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claiming the courtesan

Historical Romance Review: Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell

neo bodice ripper
Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell
Rating: two-stars
Published: 2007
Illustrator: TBD
Published by: Avon
Genres: Neo-Bodice Ripper, Historical Romance, Regency Era Romance
Pages: 375
Format: Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell


The Book

I’m not a fan of the execution of Claiming the Courtesan. I did think, though, what Anna Campbell tried to accomplish in her first book was refreshing.

She wrote a style romance I call a neo-bodice ripper. These books attempt to capture the violent sexual power dynamics of older romances yet are distinctly modern in presentation.

Something Old is New Again

I appreciated what Campbell wanted to create in the anti-hero Kylemore. A handsome, spoiled Duke, he was obsessed with hunting down his mistress Soraya who abandoned him. He was a loathsome, detestable being who cared only for his mad desires.

Initially, his intensity drew my attention. Soon, though, I found him to be a bratty, uncharismatic psycho-stalker.

I seem to be alone in this regard as I yearn for the days of stoic, inscrutable heroes. Those men whose love was shown through their actions. When they did speak, the words meant so much.

I prefer to be in the hero’s head as little as possible. Here, we’re given every angsty thought, every hateful sentiment, or lustful urge.

Soraya/Verity, with her dual personality, was an interesting albeit flawed character. She had to sell her body to help her family survive but wanted freedom.

It seemed as if Campbell intended this book to be a romantic feminist oeuvre, just like any good bodice ripper is. Because, despite their violent and rapey reputation, bodice rippers are decidedly pro-female.

Alas, Claiming the Courtesan failed to achieve what the great rippers of the ’70s & ’80s did: enlighten and titillate. This was too emo, with no thrills. The endless introspection and bad sex scenes became tedious.

The Plot & What Could Have Been

A problem with some modern romances is that authors dismiss what made many older ones great. The reader got to see the plot progress. Claiming the Courtesan lacked tension. The drama doesn’t unfold before our eyes, as the story begins in medias res with Kylemore searching for his missing mistress.

How more engaging if the book began with Kylemore meeting Verity? She would still be a courtesan whom many men desire. Over time, Kylemore seduces her away from her protector. All the while, Verity would be conflicted. Determined to leave her imposed career, she struggles with her feelings for Kylemore.

We’d see into more Verity & Kylemore’s relationship, perhaps a snarky side character or two, and more about Kylemore’s evil mother.

Then–just as the book actually began–Verity would flee from Kylemore, who would track her down and kidnap her. At that point, we’d see how their unusual bond progresses.

Finally, the epilogue would show how they deal with their scandalous relationship in polite society. Perhaps they’d decide to say to hell with the stifling ton and go to the colonies.

Instead, we hear them vow promises for a vague future.

A sex scene or two could have been cut, along with dozens of pages of inner monologue. But there’s your action; that’s a story.

Instead, there are chapters with dumps of internal dialogue.

The plot of Claiming the Courtesan consists of drawn-out events. After Verity is kidnapped (this portion alone takes up a considerable part of the novel), there are two-and-a-half-long chapters where she escapes from her carriage, is chased down in the dark by Kylemore, and is finally caught and brought to the carriage. It felt like watching a hamster run in a wheel, moving but going nowhere.

Introduced later on to add more drama are Verity’s concerned brother and Kylemore’s wicked mother. The characters feel clumsily tacked on.

The final resolution is unsatisfactory. There is a hint of a happy ending; an epilogue was necessary to cement it.

“Verity, you have a choice,” he said gently. “We eat, we talk, we pass the evening with an attempt at civility. Or we fuck. It’s up to you.”

My Opinion: The Decline of Historical Romance

My frustration with so many romances of the last two decades is that they’ve lost the art of storytelling in favor of emotional overload. Nothing happens, but every minor issue is so dramatically addressed. It’s so overwrought.

Why has historical romance degraded to wallpaper irrelevance? Is this what audiences really want? Characters dressed in old-time garments, sipping tea? Books that superficially touch upon manners, but have tons of explicit sex scenes? Heroes asking for consent at every turn and page after page of emotional hand-wringing?

I guess it is, and I’m just not part of the cool kid’s club. Give me food and clothes porn, un-politically correct mindsets, heroes who dare to do wrong, heroines who’ll slap them right back, and salacious purple prose any day.

Final Analysis of Claiming the Courtesan

This book could have sparked a retro genre of 21st-century bodice rippers, rather than just being a gimmick of a plot that led to a bit of controversy. If I want to read a romance with power struggles and dominance issues between the hero and heroine, they rarely exist in historical romances anymore. Those books have been diluted to blandness. Historicals are all so cookie-cutter. I’d have to contemporary-set BDSM romances, New Adult erotica, or paranormal fantasy to look for my spice. However, I’m just not interested in those genres.

This was such a shame. Claiming the Courtesan could have been something special, but it was bogged down in psychological analysis and not enough substance.

A wise rapper, Redman, once said, “If you gotta be a monkey, be a gorilla.” If you’re going to pen a bodice ripper, go balls-to-wall crazy with it. Have no shame about it. Be proud to be outrageous. Otherwise, stick to what everyone else writes because, apparently, it does sell.

2 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 2.3
so wild a rapture

Historical Romance Review: So Wild a Rapture by Andrea Layton

historical romance review
So Wild a Rapture by Andrea Layton
Rating: two-half-stars
Published: 1978
Illustrator: Ron Lesser
Published by: Playboy Press
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 365
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: So Wild a Rapture by Andrea Layton


The Book

Andrea Layton‘s So Wild a Rapture is a tawdry rape-romance about a beautiful lady’s misadventures during the French Revolution.

The Characters and the Setup

From the opening pages, we are introduced to the 16-year-old heroine, the noble Juliette de Condillac, and her “won twu wuv,” Francois du Quesnay. He’s a slightly older boy from a neighboring noble family.

They quickly consummate their love and, like high schoolers, vow to be “togetha 4 eva” after Francois finishes his university education.

The Plot

Livre Un

But life has other plans for Juliette and Francois in So Wild a Rapture. First in the name of Roger du Deffand and then in the name of the French Revolution.

Against her will, Juliette is betrothed to the deceptively foppish and much older Roger.

Francois marches back to school, giving her his ring. He tells Juliette the ring will protect her whenever needed.

Juliette dithers about her future. Maybe she will marry Roger, maybe she won’t. In the meantime, she is to be educated at a convent and consort socially with nobility to learn to be a proper bride for Roger.

What does she need to learn? Oh, what any Catholic girl should know. Religion and piety, skill in the housewife arts, being social, and… perhaps taking part in a bit of girl-on-girl love. Her husband-to-be, Roger, loves to watch (or even ). Juliette is, of course, shocked. And curious…

Her lessons are cut short when the horrors of the French Revolution begin to take over, intruding on their dark idyll.

Death, thievery, arson, destruction, and rape ravage the countryside.

Fortunately, Juliette is protected wherever she goes by Francois’ ring. When Juliette and Francois meet again she is shocked to learn he is a powerful leader in the Revolutionary movement. (What did that silly twit thing the ring was all about?)

Livre Deux

I don’t know how Francois reached such a high status because–to be blunt–he’s kind of a dickless wanker.

When men repeatedly attempt to rape Juliette, he pleads for mercy. Francois fights the men only as a last resort. Never would he dream of killing her would-be rapists, saying the men have had hard lives and can’t be blamed for their actions.

What a benevolent eunuch of a hero! And that’s being cruel to eunuchs.

And le coup-de-grace is Francois’ reaction when his family is killed and his home destroyed. He mourns the loss of lives and property as a natural and necessary part of the new movement.

Boo! Lame hero!

Maybe the villain is better? Un peu.

Livre Trois

Eventually, Juliette makes her way to her fiancé. Roger lets Juliette know in no uncertain terms that she’s damaged goods. So he no longer has any interest in marrying her. Although he will still make use of her comely charms.

First, Roger makes Juliette his own love slave! Then he pimps her over to a bored King Louis XVI, who is taking refuge in his palace as France crumbles around him in bloody chaos.

Roger forces Juliette to have an abortion, thus destroying any tender feelings Juliette had for her former betrothed. In the meantime, she waits for Francois to free her from her courtesan life before the guillotine takes her head.

Does Francois come in time?

Que pensez-vous?

Final Analysis of So Wild A Rapture

So Wild a Rapture wasn’t a bad ‘ripper. It wasn’t great either, despite the raunch factor. Juliette’s youthful resourcefulness makes her willing to do anything to survive, no matter how degrading, sordid or arousing. She also is vapid and silly, with plenty of scenes lip-chewing and foot-stomping.

I detested the male protagonist whose politics and morals I abhorred. The villain was villainous, yet he lacked that spicy je-ne c’est quoi that makes a villain sizzle.

Here’s another bodice ripper to file away under:

  1. The hero is dishwater dull and missing in action while…
  2. The heroine bangs it out with the lecherous villain, and…
  3. She gets some historical dong along the way.

But hey, I do give So Wild a Rupture — Rapture! — credit for keeping to the history and not being all wallpapery in that regard.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 3.3


from the innocent, virgin pastures of the French countryside to the sensuous intrigues and royal splendors of a king’s decadent court

against her will by a passionate liaison with a wealthy baron whose ardent desires devoured her senses, sweeping her to the heights of ecstasy and the depths of degradation

by the sweet, burning memory of the fiery young rebel whose tender caresses had scorched her soul forever–and made her desperate to be free, to belong to the one man who could truly possess her heart.