Like in all Bertrice Small novels, the history in Enchantress Mine is richly detailed, the villains are just whacked-out, and there’s a lot of WTF situations that make you shake your head, blink and wonder, “What just happened?”
But, I don’t know…
I guess I just don’t enjoy some of Bertrice Small’s books as much as I do other bodice rippers.
A Too-Perfect Heroine
Enchantress Mine is set in the Middle Ages, during the height of the Byzantine Empire. The heroine, Mairin, is a foundling raised by adopted parents.
Oh, Mairin, how to describe her? The cover art is the best thing about her. I both hated and pitied the poor girl. So many horrific things happened to Mairin, but I didn’t care because she was SOOOO perfect, SOOOO beautiful, SOOOO resilient!
Every man that wasn’t either her relative or 100% gay desired her and had to have her–stop me if you’ve heard this before! She was just the typical most beautiful-woman-on-earth, the kind of heroine that Bertrice Small adored to write about.
And she was such a Mary Sue! I had no patience nor any love for her.
Still, poor Mairin!
The Heroes:Bachelors #1,#2, & #3
Despite the variety of men, her romantic life is the worst.
Her first love, Basil, a nobleman of Constantinople, is poisoned to death by his male ex-lover, a jealous actor.
Another admirer of hers is ironically named Eric Longsword. He no penis and can only pee by using a hollow reed!
Somehow, he still can bring Mairin to orgasmic heights.
The other guy, her true love, Josselin, suffers from the worst malady of all as he’s plain boring!
He comes into the picture late in the book, as often does in a Bertrice Small romance. If Joss had more character development than merely lusting after Mairin, there might have been a chance to like him.
Of her three love interests, the main hero the least memorable.
Final Analysis of Enchantress Mine
Yes, some aspects of Enchantress Mine sound crazy as heck. You would think a book like that would be more exciting. And it almost is, at times.
However Mairin is so perfect and so tedious. I didn’t care what happened to her.
Bertrice Small can do better! And she has. I prefer her Tudor and Stuart-era novels such as Skye O’Malley, All the Sweet Tomorrows, or Wild Jasmine instead.
Rating Report Card
From the golden pleasure domes of Constantinople to the barbaric pomp of Malcolm of Scotland’s court, this is the magical tale of ravishingly beautiful Mairin of Aelfleah, called “Enchantress” by the three men who loved her: Basil, Prince of Byzantium, who taught her passion’s tender secrets; Josselin de Combourg, gallant knight of William the Conqueror…and Eric Longsword, the Viking whose tragic love for Mairin would never be fulfilled. And in their wild world gone mad with savage war, only love could triumph over all!
It was a bad sign that Bertrice Small’s The Innocentfeatures one of her least interesting romance covers ever. The lone positive was that Elaine Duillo created this. It was one of her final covers and illustrated for her dear friend Bertrice.
The Innocent, The Evil, and The Boring
Taking a break from Small’s usual romps where the heroine is captured by some salacious sultan/whoremaster/caliph and enslaved into his harem is The Innocent.
The Innocent is an unengaging medieval-era set historical. I usually adore medievals, but this one bored me to tears.
The heroine is a former nun named Eleonore, who goes by the ridiculous nickname Elf. Elf is a paragon of virtue, saintliness, and sweetness. She is totally dull.
Elf must leave God behind to marry Ranulf, an equally boring character.
He then patiently introduces Elf to the arts of love.
There’s an evil villain–a hired killer sent to dispatch Elf–who falls in love with Elf for her purity and goodness. All I could wonder was, WHY? She, like most of Small’s heroines, is perfection beyond belief.
One Fun Character: The Villainess
Ok, I lied when I said the cover artist was the only exciting aspect of The Innocent. The villainess, Isleen, is such a caricature of slutty evilness. It’s hysterical.
She despises Elf, as Isleen is her total opposite: a cruel, bitchy who-ore. She will stop at nothing to have Elf killed.
There’s a funny scene (funny to me, anyway) where Isleen gets gang-banged by the villain and a couple of other guys. They all go at it, and she suddenly stops after a few rounds.
Isleen cries out: “No, wait! We have to practice safe medieval sex, so I don’t get preggers!” Then she proceeds to douche the “specimens” out of her vagina with an entire bottle of red wine.
Final Analysis of The Innocent
I read a ton of Bertrice small books circa 1999 to 2002. At the time, I found myself addicted to them.
But being addicted to something and loving it aren’t the same thing.
I picked this book up, believing I would appreciate a change of pace from Small’s usual sexcapades. Usually, the heroine (and hero) cavort with every staff and orifice in plain sight.
Here Elf is a virgin and sleeps only Ranulf. That’s boring for a bodice-ripper, although I wouldn’t classify this as a ‘ripper. It’s just vanilla erotic romance.
Other than a couple of scenes and a pair of quasi-intriguing villains–the male evildoer would have made a better hero, plus, he surprisingly redeems himself–, The Innocent was a real snoozer.
Recommended only for hardcore Bertrice Small fans and those who want to read some naughty sex scenes.
1 Star(Not rounding up)
Rating Report Card
Eleanore of Ashlin had promised her life to God—until fate intervened. With her brother’s untimely death, Eleanore becomes the heiress of an estate vital to England’s defenses. Now she is ordered by royal command to wed one of the king’s knights rather than take her final vows. With resistant heart, but ever obedient to King Stephen’s will, she complies.
Ranulf de Glandeville is all too aware that his innocent bride wants no man; yet his patience, gentle hand, and growing love for his spirited young wife soon awaken Eleanore to passions she never knew. But their love will soon be threatened by a depraved woman who will put Eleanore’s life in jeopardy—and the young bride’s love to its greatest test. . . .
We’ve discussed the definition and scope of bodice rippers many times at Sweet Savage Flame. Some people use it as a derogatory term for all romances. That would be incorrect.
Bodice rippers are inherently trashy, “they,” say—the “poor woman’s” version of pulp fiction. Admittedly, the trashiness is part of their charm. Detractors have said they are anti-woman, a relic of a bygone era, and promoted terrible values.
We don’t see it that way. These romance novels are intense and fun and nothing to be ashamed of.
It doesn’t surprise us that the subgenre resonates today with a segment of readers. Modern neo-bodice rippers do crop up from time to time.
While many still use the phrase bodice ripper as a catch-all term for historical romance or the romance genre, the actual definition is narrower.
A bodice ripper is a specific type of historical romance that originated in 1972 with the publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. These romances essentially ceased to exist as a sub-genre somewhere in the mid-to-late-1990s.
There has been much brouhaha regarding consent in one scene which first appeared in The Duke and I.The heroine, Daphne, doesn’t let her husband Simon pull out–as he usually does during sex, to prevent pregnancy.
A social media frenzy ensued after this was depicted on-screen.
Journalists and shocked viewers referred to this scene as rape. Or, at the very least, it was problematic.
Sweet Savage Flame’s Stance On “Offensive” Ideas
We at Sweet Savage Flame understand the sensitivity behind this topic, but as hardened readers of genuine hardcore bodice rippers, all this hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, and gate-keeping seems performative. And absurd.
Fiction exists to explore a forbidden realm that the “real world” can’t–or shouldn’t—dare. What happens in a book or on screen is not reality.
Moreover, we are staunch opponents of censorship. Book banning is anathema to us–from all sides. Erasure of the written word is a phenomenon not limited to one group or mindset.
All that said, we reiterate: Julia Quinn does not write bodice rippers.
So What the Heck Is Or Isn’t a Bodice Ripper Romance?
Historical romance authors like Lisa Kleypas, Courtney Milan, and Sarah MacLean do not write them, either.
Neither does Tessa Dare, although she cheekily has bodices ripped in a few of her books.
Almost every mainstream historical author writing today writes “modern” historical romance, a completely different animal.
E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray is closer to what one is than most of today’s typical historical romances.
However, an “Alpha” hero, a virginal heroine, and titillating sex scenes alone do not constitute a bodice ripper.
Add a historical setting and viola!
That is now a retro historical romance.
Yet those are not the only qualities inherent in a ‘ripper. They can include numerous tropes or plot points, as these stories vary greatly.
I Know A Bodice Ripper When I See It
In a 1964 United States Supreme Court Case that dealt with obscenity, Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart said the following about pornography:
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the medium involved in this case is not that.”
USSCJUSTICE POTTER STEWART, JACOBELLIS V. OHIO
The same can be said for the bodice ripper. I know one when I see one. They don’t really exist anymore in the publishing world, with a few exceptions.
While relatively rare, a handful of modern authors have made efforts over the last twenty years to capture that old style. These authors write what I call “neo-bodice rippers.”
The Neo-Bodice Ripper
What is a neo-bodice ripper?
First, it is a historical romance novel. Thus, it is a 21st-century written romance set at any time in history before World War II.
These books usually incorporate “forced seduction,” or at least force is possible. The hero must be dominant, while the female resists his advances.
So these books usually (but sometimes don’t) include non-consensual sex between the hero and heroine.
Other men might rape the heroine. She also could have willing intercourse with a partner other than the hero.
The plot develops in a classic bodice ripper over many months or even years. The protagonists might travel to various destinations.
Characters who display historically correct mindsets are a bonus but not a requirement. Nevertheless, history plays a pivotal role in the novel.
Most important is the power dynamic the two human sexes engage in.
A bodice ripper is an epic love story. The central theme is the physical and emotional struggle between man and woman to find a complementary love–one for the ages. It must also thrill and resonate; titillate and shock; arouse and offend.
A neo-bodice ripper should capture those aspects.
While modern bodice ripper novels are few and far between, they exist. These are not mainstream.
Thankfully the self-publishing boom has seen some new variations of the old-school genre.
And as we are all about old-school, let’s look at some notable ones.
Examples of Modern (or Neo) Bodice Rippers
Tell Me Lies
Claudia Dain’s 2000 Leisure romance debut, Tell Me Lies, features a pirate who captures and ravishes the heroine.
It was pretty controversial at the time, as many readers and critics argued that the romance genre “had moved past that sort of thing,” whatever that meant.
Claiming the Courtesan
Anna Campbell’s first book was Claiming the Courtesan. Claiming the Courtesan was published by Avon in 2007. Critics hailed it as “Regency noir.” It had both fans and detractors upon release.
The story of the Duke of Kylemore’s single-minded pursuit of his mistress Soraya/Verity indeed held bodice-ripper aspects. This dark romance is undoubtedly an example of a neo-bodice ripper.
The Duke’s Captive
Adele Ashworth’s 2010 The Duke’s Captive, another Avon release, has been categorized by some readers as a bodice ripper for its dubious consent scenes between the hero and heroine.
Spoil of War
Phoenix Sullivan’s 2011Spoil of War told the Arthurian tale of Guinevere’s parents. The male protagonist holds the heroine hostage. Several times men–not the hero–violate her. Depictions from medical life are rough and not pretty.
Spoil of War seems to be out of publication, however.
A Viking’s Love
Indie author Carolyn Kairns’ 2012 outing, A Viking’s Love, was an unapologetic modern bodice ripper. A Viking named Joran the Hard-Hearted falls for his captive, Allisande.
This book has literal bodice-ripping, dubious consent, evil villains aplenty, and much more.
There is a sequel, A Viking’s Promise,but I have not read that one yet. According to reviews, it does not appear as violent as its predecessor. Still, it may be worthy of a look.
Italian author Nina Pennacchi’s Lemonade is an intense romance from 2015. Pennacchi wrote it in her native language. This book contains thoughtful, excellent writing.
However, it has ignited many fiery discussions due to the hero’s forceful and vengeful ways toward the heroine. He rapes her during one brutally intense scene.
Virtue and Vice
Another 2015 release, Kimberly Brody’s Virtue and Vice, might qualify as a neo-bodice ripper novel. It’s been controversial for its erotic scenes, violence, and lack of consent.
We haven’t read it, so we can’t confirm. Reviews are mixed.
How the Warrior Fell & How the Warrior Claimed
Author Nicole Rene’s sexually-charged outing, How the Warrior Fell, from 2016, and its 2017 sequel, How the Warrior Claimed, both take place in a fictional Ancient World.
The books have strong-willed Alpha heroes who pursue their heroines with intensity and lust. The men come close to violence with their furiousness.
Is either one of these a neo-bodice ripper? We think they might be. They’re worth a look.
Your Thoughts on Bodice Rippers & Neo-Bodice Rippers
Have you read any of the books listed here, and if so, what are your opinions on them? Or have you come across a new historical romance with a hero who’s crossed the line from overbearing alpha into “true” bodice-ripping territory?
Do you think authors today are afraid of taking chances to write those kinds of stories? Or do those types of books repel them?
As readers, what are your thoughts on contemporary authors writing old-school-style books? Does the thought intrigue you, or would you prefer to read something else entirely?
Please, drop a comment and let me know what you think about neo-bodice rippers!