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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
what is a neo bodice ripper

Neo-Bodice Rippers

what is a neo bodice ripper

Let’s Talk About Bodice Rippers & Neo-Bodice Rippers

Do modern bodice-ripper books exist? And what is one, exactly?

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.

flame and flower

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 existed beginning in 1972 with the publication of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. It ceased to exist as a sub-genre somewhere in the mid-to-late-1990s.

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.

Julia Quinn Does Not Write Bodice Rippers

That’s what we said. And we’ll repeat it.

Bridgerton is NOT a bodice ripper.

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.

It is okay to think “bad” thoughts. It’s even alright to express them. We would go as far as saying it is within one’s natural right to do so.

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.

the duke and i cover
the duke and i ginsgburg

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.

fifty shades

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.”


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.

A bodice ripper is an epic [historical] 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 is a [contemporarily written romance that] should capture those aspects.

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 2011 Spoil 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.

 modern bodice ripper books

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!