The month of February in the United States is recognized as Black History Month. So this week Sweet Savage Flame takes a look at some retro romance novels that portray Afro-American or Black couples in intimate embraces on the covers.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s when Pinnacle started their Arabesque line that mainstream romances began depicting relationships between Black partners.
Or even half-pairings. I’ve read many old-school romances with interracial couplings. Invariably the partner with African heritage was biracial and, usually, that part of their identity was kept secret.
Since then horizons have broadened. There is more variety of characters in romance today than ever before.
Still, there were positive aspects from the late 20th-century that brought us to where we are now.
Part of me wanted to make this an all Beverly Jenkins edition. Jenkins is a pioneer in the romance genre and the “Leading Lady of Historical Romance” featuring Black couples. Her covers really were (and still are) divine. Lamentably, I haven’t been able to track down the illustrators for her 1990s books. Avon has a spotty track record identifying cover artists.
In honor of Black history month, for the week of Monday, February 21, 2022, to Sunday, February 26, 2022, let’s appreciate some older romance covers with Black or Afro-American protagonists.
Black Couples in Romance Covers (Clockwise)
Topaz, Beverly Jenkins, Avon, 1997, cover artist TBD
Through the Storm by Beverly Jenkins is a romance about a former slave finding love during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era with a man from a proud and established Louisiana family of Haitian descent.
I’ve only read one Beverly Jenkins romance, her first outing, Night Song, almost thirty years ago. I liked it but never picked up another book by this author and wanted to remedy that.
Through the Storm has gained high marks and positive reviews. For my part, I found it engaging, although I couldn’t help but think it needed tightening up in some areas.
The Set Up
Sable Fontaine is a slave of mixed European and African ancestry. At the beginning of Through the Storm, she is 29 years old when an elderly aunt reveals her bloodline secret. Sable is told that she is the descendent of African queens and two generations of slave owners.
Her current owner–and father–plans to sell her to a depraved man, known to be extremely brutal with slaves. Her aunt will not allow this.
Through the Storm begins as Sable’s master is doomed to a fiery death as his home burns with him inside. Knowing she has to forge a place for herself, she flees to find sanctuary. On her travels, she meets Harriet Tubman, who tells Sable she has been waiting for her. Tubman guides Sable to a contraband camp, a haven for refugee slaves.
Sable meets Union soldier Raimond LeVeq, who wastes no time letting Sable know of his attraction to her. He’s supposed to be suave and debonair, but sometimes he came off as trying too hard. Sable rebuffs his advancements, quickly figuring out his number.
She works at the camp, does errands and chores, helping the men with letters and other duties. Nevertheless, Raimond is a charmer, and Sable finds herself falling under his allure in time.
However, the evil man who purchased Sable looms on the horizon, forcing Sable to flee yet again, this time further North. Raimond is left with no word why. What could have been love turns into mistrust and contempt.
Sable finds herself face to face with Raimond later on, this time under different circumstances. He needs to find a wife. Raimond’s mother is convinced that Sable is the woman for him. So he reluctantly finds himself committed to the woman who almost broke his heart.
Sable and Raimond reconnect, learning to trust and care for one another again. Still, they have their struggles. Raimond comes on hard, but Sable is no pushover. Raimond has a mistress, although he quickly casts her aside. And danger still looms on the horizon, with the crazed villain determined to have Sable.
Final Analysis of Through the Storm
Beverly Jenkin’s Through the Storm is a slightly uneven romance filled with multiple tropes and a hefty dose of history. I really wanted to love this but found myself skimming through some parts.
Through the Storm certainly does not merit an unfavorable rating, as I enjoyed many elements, but some of the negatives overshadowed them. The pacing is a bit off, as many events occur in one section, then nothing happens in others. Also, I could have done without some of the info-dumping “As you know Bob” dialogue.
Sable is a fantastic heroine, filled with grit and competence. Raimond is an “Alpha,” and he comes on quite intense at times. Raimond is nowhere as smooth as he thinks he is. However, I’m pleased to note that the love scenes are well-done and erotic in a very 1990s fashion.
The villain is a rather hateful beast, and I relished his comeuppance.
I appreciated that Through the Storm was no wallpaper romance. It was a genuine historical–or at least, one where historical events mattered.
All in all, I’m glad I read this one, but I think there are other romances by Jenkins that will be more suited to my tastes.
Rating Report Card
Sable, a slave on the run to escape the cruel man she’s been sold to is forced to betray the charming Union officer Raimond LeVeq, who had romanced her and championed her.
Brought together again by fate and an arranged marriage, she must try and win the trust of LeVeq–the man she truly loves.
Brenda Jackson’s Tonight and Forever is her first published book and the first in her long-running series of the Madaris family. It’s a Pinnacle Arabesque romance from 1995, which are category romances but are not numbered, at least not to my knowledge.
Plot And Characters
Lorren Jacobs has left behind her past in California to return to her roots in Texas. After a bad marriage led to a bitter divorce, all she wants is to be with the people she loves and focus on her career of writing children’s books. At a party, the successful doctor Justin Madaris catches sight of her and is instantly smitten. Lorren is a beautiful woman, and receiving male attention is natural, but she wants none of that. Especially not from handsome men like Justin Madaris.
While Lorren had an unhappy marriage to a horrible man, Justin is a widower of ten years. His marriage was happy, but sadly, his wife is dead. Justin, however, is still in the realm of the living and is willing to live and love. He’s a mature man in touch with his feelings, not one who lets his feelings control him. However, he does have a sort of rosy, idealized version of his first wife and does keep a token from her. Usually, I’m not too fond of the dead wife trope, but I didn’t feel that Justin was mourning his wife to the exclusion of living in the present. He’s obviously attracted to Lorren and willing to have a relationship with her.
Justin pursues Lorren. Lorren is attracted to the good doctor, but she’s unsure. Her husband hurt her with lies about her inadequacy in the bedroom, which caused a hard shell to form around her as far as men are concerned. But Justin is gentle in his courtship. Lorren’s hesitancy could get a little off-putting, but if, as a reader, you enjoy a kind, sensitive hero who doesn’t force his way over the heroine, you’ll love Justin.
Parts from Lorren’s past make a reappearance to cause trouble. Justin, in a way, has to come to terms that the future is now with Lorren and not with a past that’s gone forever.
Final Analysis of Tonight and Forever
This is a fairly simple romance with a fairly simple plot. The writing is good, but what might one expect from a first book. What propels Tonight and Forever into a “better than good” zone is that it isn’t just a romance about the healing power of love. It’s a book about the power of love itself.
Jackson has since gone on to author over 100 works of fiction. I’m interested in reading more of her work, especially as she’s peppered this book with plenty of side characters you know are getting stories of their own.