squire” Orlan Trahern. He’s part of the upstart merchant class and tres riche.

Fortune hunters and noblemen fallen upon hard times seek her hand, but Shanna will have none of them! Why can’t a man love her for who she is, dammit: a haughty, ill-tempered, busty, aqua-eyed blonde with a flawless complexion?

Her doting father has given his beautiful and independent daughter one year in England to choose an appropriate man to marry. Otherwise, he will arrange a marriage for her. Squire Trahern wants grandbabies, dammit! Besides, his daughter could use a husband to tame her wild ways.

Determined to be ruled by no man, Shanna colludes with her servant Pitney to arrange a quickie marriage to some black-sheep gentleman doomed to the hangman’s noose. That way, she’ll have official records she was legally wed. Then she’d return home, a widow in mourning, determined never to remarry.

The man she “chooses” is a bearded wretch convicted of killing a barmaid. Despite his thin, unkempt appearance, the hero has a charm in his hazel-gold eyes.

He’s our hero Ruark Beauchamp. Ruark gave me total Hugh Jackman vibes for some reason, so I was on board.


The Plot

Part One

Shanna promises to make the man’s last days pleasant by moving him to nicer quarters and keeping his belly fed. Instead, the prisoner arrogantly demands the consummation of his marital rights because Shanna is really hot.

She concedes to this, but any dingbat with two brain cells should know she’s full of it. But alas, our hero is besotted from the get-go over Shanna. His brains are in his balls. Ruark’s sole aim in this book is either getting into Shanna’s bed or obtaining vengeance in the form of getting Shanna into his bed!

Ruark is cleaned up, and wouldn’t ya know it? With some food in his stomach, a haircut, a shave, and a wash, Ruark is really hot.

Shanna’s southern girly parts tingle. Ruark eyes Shanna’s northern girly parts making promises of a pleasurable time to come.

The ceremony is performed. Into the carriage and on their way are the newlyweds. But Ruark can’t take it anymore, his lust for her bust overwhelms him, and he takes her. For a couple of humps, he is allowed to experience paradise. Shanna is confused by the fluttering sensations she’s experiencing.

Then the coach stops, and Ruark realizes Shanna had no intention of upholding her side of the bargain. He is taken away, but not without a bitter fight, before presumably being executed.

Shanna spares Ruark not another thought (okay, maybe one or two) and returns home to her father’s island of Los Camellos.

Shanna, Re-issue

Part Two


Shanna’s other servant involved in her scheme decides to line his pockets in an even schemier scheme. He substitutes a dead man’s body for Ruark’s and takes him as a slave for Shanna’s father, of course. And wouldn’t ya know it? As Shanna sails home, Ruark is on that same ship.

Soon, to her great dismay, Shanna becomes aware of the new servant’s presence, and so does her father. Ruark never reveals he is Shanna’s legitimate husband (which would have made more sense since Ruark was so eager to get under Shanna’s petticoats).

As the new slave on the job, Ruark impresses the bossman with his engineering skills and–ahem–masterful knowledge of plantations. (It turns out Ruark’s family are wealthy colonial planters related to English nobility. What the hell was Ruark thinking, not contacting them or telling his father-in-law who he was?)

Trahern is so impressed that he gives Ruark special duties with special benefits. The day comes when the slave is dining at the table with the master and his wife—the slave’s wife, that is, not the master’s.

Apparently, Ruark is deep into some heavy roleplay because this slave thing turns him on. When Shanna sees him while riding her horse, he taunts her, and she hits him with her crop.

Instead of reacting violently, as these heroes in ‘rippers would, Ruark only smiles and vows to tame her to his will…

Funny enough, Shanna is viewed as having always gotten her way and in need of the right proper taming. She is a real itchbay, never satisfied with anything.

Everything displeased her, and even the flawlessness of her own beauty, regally gowned in rich ivory satin and costly lace, did not change her mood of discontent.

Ruark cares not. Nothing matters, not freedom, not clearing his name for a crime he didn’t commit, and not returning home. He must have his Shanna!

The give-and-take, push-and-pull between Shanna and Ruark is highly exciting until it reaches its apex. Ruark finally gets his honeymoon!

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Map of Los Camellos

Part Three

It seems that Ruark has found his Paradise on Earth. That is until a big misunderstanding sends Shanna into a jealous rage.

Shanna demands he daddy sell Ruark off to pirates… Oh, hell, that’s where this book takes a nosedive.

Let’s just “yada, yada, yada” this okay?

  • Yada… Nasty stinky pirates…
  • Yada… Ruark reveals the truth about his identity, and the true identity of other people comes to light.
  • Yada… And an evil villain named Gaylord gets his in the end.

Shanna realizes she loves Ruark and promises to stop being such a Seaward.

Shanna gives birth to twins, and her papa is happy as can be.

“In your madness you said you loved me,” she murmured shyly.

His humor fled, and the smile left her lips as she continued, “You said it before, too. When the storm struck, I asked you to love me, and you said you did.” Her voice was the barest of whispers.

Ruark’s gaze turned away from her, and he rubbed the bandage on his leg before he spoke. “Strange that madness should speak the truth, but truth it is.”

My Opinion

The Writing

Woodiwiss and many romance writers of her age (ex. Jennifer Wilde, Rebecca Brandewyne, and Bertrice Small) wrote as if they got paid by the word, like their pulp predecessors.

If Shanna had ended at the 450-page mark–or 325 pages a la Johanna Lindsey–it would have been glorious, a book I’d track down every edition of. I could have easily overlooked the flaws in favor of the positive aspects.

But it keeps going and going—so many fillers. I read a thousand romances from age 12 to 15 of all lengths and could zip through a 1,000-page book per week. Today at 44, I do not have that patience. I have ADHD. I’ve said this before in a review of another book: “The paragraphs are too damn long!”

I’m no enemy of adverbs and adjectives. The world would be a dark place without modifiers. It’s that Woodiwiss didn’t believe in using one or two or three when ten or twelve would suit her better! There are innumerable adverbs, adjectives, adverbs, and dependent clauses.

Let us not forget the effusive purple prose, the poem at the beginning, and the seriousness with which she takes herself. It appeared that Woodiwiss employed every grammatical trick at her disposal.

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Shanna, Re-issue

The Characters


Shanna is your typical beautiful, cossetted, foot-stamping, won’t-listen-to-reason heroine with eyes that flash in anger, the kind that was so prevalent in old-school romances. Usually, I can’t stand this type because she’s written as “too stupid to live” (which is insulting to women who lived and endured hard times in the past).

I shouldn’t have liked Shanna, the character. For some reason, I did. She was caustic, yet she had a will. She contrived, and she plotted. Shanna tried to control her destiny instead of letting others do it for her.

Author Laura Kinsale wrote in her essay “The Androgynous Reader” about Shanna:

“[A] sillier and more wrongheaded heroine than Shanna would be difficult to imagine… Feminists need not tremble for the reader–she does not identify with, admire, or internalize the characteristics of either a stupidly submissive or an irksomely independent heroine. The reader thinks about what she would have done in the heroine’s place.”

LAURA KINSALE, “The Androgynous Reader” from Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz

Shanna would qualify as the irksomely independent type. I typically don’t enjoy them, but when contrasting Shanna’s attitude with Ruark’s easy-going nature, it made for a sizzling combination.

So, apologies to Kinsale, but this reader did “identify with, admire, or internalize” some of Shanna’s characteristics. I’m an outlier, as ever.


Ruark was an enigma. He was charming, handsome, and kind. Ruark was a dreamy hero, but I couldn’t grasp why he was so obsessed with Shanna. He should have been more concerned about his own hide.

First, he’s on death row, about to hang for a murder he did not commit. Then he’s sent overseas in chains to be a plantation slave.

Does he dream about getting free and plotting revenge against those who wronged him? Not really. From the moment he sees her in prison, his primary focus is having Shanna and putting his pee-pee into her wee-wee.

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Shanna, Re-issue

The Cover and More

In 1977 Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ long-awaited third novel made romance history when Avon released Shanna in trade paperback edition. It had a full-stretch green cover, illustrated by H. Tom Hall and designed by Barbara Bertoli. This was one of the first true American clinches. The entire exterior was painted, displaying the couple locked passionately together in a state of undress.

Playboy Press’ This Ravaged Heart by Barabara Riefe also came out in 1977 with a full-page color clinch. But Betty Maxey’s artwork doesn’t compare to Hall’s fabulous cover. Plus, Shanna had a map insert that you could unfold.

Avon heavily promoted this book, running commercial ads on daytime television and in national women’s magazines. It paid off. Shanna sold 3 million copies and was on the NY Times bestseller list for a year.

Shanna was optioned for a film, but negotiations fell through when Woodiwiss couldn’t agree with the producers on the vision. The romance genre might be different if this mild bodice ripper had been brought to the big screen in the 1970s or early 1980s!

Final Analysis of Shanna

I once referred to Shanna as the same book as Catherine Creel’s 1991 Zebra Heartfire romance Passion’s Chains. Creel certainly ripped off Woodiwiss as the main thrusts of the books are almost identical: secret marriage where the husband is a slave on the wife’s island plantation. The two novels deviate midway and then culminate in about the same place.

To be frank, I think I prefer Passion’s Chains more than I did Shanna, even though I enjoyed both. Perhaps the word count might have something to do with it. Passion’s Chains was 480 pages in a standard-size font. Shanna had teeny-tiny type-face on 666 super-thin pages.

Plotting and pacing matter. There was too much exposition and unnecessary antics in Shanna. In addition, I didn’t OMG love it enough at the beginning to forgive any sins that cropped up in the end, as I would in a fantastic epic book like Stormfire.

Ruark was the book’s high point, a charming, good-natured hero determined to have his woman. However, I did not understand his obsession with Shanna when he should have focused more on clearing his name. Shanna’s a spoiled, petulant brat, although, as I said, I didn’t mind that. I find mean and unlikeable heroines are more palatable than the shy, milk-and-water types or boring blank slates.

Was this a stellar old-school romance that I’ll long to re-read? No, although maybe a passage or two might stay with me. However, I am glad I read Shanna. I can finally say I completed a Kathleen E. Woodiwiss romance and liked it!

Now on to The Flame and the Flower!

(Note: I bumped my rating for Shanna up to 4 stars after now that I finished The Flame and the Flower. RTC!)

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 3.9


A woman with surging desires of the spirit, the flesh, and the heart…

The only child of an 18th century sugar baron, lovely Shanna Trahern is given a year to find a suitable husband in London or to be married off to a dull planter. Instead, she contrives to marry Ruark Beauchamp, condemned to die for the supposed murder of a barmaid.

Certain her concocted story of a romantic elopement and marriage, followed by Ruark’s accidental death, will satisfy her father, Shanna embarks for home — the lush, intrigue-filled Carribean island of Los Camellos. But unknown to Shanna, her husband has escaped the gallows and under another name is among the bondsmen purchased by her father’s agent. Once home, Shanna is tormented by Ruark’s playful taunts — and his threat to collect “The night of love” she had promised him in prison. But when she is carried off by pirates; Ruark risks his life to save her. Now Shanna must deal with the searing passion the proud, virile Ruark has aroused…


A man burning to possess her in vengeance and in ecstasy…


A romance of passion beyond wildest dreams!