Imprint or Line: Zebra Heartfire
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Civil War Romance
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
MILD SPOILERS 😉
Love & Betrayal
The Beginning: Love
Rebel Vixen commences by diving right into the story.
As the Civil War rages throughout the United States, 21-year-old Savannah Russell is on a ship in the Caribbean, bringing food and medical supplies to her southern brethren, when she spots a body floating in the water. She urges the sailors to bring him aboard.
However, when they see the man’s Union buckle on his uniform, everyone but Savannah wants to throw the enemy back into the sea. Savannah is defiant and swears to help save the Yankee sailor, despite what anyone says, including her Uncle, who’s in charge.
Savannah takes the officer on land and brings him to an inn. With a doctor’s aid, she helps him recover, saving his injured arm from amputation. She is instantly attracted to the blond-haired Lt. Commander named Skyler Reade. He, in turn, falls madly for the woman who saved his life.
Upon a tropical beach, Savannah and Skyler exchange their words of love, promising to be together forever.
The Beginning: Betrayal
As they begin to make love, an explosion shatters the silence. In horror, Savannah realizes that the Union army has taken her Uncle’s ship. Skyler tells her that the ship was loaded with weapons and ammunition, not medicine and supplies, and as a Union soldier, he had a responsibility to report it.
He vows his love for Savannah as she sees that every man on board, including her uncle, is now a prisoner of war. Savannah lashes out at Skyler, reinjuring his arm, and flees in terror, declaring her eternal hatred.
The Book: Rebel Vixen
Thus begins one of my all-time favorite romance novels, Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom (aka Nancy Gideon).
Yes, it’s a cheesy-looking Zebra Heartfire with a bosomy-clinch cover and cornball title. It must be read to be fully appreciated.
The scope is grand, spanning years across the American North and South, with war, death, love, and birth. This “bodice-ripper lite” was so well written and emotional that it made me cry tears of sadness and joy.
Seriously, Rebel Vixen is one of the best books I’ve read.
Not surprising, as Dana Ransom’s Zebras are almost all among my favorites, along with the great Deana James and, to a lesser extent, Penelope Neri.
The Plot: The American Civil War
Savannah is the oldest daughter of three children. Her father was a casualty of war, her brother is off fighting, and now with her uncle imprisoned, she finds herself burdened as the head of the family with an enormity of responsibilities on her shoulders.
Unconventionally beautiful, she has no time for gaiety as the war rages on, destroying everything she ever knew. Saving Skyler was instinctive, as she deeply values human life. She has the weight of the world upon her, and despite her recalcitrance, Skyler is her one bright spot in the darkness.
A Man Without Purpose
Skyler Reade has no real purpose in life, bouncing aimlessly along from adventure to adventure. As the middle son of an upper-crust Philadelphia family, he’s sort of flitting along in life when the war starts.
His father is a respected doctor, his older brother is settled down with a family and fighting for the Union, and even Skyler’s wayward younger brother seems to be following in the family’s footsteps of pursuing a medical degree.
Skyler has a “girlfriend” at home, not someone he feels serious about–although she absolutely does about him–who encourages him to pursue politics. To be a politician, he’ll have to have some military experience. But Skyler was not keen on fighting a war he cared nothing about. So he entered the Navy because he thought he’d see little battle action at sea.
A Genuinely Nice Guy
Although Skyler is a drifter suffering from the middle-child syndrome, he seeks to be virtuous. The main characteristic I adore about Skyler is that he is nice. I mean genuinely nice: a decent, caring, empathetic human being.
Yes, he is a bit domineering at times, but if 19th-century women weren’t 3rd wave feminists, you damn sure can’t expect the men to have been. He is relentless in pursuing Savannah, vowing to make her love him again. Most times, he’s generous and kind. Even so, other times, he can be demanding.
However, spoiler warning here: there is one bodice ripper-type scene.
A “forced seduction” occurs after Savannah taunts Skyler and tells him of her many lovers–a lie–for which he is instantly regretful and never repeats.
Skyler is kind to Savannah despite her shrewishness. He pursues Savannah across the North and South, confident that nothing could ever shatter their love.
Then again, maybe there is.
A Sensitive Subject Matter
As this Rebel Vixen is set during the US Civil War, slavery is a large part of the plot. I can understand that the sensitivity on this topic repels a lot of modern romance readers from this era. However, there’s no sugar-coating it. Savannah’s family owns plantations, and as such, they own slaves.
As far as Savannah’s views on slavery, like the war, it’s complicated. Ever since she was a child, Savannah’s father has allowed one slave to be freed at her request on her birthday. Although Savannah herself questions the righteousness of slavery, she will not betray her family, her state, and “The Cause.”
On the other hand, Skyler is aghast at the practice. He finds purpose in life through two motivations: to reobtain Savannah’s love and trust and fight for his nation until slavery is eliminated.
I adore the conclusion of this book as it’s reminiscent of the end of John Jakes’s mini-series North and South Part I and the scene with Lesley Anne Downs and Patrick Swayze. It always makes me chuckle. What the hell, that series was so good, so it’s ok with me that Ransom borrowed a bit from that ending.
“Why me? Why would you want me?” she asked in bewildered frustration.
“You–you make everything else so unimportant… I’ve never had much direction in my life, nothing I wanted to devote myself to until you held my hand and sat with me when I prayed I would die. Just wanting to hear your voice made me fight to get through the hell of each day. I loved you before I even saw your face.”
Final Analysis of Rebel Vixen
Rebel Vixen is a book I go back to and enjoy every few years. For me, it’s an old friend with reliable characters who go through tragic circumstances but come out of it united and secure in their love for each other.
I truly hope author Dana Ransom (aka Nancy Gideon) regains her rights to this book from Kensington and is able to republish it in digital format. It would be a shame for this romance to remain a hidden gem for only lovers of old paperbacks to discover.
If you’re in the mood for an old-school romance that skirts with being un-PC but doesn’t have an over-the-top-Alpha hero you’d want to hit in the head with a frying pan, I can’t recommend a better read than Rebel Vixen.
|Rating Report Card|
When Savannah Russell spotted the lone survivor drifting among the shipwreck’s debris, nothing could have stopped her from rescuing him. Not even that she was sailing on a Confederate blockade runner while he wore the uniform of the Union Navy. As a spirited Southerner, she hated to help the enemy, but as a woman she could not let him die. So she nursed him herself, rejoicing as pain left his startling gray eyes and strength returned to his lean, muscular body. And before she had time to guard against the unwanted desire his gentle touch aroused in her, she had given her enemy more than her compassion …. she had given him her heart.
WANTON PASSIONREBEL VIXEN by DANA RANSOM
Skyler Reade felt more than gratitude for the raven-haired rebel who’d saved his life. Her courage had earned his boundless admiration; her beauty had sparked his limitless desire. She’d risked everything to help him and he knew that staying with her would only endanger them both. Still, he had to taste the beckoning sweetness of her lips, had to caress the ivory smoothness of her skin before he could leave her. Someday he would return to build a future with his seductive Savannah, but for tonight he could only give her the warmth of his embrace and the promise that she would always be his treasured, tantalizing REBEL VIXEN.