Tag Archives: Viking Romance

Captive Heart phoebe conn

Historical Romance Review: Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn

historical romance review
Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 1985
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Lovegram
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance, Viking Romance
Pages: 526
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon

Historical Romance Review: Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn


The Book

This review is of Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn, a Zebra Lovegram historical romance novel.

The Plot

Captive Heart takes place at an undetermined point in history. It is here that Celiese d’Loganville is a slave to Olgerthe Torvald, the pampered daughter of Raktor Torvald, a brutal Viking warlord.

As the book begins, Aldread Valdahl, whose family hates the Torvalds, offers a truce to Raktor. Aldread’s son, Mylan, will marry Olgerethe and end the feud between the families.

Olgerethe refuses to go along with the plan; she will not marry Mylan due to his being disfigured after a fight with a bear. She convinces Celiese to marry Mylan in her place.

When Celiese meets Mylan, she discovers, despite his disfigurement, that he is a very handsome man. They soon marry and enjoy their wedding night.

The next day, however, Raktor tries to kill the couple.

Mylan believes that Celiese knew of the pending attack and grows to hate her. This leads to Mylan spending the next part of the book emotionally and mentally abusing Celiese, calling her his slave, among other derogatory statements. He does offer Celiese a lifeline, however, telling her that if she kills the bear that maimed him, he will set her free. Celiese sets out to do just that, although she doesn’t actually end the bear’s life–Mylan does–she does wound the bear, and Mylan sets her free.

Celiese goes back to Mylan’s family, but this creates further problems. One of Mylan’s younger brothers, Hagen, is in love/lust with Celiese, and later, one of Olgerethe’s brothers, Oluf, tries to rape Celiese. Mylan kills him, but with the other Torvald brothers vowing revenge–and his own father helping them–Mylan and Celiese head to France.

Upon arriving in France, Celiese discovers her mother, Marie, is alive. Their reunion doesn’t go well, however, when Marie discovers that Celiese is married to Mylan, a hated Viking. Celiese plans to get her family’s land back from the Danish invader Hrolf, now known as Robert, who obtained the land from King Charles. Celiese’s plan does not go well.

After being imprisoned by Robert, Mylan rescues her. He does so by claiming to renounce his Danish heritage, agreeing to become a Christian, and marrying Celiese again. This second marriage, however, does not solve all of the issues between them.

By the end of the book, both Celiese and Mylan realize that they do love each other and put those feelings into words that help them find their Happily Ever After.

The Upside

Celiese. She endures unspeakable cruelty from virtually all the males in her life, but she remains strong. That’s a great quality to have.

The Downside

For the first third of the book, Mylan is a total bastard. He inflicts intentional emotional and mental cruelty upon Celiese. Yes, she lied to him in the beginning, but that doesn’t justify his treatment of her.

Most of the time, Celiese doesn’t think through her actions, leading her to get into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations

With the exception of Celiese’s stablehand, Andre, there isn’t a likable male in Captive Heart.


The love scenes in Captive Heart are more about the emotions of the act than the esoterics.


It is mentioned that Celiese was treated brutally by Raktor and his sons. Later, Celiese is assaulted several times. The violence described is not graphic.

Bottom Line on Captive Heart

Phoebe Conn’s take on “Beauty and the Beast” is far from classic. Captive Heart is somewhere around a 1-star book.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 1.8


Celiese, the lovely slave girl, gasped when her betrothed emerged from the shadows. She had been secretly sent in her mistress’s place to wed the much-feared Mylan. But instead of the cruel savage she had expected, he was a magnificently handsome warrior. His cool topaz gaze unnerved her. The fire in his touch sent shivers of unfamiliar desire down her spine. And the sweet madness of his burning kiss as he trapped her within an iron embrace made her forget her past, abandon all reason, and surrender herself–if only for one night–to the pleasures of passion’s fire.

Mylan stared in astonishment at the woman before him. Instead of the spoiled, pampered innocent he had expected, she was a radiant silver-blonde beauty. The hot flush of her cheeks disarmed him; the flame in the emerald depths of her eyes aroused him. Gathering her into his arms, he silenced her startled protest with a slow, wanton kiss and awakened her supple flesh with tender, searching caresses. He would teach her the secrets of passion, take her to ecstasy’s searing heights, and forever possess her Captive Heart.

Captive Heart by Phoebe Conn


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Historical Romance Review: Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey

Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey
Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1987
Illustrator: Elaine Duillo
Book Series: Viking Trilogy #2
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 368
Format: eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey


The Book

Hearts Aflame is a notable Johanna Lindsey historical romance for a few reasons.

Back in June 1987, John Le Carre, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Robert Ludlum, Arthur C. Clarke, and Star Trek were on the NY Times Weekly Bestseller list for paperbacks. Also in the top ten? Jude Deveraux’s The Raider and Johanna Lindsey‘s Hearts Aflame at #3.

Spy thrillers, mysteries, science & women’s fiction were always big hits, but for many years, it was hard to see more than one romance novel numbering near the top. With her 14th book, Lindsey was on a roll, writing blockbuster romance after blockbuster romance.

Readers of this blog and fans of Lindsey might be familiar with Hearts Aflame, as it contains two hallmarks of her books. First (no longer was Robert McGinnis illustrating) was “The Queen of Romance Covers” herself, Elaine Duillo painting the artwork.

Second, this book featured romance supermodel Fabio posing for the clinch. This was one of–if not the–first romance front cover for the Italian-born hunk.

The Background

Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey is the sequel to her third book, the bodice ripper Fires of Winter. In it, the beautiful Welsh Lady Brenna finds her life torn asunder when Vikings raid her home.

They kill all the men and take the women captive. Brenna is given as a prize to the Viking chief’s son, Garrick.

After a very rocky beginning, Garrick and Brenna find love together.

The heroine of Hearts Aflame, Kristen, is their daughter. She is as fierce and strong as both her parents.

The Plot

With her many Viking brothers and cousins, young Kristen has always desired an adventure as they claimed to have experienced. In search of action, she stows away on their raiding ship.

The raid is a failure when the Vikings are beaten and taken hostage by the Saxons, led by the arrogant Thane Royce.

Kristen is dressed as a male, and her kinsmen guard her true identity. But soon, the nature of her sex is discovered by Royce. Royce forces her to serve as his personal house slave. He places Kristen in chains when she refuses and finds her will is unbreakable.

From there on, the relationship between Royce and Kristen is a power play of master and slave, captor and captive, man and woman.

Kristen is not a simpering dame, as her actions prove. Although Royce is a powerful leader and tries to master her, it’s she who proves to be the real mistress.

Speaking of mistresses, Royce has one; a rare instance in a Lindsey romance where the hero beds the other woman. But no fear, her simpering nature proves no match for Kristen’s fierce one.

Some evildoers would see Kristen and Royce fall, but Royce shouldn’t worry when Kristen is on his side. She has no qualms about threatening Saxon lords and ladies and can back up her words with fighting skills.

Of course, Kristen and her fellow Vikings are to be avenged by her people, and this leads to a dramatic ending where her parents show up to save them.

Final Analysis of Hearts Aflame

Hearts Aflame is a solid Johanna Lindsey romance, perhaps not in my personal top-tier, but it still was a blast to read.

Kirsten has all the warrior skills of her mother, with her father’s stubborn temper.

Royce is sexy enough, even though Kirsten steals the show. But it’s fun to imagine him looking like Fabio since he was the first Lindsey hero painted by Elaine Duillo.

Fans of Kirsten’s older brother, Selig, will be happy to read his story in Surrender, My Love, the conclusion to Lindsey’s “Haardrad Viking Trilogy.”

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.2


Kristen Haardrad met the icy fury in her captor’s crystal-green gaze with defiance. She was the prisoner of Royce of Wyndhurst, but his slave she’d never be. This powerful Saxon lord had at last met his match in the Viking beauty – his equal in pride, in strength…and in the fierce, hot hunger of insatiable desire. But Kristen could not know the torment that divided his soul; how he ached to hold her soft, supple body, thirsted for the ringing joy of her laughter – yet hated her for an ancient crime that was not her own.

But her golden loveliness drives him mad with desire, her fiery eyes taunting him, compelling him to claim her. Until, in wordless surrender, they cast aside the shackles of doubt and distrust to unite forever in the searing promise of all-consuming love.




List Fiction:

  • 1 A PERFECT SPY, by John le Carre. (Bantam, $4.95.) The tale of a British secret agent and his father, a flamboyant con man.
  • 2 BARRIER ISLAND, by John D. MacDonald. (Fawcett, $4.50.) One man’s effort to thwart a multimillion-dollar land swindle.
  • 3 * HEARTS AFLAME, by Johanna Lindsey. (Avon, $3.95.) A beautiful captive becomes the captor of a handsome thane in the age of the Vikings.
  • 4 ACT OF WILL, by Barbara Taylor Bradford. (Bantam, $4.95.) Three generations of talented, ambitious women in England and New York.
  • 5 THE GOOD MOTHER, by Sue Miller. (Dell, $4.95.) A woman’s attachment to her daughter becomes a consuming passion.
  • 6 TAMING A SEA-HORSE, by Robert B. Parker. (Dell, $4.50.) Spenser tracks a young woman through the seamy byways of a pleasure empire.
  • 7 THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH, by Arthur C. Clarke. (Del Rey/Ballantine, $4.95.) Mankind’s first encounter with life in a paradisaical world.
  • 8 THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, by Robert Ludlum. (Bantam, $4.95.) A plot to seize Hong Kong and bring China into conflict with the West.
  • 9 THE RAIDER, by Jude Deveraux. (Pocket, $3.95.) Rebels, Red Coats, and love in colonial New England.
  • 10 DREAMS OF THE RAVEN, by Carmen Carter. (Pocket, $3.50.) In this Star Trek novel, Captain Kirk faces a nightmarish enemy. 


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model fabio

Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

model featured on many romance novel covers fabio

Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon

When one thinks of old-school romance books, often the first name associated with them is the male model Fabio and “cheesy covers.”

The granite-jawed male model was featured on many romance novel covers in the 198s and 1990s. “Back in the day,” Fabio Lanzoni posed for hundreds of romances–to the delight of many readers.

Fabio was often painted by artists such as Sharon Spiak, Melissa-Duillo Gallo, and her mother, Elaine Duillo. She discovered Fabio, leading to his fame skyrocketing after he appeared on her covers for Johanna Lindsey.

Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.

the conqueror duillo
The Conqueror, Brenda Joyce, Dell, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.

The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature.

Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye

Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that model Fabio Lanzoni was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous.

fabio lanzoni model on many romance covers
Fabio is in the shower

In trying to defend their beloved books, some fans take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.

We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.

fabio lanzoni model featured on many romance novel covers
Master of the Heart, Terri Valentine, Zebra, Franco cover art

The Beginning

Early Life

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.

Fabio grew into a handsome young man. His large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera.

fabio Lanzoni
Fabio looking fab

His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.

Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni came to the United States to further develop his career. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.

Fabio Lanzoni cover model GQ
Fabio Lanzoni, GQ Magazi

Early Career

During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.

model on many romance novel covers

Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.

Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.

fabio meodel on many romance novel covers
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Elaine Duillo cover artists
fabio model enchantress mine back
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art (BACK COVER)

When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.

fabio johanna lindsey cover
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

The Covers: Part I

Some Fabio covers:

A Romance Sensation

Fabio was not Duillo’s official muse as a model. Even so, no other artist captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, Elain and Fabio only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo painted other models— female and male– much more than that, including Chad Deal. (40+ vs. 19).

Other artists, such as Elaine’s daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, Sharon Spiak, Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino, also painted his form. Fabio’s face is so unique that he looks different from cover to cover, depending on the artist.

Mystic Rebel VI, Ryder Syvertsen, Pinnacle, cover artist TBD

Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books. The first and most notable was The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success. This was not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.

prince of midnight
The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale, Avon, Steve Assel

Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales. All the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and others had him pose as their leading men.

Model Lianna Loggins was undoubtedly one of the female models who appeared on most romance novel covers with Fabio: at least a hundred.

romance novel covers female models
Dark Whispers, Marylyle Rogers, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo

Pop Culture Status

By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992. Fabio appeared at numerous conventions, to the delight of his many fans.

Fabio’s fame grew more prominent in the cultural zeitgeist after being made the official face of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He starred in a series of campy commercials that were enormously successful. 

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Ad

Later, he was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. This was personal to him, as he lost a sister to the deadly disease.

Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?

bold and the beautiful
Fabio & Darlene Conelly on The Bold and the Beautiful

Fabio, the Romance Author & Modelling Legacy

As time went on, Fabio even wrote a few novels himself. He published several books that–naturally–featured him on the cover. Fabio came up with an overall plot and gave dictation for dialogue.

Journey-woman Eugenia Riley ghostwrote most of his books for Avon. He also wrote three more books in collaboration with Wendy Corsi Staub that Pinnacle Books published.

model featured on many romanc novel covers
Rogue, Fabio, Avon, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a model, Fabio was featured on many romance covers, posing for 466 novels (or more).

Fabio officially retired in the late 1990s, except to pose for the books “he” wrote.

Nevertheless, some of his photos from previous assignments were recycled into new covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road stepback to transform them into a new stepback cover for Johanna Lindsey’s Joining.

swan road duillo
Swan Road, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art

Joining, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art

Fabio Today

Fabio became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

He still maintains a grueling workout regimen to keep his body in tip-top shape. Fabio also purportedly sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says “Helps reverse the aging process.”

Now in 2021, Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61.

To this day, he remains a bachelor. However, the word is out he’s finally looking for a lady to settle down with. So there is still hope for that special someone!

Fabio lanzoni
Fabio today

Final Thoughts on Fabio

Fabio was not the first, and likely, he won’t be the last superstar cover model. During Fabio’s reign as “King of the Romance Covers,” other sunning men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.

After his retirement, Rob Ashton, Cherif Fortin, and Joe Anselmo rose to stardom. All of them had long hair like Fabio–although they were brunets. (So is Fabio, naturally. He dyed his hair blond.)

A few male cover models who came after gained huge success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on almost 500 covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.

But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.

fabio in loin cloth
Fabio in a loin cloth

I always considered Fabio easy on the eyes. He certainly was pleasing to look upon. Even so, I never pictured him as my ideal hero.

Regardless, I treasured his charm, his ultra-macho yet sensitive aura, and his ability for self-deprecation. Fabio embraced who he was: a romance icon.

Plus, above all, he loved his fans. In turn, Fabio’s fans adored him for who he was!

Fabio haters, please go and enjoy your favorite hunky models in peace. We Fabio lovers will be here to have a good time smiling over his hundreds of beautiful covers.

The Covers: Part II


the lord of hawkfell island

Historical Romance Review: The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter

historical romance review
The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter
Rating: two-half-stars
Published: 1993
Illustrator: Unknown
Book Series: Viking Lords Series #2
Published by: Jove
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance, Viking Romance
Pages: 403
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter


Catherine Coulter takes her propensity to create unlikeable heroes and dials it all the way up to “11” in her so-called romance, The Lord of Hawkfell Island.

The Plot

Mirana is a young, unmarried woman who lives with her brother in a fortress in Ireland. When he’s away, their home is attacked by Viking raiders seeking vengeance against him. Their Viking leader Rorik blames him for the death of his wife and child.

Usually, a hero grieving over his lost love is grounds for me to dislike a historical romance, but thanks to Rorik, I had plenty of other reasons to despise this “love story.”

I shouldn’t even call this a love story because–let’s get this right out the gate–Rorik never says a single word of love to Mirana. And it’s not because he’s so filled with sorrow over his loss. He’s just an unfeeling, cruel, petty, boorish boar.

I detested him so much that I created a Goodreads shelf labeled “jerky pig hall of fame” for him and his porcine brethren.

Rorik kidnaps Mirana as a hostage, not out of lust, but because he’s on the boys’ team and Mirana’s on the girls’ team, and boys are supposed to torment icky girls because boys rule and girls drool.

Rorik, The Viking Philosopher

Although externally Rorik has the appearance of a strong, 30-something Viking warrior, his demeanor is that of a gangly 10-year-old-boy who’s on the verge of adolescence. He thinks girls are gross and stupid, yet gets a weird, tingly feeling whenever a particular one is around.

So instead of reacting like a mature, well-adjusted male to that particular sow (or female) who gets him hornt up, our hero spouts insults like:

“I told you that my men really have no interest in you. You’re skinny, not at all appetizing. A man would have to be starving for a woman before he would turn his eyes to you.”

Saying mean things to Mirana alone wouldn’t merit Rurik a place at the Big Pigs’ table, though. Sure, he gets naked and bathes in front of her, taunting her in an “I-know-you-want-me-but-you-cannot-have-me-so-look-at-how-hot-I-am” sort of way. That’s cute.

He also threatens to sic his dog on her:

 “I’ll have my dog kill you. He’s vicious. He protects me and my island.”

Rorik accuses Mirana of incest (and being damn good at it): 

“Do you lust after him, your own kin? Is that why you’re still unwed? Perhaps he has already bedded you. You aren’t young, after all. Does he hold you above his other whores?”

He chains her up with heavy iron links–no cloth under the metal to protect her skin–and keeps her that way for days on end, deprives her of food, beats her, and neglects her. Later he gets more brutally physical, punching Mirana in the jaw, stepping on her throat, and whipping her!

So, to sum up: Rorik abducts Mirana, tells her she’s so ugly no man would sleep with her, except her brother, of course, threatens her with murder and rape, abuses her, tortures her, and spouts Schwarzenneggerian brilliance as:

“The man rules. It is he who protects the woman, he who provides shelter and food for her. It is his right to bed with a bear if he wishes to. It is I who am the lord here, and all obey!”

He’s a beast, all right. Well, charisma goes a long way, thank goodness.

Alas, Rorik has zero charisma to back up his nasty demeanor.

So What’s To Like?

Then, why didn’t I one-star this book if the hero is so loathsome?

For one thing, Mirana gives back as good as she can. She’s a solid character who deserves a better man. How about her evil brother? 😉

And second, it’s kind of funny if you can disassociate from it all. Rorik is so childlike in his hatred for Mirana. I’m surprised he didn’t wipe his boogers on her or play “I’m not touching you” with his finger hovering an inch from her face.

Sure the guy’s a looker, and he’s lord of an island, but with his protozoan personality, who wants him?

Sleeping with Rorik would be akin to doing it with Colleen McCullough’s “Tim,” inhabited by the spirit of “South Park”‘s Eric Cartman on D-Bal Max.






Sisterly Love

Ultimately, what pulls this book together has nothing to do with romance. It’s all due to Mirana and a supporting cast of female characters who forge a strong network of relationships They help each other grow and thrive in a world that’s brutal and unfair.

On the one hand, we have Rorik and his dopey gang of followers with their collective IQ & EQs of (I’ll be generous) 105.

On the other hand, we have the Hawkfell Island women’s team.

The central theme is all about “The Battle of the Sexes.”

Caring for Mirana is a servant woman, Utta, married to one of Rorik’s men. A beautiful yet simple slave girl named Entti is treated as a bounce house for the Vikings to play with, and she gets no respect. The women unite to get back at the men in ways they can, like giving them inedible food and refusing sex.

After a while, the men determine that Mirana’s behind the women’s uppitiness. Rorik attempts to rein her in. He decides he will marry Mirana and control her through force of will.

Mirana, for some reason, develops feelings for the Neanderthal.

At last, Rorik and Mirana share something in common: love for Rorik. INow, there’s a match made in Valhalla!

When the men get fed up with the women’s antics, they threaten Mirana with all kinds of bodily harm. Rorik does nothing to stop it.

He spouts perplexing threats like: “I will rape you if you force me” when Mirana refuses him his marital rights.

By The Lord of Hawkfell Island’s conclusion, Rorik and Mirana are paired off… because that’s what a romance demands. Rorik remains the same unfeeling brute he was in the beginning.

Final Analysis of The Lord of Hawkfell Island

The kindest, most intimate thing Rorik says to Mirana is:

“You are very nice,” he said forcing his eyes back to her face. “You are pleasing to me.”

If that’s enough to spark your interest, and you have a perverse curiosity to observe an exaggerated caricature of a supreme male chauvinist pig in action, while a crew of much savvier women maneuvers social politics and gender roles, then by all means, take a gander at this book.

Whatever “this” is, that Catherine Coulter wrote.

On a certain level, The Lord of Hawkfell Island is fascinating. I wouldn’t call it a romance, though.

2.74 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 2.3


Rorik is a Viking warrior, as fierce and savage as the North Sea during the winter solstice. Mirana is a Viking woman who loves birds, is more ingenious than most men, and loyal down to her toes. Her life changes utterly one fateful day when Rorik and his men come to Clontarf, a Viking fortress on the eastern coast of Ireland, to kill her half-brother. But she is the one taken as hostage to use as a pawn against him.

Rorik is the Lord of Hawkfell, an island off the east cost of Britain. The moment he brings his captive home, it seems that everything begins to fly out his control. The women are out to teach the men a lesson with the result that food is rank, Rorik’s family is out for Mirana’s blood, a murderer is on a loose, and a huge mongrel, Kerzog, dotes not only on his master but also on his master’s captive.

Rorik and Mirana are two strong-willed people, ardent in their opinions, who will have you rooting for both of them equally.

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15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

list of best 15 old school bodice ripper novels

15 “Best” Old-School Historical Romances

Best Bodice Rippers or Just Old School Romance?

Sweet Savage Flame has compiled a list of “the best romance novels/ bodice rippers,” demonstrating the genre’s evolution in the last third of the 20th century. These are 15 old-school historicals we consider to be must-reads for those who wish to understand the roots of the romance industry.

Detractors of these novels may disparage them as mere bodice rippers. To us, a “bodice ripper” romance is a term of endearment. We embrace it without shame. Moreover, we appreciate how pivotal that (unfairly maligned) subgenre was in the era’s early years.

There are books on this list that, indeed, are “hardcore” bodice rippers–i.e., romances where the hero forces himself on the heroine. Such was the nature of the early years of the old-school romance era. But as the list goes into the late 1980s and the 1990s, they have disappeared.

This List Has Only Some of the Best Romances; There Are Many More

Sweet Savage Flame’s position on such controversial matters is never to shrink away from the past. We look back head-on and try to investigate, analyze, reflect, and understand.

Most of our picks are seminal works that transformed the industry’s evolution. A few are so notable or unforgettable we feel they merit special appreciation.

Links to our opinions and ratings are provided in the descriptions, but five of the fifteen listed are yet to be reviewed by our staff. We have read all of these and consider them essential reads. We aim to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.

Please note this is not a complete compilation of essential works. This is just a small sample of relevant texts from the thousands of paperback romances published from 1972 to 2000.

The List of 15 Romances to Read, in Chronological Order

#1 The Flame and the Flower

best romance novel flame and flower

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss radically transformed the concept of the romance novel with The Flame and the Flower. Before its 1972 publication by Avon, romantic novels with happy endings never included “explicit” sex scenes between protagonists.

After the hero of The Flame and the Flower, Brandon Birmingham, mistakes the heroine, Heather, for a prostitute, he forces himself upon her. Too late, he discovers the girl is–was–a virgin.

Throughout this doorstopper of a book, Brandon violates Heather several more times before they mutually consent to make love. This is due to Brandon’s transformation into a kinder, more decent man, all to be worthy of Heather’s love.

Contemporary perspectives would consider Brandon’s behavior to be criminal. Nevertheless, fifty years ago, millions of readers were drawn to this love story, viewing the actions as part of the fantasy of “forced seduction.” This was ostensibly a plot device that allowed unmarried virgins to be sexually active without guilt.

The closed-door love scenes for “good girls” were now relics of the past. Although today we categorize The Flame and the Flower as old-school, it marked the start of the “modern era of romance.” The bodice ripper was born.

And the romance genre–and books overall–would never be the same.

#2 Sweet Savage Love

best bodice ripper  novel sweet savage love

Capitalizing on the success of The Flame and the FlowerRosemary Rogers first book ratcheted up the melodrama and sexiness to a new level of extreme. Rape, forced seduction, multiple partners, cheating, and violence were prevalent parts of the story.

Women couldn’t get enough of it, catapulting Rogers to fame and riches.

Sweet Savage Love sold millions and millions of copies, resulting in several sequels and spinoffs.

This revolutionary Western told the tale of Ginny Brandon and Steve Morgan. Here, Rogers’ depicted a heroine who could enjoy sex with men besides the hero.

Inevitably, it seemed this type of ultra-sexual romp would mark the course of historical romances for the foreseeable future.

#3 Moonstruck Madness

best old-school romance novel moonstruck madness

Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain‘s second outing. This novel cemented her status as an Avon “Queen of Romance.” (Although–supposedly–McBain co-authored her romance novels with her father.)

This swashbuckling old-school historical romance was a huge best-seller and the first in a popular trilogy about the Dominick Family.

The plot differed from Woodiwiss’ and Rogers’ works in that lovemaking was consensual. There was no bed-hopping, and the violence was not gratuitous.

Moonstruck Madness was a kinder, gentler offering with no bodice-ripping in sight.

Fans flocked to the more tender romantic style. It ultimately produced long-term success.

#4 The Silver Devil

best bodice ripper novel the silver devil

The Silver Devil’s Duke Domenico is possibly the most extreme anti-hero ever to appear in an old-school romance novel. 

Over 45 years after its publication, many readers frequently discuss this book still highly-talked about and consider it one of the best bodice rippers ever written. Teresa Denys’ first-person-POV romance with an Italian beauty is a gripping read from the very first lines.

The powerful and megalomaniacal Duke sees the heroine Felicia at her window, desires her, and soon purchases her from her brother. Domenico’s obsession over her reigns supreme; he goes into murderous rages at the slightest hint of jealousy.

The prose in The Silver Devil is magnificent. The scenes of violence and brutality are intense. The hero is…a complicated man. The novel ends with the typical HEA. Even so, it’s hard to see a happy ending lasting beyond the pages of this book.

If you’re fortunate enough to find the Ballantine edition with the H. Tom Hall cover, it could cost you up to several hundred dollars.

#5 Fires of Winter

fires of winter

Johanna Lindsey‘s third novel, Fires of Winter, was a Viking romance about a captive Welsh woman and her Nordic owner. Marauders raid Lady Brenna’s home, kill the men and enslave and ravish the women. They spare only Brenna from ravishment and violence as the Viking leader has plans for her. She is a valuable prize that he plans to gift as a slave to his youngest son.

Just over 300 pages long (half the length of Woodiwiss’ and Roger’s fat epics), Fires of Winter is a lean, action-packed lean, bodice ripper.

The theme here is all about the battle between the sexes. Although there is forced seduction/ rape, this romance has no cheating. That made quite a difference to many readers looking for monogamous love stories.

However, the couple does argue–a lot. This was a common trait of many of Lindsey’s earlier works.

Johanna Lindsey cemented her status as one of romance’s top best-selling authors with this bodice ripper. The Robert McGinnis romance novel cover design is legendary, featuring the first naked man on a romance cover.

#6 Skye O’Malley

skye o'malley

Skye O’Malley is “The Queen of Erotic Romance,” Bertrice Smallpiece de resistance–her magnum opus. She wrote over 50 novels, and this is her finest work.

In this Tudor-era romance, the beauteous Irish lass Skye O’Malley amasses numerous husbands, lovers, children, and enemies.

And many true loves.

This is the lustiest of bodice rippers. Skye experiences the most rollicking adventures any heroine in Romancelandia could only dream of.

#7 Savage Ecstasy

savage ecstasy

Janelle Taylor’s Savage Ecstasy wasn’t the first historical bodice ripper published by Zebra books. It wasn’t even the first best-seller out of Kensington’s flagship imprint. It was, however, the one that firmly marked the largest US independent publisher on the map as a major player. 

In the decade that followed, Zebra would be a dominant force to be reckoned with in the romance field.

Savage Ecstasy sold over a million copies, as did its sequel, Defiant Ecstasy. It spawned a long-running series that told the love stories of Gray Eagle and Alisha and their children and their spouses.

Savage Ecstasy was one of the first publications of the enormously popular Native American romance subgenre. Readers consumed these romantic novels in droves until well into the 2000s.

#8 Stormfire

old-school best romance novel stormfire

Christine Monson’s Stormfire is perhaps one of the genre’s last hardcore bodice-rippers. Stormfire made some romantic novels of the 1970s appear tame in contrast.

This tale of vengeance is extreme in its brutality. Set in Regency Era England, Ireland and Napoleonic France, it keeps hitting the reader with action and insanity.

From the moment the heroine is kidnapped and violated by the hero, we can see this is not a romance for the faint-hearted.

Like The Silver Devil, Stormfire transcended its seemingly sordid content through thoughtful, superb writing and intense characterization.

Like that other romance, this is considered one of the best bodice rippers ever. Plus, it, too, is hard to find and expensive if you do!

#9 Whitney, My Love

regency romance novel whitney my love

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is the story of a gawky, coltish girl in love with a charming young man who barely notices her.

She goes off to finish school and returns a beauty. Then Whitney Stone finds herself forced into marriage with the dark Duke of Westmoreland. After a tumultuous beginning, they slowly learn to love one another.

Whitney, My Love is a beloved classic to this day. It reinvented the Regency romance by making it more sensual and increasing the page length and scope.

#10 A Knight in Shining Armor

old-school best romance a knight in shining armor

Jude Deveraux‘s A Knight in Shining Armor is a tear-jerker of a travel romance. Take note of the book’s cover. It was not Deveraux’s typical stepback or clinch cover but a simple design showing an encircled gauntlet holding a flower.

This was a sign of “respectability” for Deveraux, signifying that she was one of Pocket Books‘ most successful authors. A Knight in Shining Armor had been released in a hardcover edition in 1989 before being printed in paperback, extremely rare for romance writers, who had always been associated with with “pulp” genres.

The heroine, Douglass, is transported back to Tudor-era England and falls in love with an Elizabethan knight. Things take a twist when she returns to the future.

And so does the hero! But now he doesn’t recognize her.

The pair fall in love both in the past and the present eras. Will they ever find their forever somewhere in time?

#11 Gentle Rogue

best bodice ripper romances gentle rogue

Yes, Johanna Lindsey appears twice on this list–for a good reason.

Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue might not be historically accurate as for a Regency romance. Yet it’s so whimsical, romantic, witty, and the best of her Malory series; it’s a gem!

James Malory is an absolute cad. The tables are turned on him when he falls in love with a beauty disguised–quite poorly–as a cabin boy. Then Georgina abandons him at a port.

He’ll have to deal with the wrath of her five older brothers to get things straightened out.

#12 Outlander

best bodice ripper romances outlander

Although Diana Gabaldon has said that Outlander is not a romance novel, it does qualify as one–if you consider it a standalone.

It has the two elements required for the genre: a central love story that ends HEA. Although the subsequent books in the series would separate the lovers through time and space, the first entry is pure romance.

Outlander–or Cross-Stitch as it’s known elsewhere–is, at its core, a historical romance that features time travel. The married-in-the-future heroine, Claire, comes off as improbably perfect (in one scene, she fights a wolf and kills it with her bare hands!).

Jamie Frasier, however, is a favorite hero of many romance readers.

Outlander has been adapted into a popular television show, introducing new fans to this already successful novel.

#13 Flowers from the Storm

best bodice ripper romances flowers from the storm

Flowers from the Storm by the talented Laura Kinsale is an absolutely unusual yet stellar romance. Kinsale’s writing is superb. Romance is at its intellectual best here.

The plot is this: a disreputable rogue of a man succumbs to a stroke.

The Earl of Jervaulx is mainly paralyzed and incapable of speech. A prim Quaker mathematician takes on the daunting task of rehabilitating him. Soon, they discover that he has a secret baby from his married mistress when the child is dropped off at his home.

How can such two disparate people be happy together?

This emotional, exquisitely written book is one of the 1990s best romance novels and deserves a look.

#14 Dreaming of You

best romance books DREAMING OF YOU

Although we prefer its predecessor, Then Came You, the Regency-era romance Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas is a monumental book that catapulted the author to superstardom.

Readers adore the hero, Derek Craven. The sexy, snaggle-toothed London rough pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He now runs a gaming hall and brothel.

Craven falls for a curious, bespectacled young woman named Sara. She turns his entire world asunder with her wondering innocence.

#15 Lord of Scoundrels

best romance novels LORD OF SCOUNDRELS

In Loretta Chase’s old-school Regency-era romance, Lord of Scoundrels, The Marquess of Dain was abused as a child for his ugliness and grew up thinking himself worthless. So he now engages in a life of debauched chaos.

Dain meets his match in Jessica Trent, who initially seeks vengeance against him. She then changes course and fall in love.

However, after he dishonors her, Jessica shoots Dain. This makes Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels a controversial romance in some eyes and a must-read in others.

While the rippers of the 1970s were now a remnant of the past, the power dynamics between males and females remained paramount in the genre.

Your Opinion

Again, this is not a complete syllabus of the best historical books in romance. We could have made this list much longer, but we settled on only 15 books. Now we want to hear from you.

What old-school historical romance do you think we left off this list? Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Do you think any of these books rank as the best in romance?

How do you feel about bodice ripper romances? If you were creating a list of best contemporary romances, which books would you choose?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

An Offer of Marriage

Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review

An Offer of Marriage, Jo Ann Ferguson, Zebra, 1999, cover artist unknown, John Desaalvo cover model


1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Goodbye Old Era, Hello New

Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.

Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.

The Plot?

Young Brenwyn Gunnarsson’s family is slaughtered and he vows revenge. He poses as a lowly freeman to deceive the English and aid the Viking invasion. English Lady Cyndra, the daughter of Ealdorman Edgar of Manor Saeburgh, is taken by caerl Brenwyn to wed his master, Thane Morcar of Manor Darburgh.

If you were irritated by that last sentence, be wary of An Offer of Marriage, because those phrases will be repeated ad infinitum. Such is the thrilling dialogue in this book:

“I am Lady Cyndra, the daughter of Ealdorman Edgar of Manor Saeburgh.”

“Ealdorman,” he gasped. “That is the highest rank in England, except for the king.”

“And I was betrothed to Thane Morcar of Manor Darburgh.”

“Morcar? Is he Edgar’s father? You said his father was dead.”

“I thought Morcar was dead.”

“Yes you said that. That Thevkil told you. Thevkil the Strong?”


“How did you come to speak to that Viking chieftain?”

“I spoke with him when I was with Edgar’s father to his court…Edgar’s father’s name was Under-Chieftain Brenwyn Gunnarsson. He was a Jomsviking and captured Manor Darburgh. Part of his prize was me.”

 photo boringzzz.jpg

Brenwyn turns the tables on Thane Morcar and takes Cyndra as his own bride. They fall in love and have a child. Cyndra’s father was named Edgar, so she names her son in her father’s memory. Then Cyndra and Brenwyn are separated and…zzz…

Huh? Sorry, was I nodding off again?

Besides the writing, another terrible thing about this book is its title. An Offer of Marriage sounds way too Regency-ish. It should have been My Beloved Enemy (pg. 253) or some similar crap to go with the medieval/Viking theme. Oh well, that was the least of this book’s offenses.

Nor, Sir, I Don’t Like it

Passionless books like this are why the historical genre lost its popularity to paranormals. And paranormals seemed to have lost their popularity to New Adult/50 Shades of BDSM. Wonder what’s the next thing? Perhaps well-written, sensual yet tawdry, plot-and-action driven, non-wallpaper historicals, with amazing, painted covers will make a comeback? (I kid, I kid!)

When I read a tepid historical romance published in the 21st century, I shrug it off. The new style isn’t my thing. But when I read a sucky historical written when old-school historicals were in their death throes, it makes me sad.

I used way too many words to describe this book. Simply put, this was dull, dull, dull.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask others what they feel.

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Baby, what did you think?

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And kitty, how about you?

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Puppy, do you agree?

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That’s it, a full consensus! All the pics I’ve stolen off the net agree. This book was:

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Reviewed by Introvert Reader

Author Spotlight: Janelle Taylor

Janelle Taylor

Janelle Taylor, A Queen of Romance Books

Although Janelle Taylor has written books for multiple publishers, she will always hold a special place in the early years of Kensingngton’s Zebra imprint. Along with authors like Sonya T. Pelton, Sylvie F. Sommerfield, Rosanne Bittner, she helped to form the pantheon of Zebra’s “Leading Ladies of Love.”

Authors had the liberties to write whatever they wanted, within certain guidelines. Taylor’s passionate love stories appealed to readers across the country. Where the Avon ladies could rely on taut, crisp editing, the Zebra authors had a bit less oversight. Zebra president Roberta Grossman and Kensington CEO Walter Zacharius chose to focus on dazzling covers instead.

Zebra’s Superstar Romance Author

Indeed, a surefire sign that Taylor was one of the genre’s superstars were her covers. Only the best artists designed covers for her books. Walter Popp famously did the artwork for her first few books. Artists like Elaine Gignilliat, the ubiquitous Pino, and Janelle’s friend Elaine Duillo would paint many gorgeous covers as well for Taylor.

Janelle Taylor wrote over 50 books. She has 60 million copies in print.

Taylor is best known for her Gray Eagle series and Lakota, Moondust, and Lakota Skies novels. Her books have been translated into 50 different languages.

janelle taylor

Life Before Romance

Janelle Diane Williams was born June 28, 1944, in Athens, Georgia. She graduated from Athens High School in 1962. Taylor spent the next three years as an orthodontic nurse in Athens. In 1965, she married Michael Taylor. They had two daughters, Angela and Alisha, as the happy results of their marriage.

From 1969 through 1972, Taylor worked as an orthodontic nurse. Over the next few years, she worked on furthering her education. In 1980 she enrolled at Augusta State University. She never expected that her career would be a writer.

The Queen of Ecstasy and ‘Dust

It was after hearing some words of wisdom from author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, that Janelle Taylor decided to write a romance novel. She started her book in 1977 and worked on it for years. Zebra’s editors loved her manuscript and signed her to a contract.

Because the book would be so long, it had to be split into two parts. The Native American romance Savage Ecstasy was published in 1981. Defiant Ecstasy, the sequel, soon followed. Ultimately, they proved to be great successes. Both sold millions of copies. As a result, Janelle quit college to focus on writing full-time.

The hefty romances told the tale of a white frontierswoman named Alisha Sinclair and her Native American warrior lover, Gray Eagle. Not only were they bestsellers, but they would be the first in a series of nine novels. The saga of Alisha, Gray Eagle, and their progeny were enormous hits.

defiant ecstasy
Defiant Ecstasy, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1981, Walter Popp cover art

Many other romances followed for Zebra, such as  Love Me With FuryGolden Torment, and Destiny’s Temptress.

Two years later, she would publish Moondust and Madness with Bantam books. The story was a fantasy romance about an alien who comes to Earth to spirit away the heroine to his own galaxy. This book was a revolutionary romance in a time when paranormal themes and romance rarely mixed. Taylor would write three more space romances to complete the series.

moondust and madness
Moondust and Madness, Janelle Taylor, Bantam, 1986, Elaine Duillo cover art.

Taylor would write for other publishers as well. In 1984 she would make a brief foray into category romance with her Harlequin American Romance Valley of Fire.

Other fantasy and Native American romances followed, as well as contemporaries. In the 21st century, Taylor would also venture into romantic suspense.

Where is She Now?

To get more pictures of covers and in-depth information, please visit our Janelle Taylor author page.

Your Opinion

Have you read romances by Janelle Taylor? If so, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.


Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri

Sea Jewel, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1986, Pino cover art


5 Stars

The Book

After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.

Sea Jewel a 5-Star Read, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly

The Story: Part One

This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.

Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.

Wilone gave birth to twin boys. One, Farant, was a studious, bookish, quiet individual. The other, Alaric, the “hero” of this book, was more warlike, in particular after finding out what happened to his mother. Alaric vowed revenge on Thorfast and all Danes. He would get his chance many years later.

The Story: Part Two

The book fast forwards. Freya is now the head of her hall, and she, like her sire, pillages English villages. She decides to pillage the same village Thorfast did many years ago, against the advice and admonition of Sven, who is a psychic and envisions, correctly, that the raid Freya is planning will have grave consequences for her. What Freya doesn’t know is that there is a traitor, who informs the English that an attack is coming.

When Freya and her men attack, many are killed and Freya is captured by Alaric. When he finds out who she is, he decides to exact his revenge on her father through her, by raping and dishonoring her the same way her father did his mother. Alaric rapes Freya, although she fights him, and even though he is her master and she his slave, they eventually fall in love!

This relationship draws the ire of two people in particular; Alaric’s sister-in-law and former lover Kendra, who wants Alaric both for his sexual prowess and his money and power. Kendra accuses Freya of two murders that Kendra herself committed. The first time, Kendra has to withdraw her charge after being caught committing adultery. The second time, Kendra kills Farant, and Freya mistakenly believes that it was Alaric who was killed. Freya runs away and faces various perils.

The second person who disapproves of their relationship is Alaric’s uncle, Ordway, who hates all Danes for what Thorfast did to Wilone, who, after seeing her husband and other children killed and being raped, became mentally unstable and now lives out her life in a religious abbey.

The Story: Part Three

After Freya escapes, she finds out that she is with child, and faces various perils as she makes her way back from England to Denmark. Freya eventually returns to Denmark, where she meets up again with her childhood friend, Olaf, who is in love with her and they get married. Freya, however, doesn’t tell Olaf that she’s not in love with him or that she is pregnant with Alaric’s child. This truth, however, eventually comes out. Freya gives birth to twins, a son and daughter, and she and Olaf have a pleasant, if not totally loving, marriage, as he accepts her children despite their not being his by blood.

However, the specter of Freya’s love for Alaric-who she believes to be dead-hangs over their marriage. Olaf later learns that Alaric is not dead, although he doesn’t tell Freya this. He tells the truth after being mortally wounded in another Viking raid on England.

Freya then decides to return to England to be with Alaric, no matter what their relationship status is, and is accosted and imperiled, which Alaric has to rescue her from. They do eventually get married, and Freya becomes a Christian and changes her name to Marissa-the Christian name meaning “of the sea.”

Ordway, however, incensed that Alaric and Freya are marrying, kidnaps the twins and tries to kill them, he dies in a fire at the abbey, but the children survive thanks to Wilone, who saves them the same way she saved Alaric and Farant when they were babies. And they lived happily ever after.


As is the case with all of Penelope Neri’s books, the main positive is the heroine. Freya is a strong, warlike, capable heroine. She never accepts being enslaved, fighting every step of the way, although Alaric overpowers her both physically and sexually. She faces many difficulties and survives and prospers. I always appreciate the strength that Ms. Neri’s heroines have.


The biggest negative is, of course, the fact that Freya is raped twice by Alaric and another male, and that she falls in love with the person who raped her. Since this book was set in the 9th century, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” wasn’t invented, but that’s exactly what this is. I have a big issue with that, as well as the fact of a heroine falling in love with the individual who rapes her, which, sadly, was a rather common thing in romance novels of the past.

As much as I care for Ms. Neri’s heroines, I never feel the same caring for her “heroes.” Primarily because Ms. Neri’s heroes are just slightly above vermin.


Lots of sex scenes. They are not overly graphic, but they are many.


Mildly graphic violence.

Bottom Line on Sea Jewel

In the past, I have stated that I would never give a book where the heroine is raped by the “hero” a positive grade, yet I am doing so with this book. Let me explain why I am doing so. My views have somewhat evolved. I feel now that it is important to view the books I read in their complete context, not solely based on one act. This is a very good book.

As stated, there are parts I wish would have been changed, but that doesn’t completely diminish the positives of the book. If one likes medieval romance, this book may be a good one to have.

storm maiden gilgannon

Historical Romance Review: Storm Maiden by Mary Gilgannon

historical romance review
Storm Maiden by Mary Gilgannon
Rating: two-half-stars
Published: 1997
Illustrator: Franco Accornero
Published by: Pinnacle
Genres: Medieval Romance, Viking Romance
Pages: 383
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Storm Maiden by Mary Gilgannon


The Book

Mary Gillgannon’s Storm Maiden was a novel I was excited to pick up. The blurb told of an intriguing Viking historical romance with plenty of conflicts.

The Plot

Fiona, an Irish lord’s daughter, is dreading marriage to a man she hates. In her father’s dungeon is Dag Thorsson, an injured Viking captive. Fiona sneaks in to see him, cares for his wounds, and tries to seduce him so she’ll be ruined for marriage. But Dag is too wounded and delirious and can’t or won’t do the job.

Soon after, Vikings led by Dag’s brother, the chieftain of his people, come to Dag’s rescue. Despite his hindering injury to his sword arm, Dag takes Fiona as his captive.

This seemed to be a primal captor-captive relationship. Too often in Viking historical romance books, the hero speaks the heroine’s language because her people captured him as a youth! Here, they cannot understand one another but can communicate in other ways…

Fiona has to adjust to life as a slave. She cannot communicate with any of the Norse folk except for Dag’s brother, who hates her and all the Irish.

The book starts out well enough, and the early love scenes are erotically charged. Dag and Fiona quickly get along and fall in love.

The main conflict is that Fiona is not well-liked by Dag’s older brother and his people. Her helpful but intrusive ways are looked upon with scorn by most of the men. Fiona helps women with birth control and delivers babies. She gives one female advice on how to please her master sexually.

Fiona’s behavior brings negative attention to her, and she is thought to be a witch.

Fiona’s a full-fleshed character and one to be admired. This was the strongest part of the book, and I appreciated her struggles to become accepted in her new society. She just needed a more challenging hero. After an amazing beginning, things began to fizzle, and the romance wasn’t thrilling.

My Opinion

Their romance is cemented early on, and they only face obstacles from outside forces, as Dag is torn between respecting his brother–his leader–and his love for Fiona. When there is so little inner conflict between the two leads, things get a little bland.

There are villains aplenty in Storm Maiden. Fiona is often in danger, but Dag is never there to save the day. This is the most annoying aspect in the novel as Dag’s sword arm is severely injured throughout the story, so he never gets to show off his warrior prowess, which is so essential in a good Viking hero. It’s Fiona who is more of a fighter. And she had many enemies who would make her life miserable.

Dag’s a nice guy. Too nice. As in boring. Hey, I like nice guys as heroes. They make me melt more them some sadistic jerk that treats the heroine like crap.

I know the early Norse were democratic men and allowed women to divorce their husbands and own their own property, but you expect a little bit of tough-guy persona when you read a Viking romance. I enjoyed some sweet aspects of Dag’s personality, such as his love for his doggy companion.

But when Dag started becoming a mouthpiece for 20th-century beliefs, like concern for women’s rights and access to birth control, it just rang a bit anachronistic, pulling me out of the story.

Final Analysis of Storm Maiden

Storm Maiden by Mary Gilgannon was not a bad book, but not a great one either.

I don’t read historical romances because I want to see modern-minded characters cloaked in historical trappings. If I feel the need for a more modern-minded hero, then I’ll read contemporary romances.

I can count on one hand the number of hard-core Viking warrior heroes I’ve come across. It’s a shame that true, kick-ass Vikings are so rare in historical romance as protagonists. Villains, sure. Heroes? Pfft.

2.75 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 2.9


Fiona of Dunsheana, the beautiful daughter of an Irish chieftain, rebelled at the idea of wedding a man she despised. And, trapped in her father’s dark, oppressive dungeon, she found a way to avoid her fate. She would allow a captured Viking to ravish her and render her unmarriageable. But the rugged golden-haired warrior refused to take her body. Instead, he captured her soul.

tara's song ziel

Historical Romance Review: Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson

historical romance review
Tara's Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson
Rating: two-stars
Published: 1978
Illustrator: George Ziel
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Harem Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 437
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson


The Book

Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson is another mediocre Viking romance that disappoints.

Written in the late 1970s at the height of the down-and-dirty bodice ripper era, you’d expect this Viking romance to be rapacious and fun. Alas, I found it rather ho-hum.

The Plot

Having been betrayed by love in the past (the heroine is not a virgin, if it matters), the blonde Irish beauty Tara enters a convent. Despite what the book burb claims, Tara is not a mere novice. She is a full-fledged nun who has taken all her religious vows.

For some mysterious reason, some of her sister nuns provide Tara with Nordic runes and teach her how to cast them to foresee the future. Obviously, the elder sisters had the prescience to know a horde of ravenous Vikings would overtake their convent. So the runic readings would come in handy for Tara’s protection later.

Tara’s new life begins when Rorik captures her. He, of the long, curly, reddish-blond hair and two long mustaches that reach past his chin, but with no beard. Just like the Viking mascot on a Minnesota footballer’s helmet.

I imagined Rorik as a young metal god, like a cross between Dave Mustaine & James Hetfield, only with lots of muscles.

Sadly, even though Rorik is a marauder, he’s BORING. Like so many Viking books I’ve read, the hero is set up as a bad-ass warrior who kills and slays hundreds, but we don’t get to experience it!

We rarely see Rorik do anything exciting as the story is told in a constrictive first-person perspective.

Tara In the North

The POV is a hindrance here. Tara tells rather than shows what’s going on. There’s a lot of info-dumping and information overload.

Some of it is wildly inaccurate, like people eating potatoes in Norway in the late 900s. That reminded me of the “chocolate”-colored eyes that the wicked “other woman” from Johanna Lindsey‘s Hearts Aflame had.

Chocolate, potatoes, corn, tomatoes… None of those things are European in origin.

Research, people. It’s an essential thing!

The Vikings were portrayed as dirty and unkempt, men who never bathed, had ungroomed beards, and wore clichéd two-horned helmets into battle.

Anyway, Rorik doesn’t force himself on Tara as a pillaging Viking would. He romantically seduces her into his bed.

Meh. Give me a Viking who’s a pillager first, then learns to be romantic and civilized later on (to a certain extent).

Where’s the fun in the fantasy if the hunky Viking doesn’t take me, I mean, the heroine, over his shoulder and have his forcefully erotic way with her? Why does a Viking pirate have to charm her into his bed?

That’s for Regency rakes, not brutish Vikings.

This Viking Romance Has a Twist

At least there is a naughty twist to follow. Rorik is a polygamist, as he brings Tara home to his harem of wives.

That’s right, Rorik has not one but two wives. Tara is wifey number three.

As a pious Christian, she resents this. So she prays for the day that Rorik will cast off his other wives and divorce them as God intended. He should be with only her because that would be the honorable thing. 

For her. 

When Tara doesn’t give in to Rorik’s lust, he goes to the other wives to satisfy him. But it’s Tara he loves, not those losers!

Eventually, one of Rorik’s wives plots against them. Rorik and Tara are kidnapped and separately sold into slavery in the east.

Tara In the East

When the hero is bland in a bodice ripper, and the main characters are parted for a long time, I don’t mind. So as long as the heroine experiences some fun (read: sexy) experiences.

Regrettably, Tara’s adventures without Rorik are as entertaining as her adventures with him.

With some of the lesser-known bodice ripper authors, you were bound to get some amusing exploits. Not in this book!

Here Tara’s escapades consist of getting the flu during the worst winter ever. Or getting her first taste of eating oranges.

There was Tara in Norway shopping. Now here’s Tara in Constantinople shopping!

The most interesting character in the book is Olav, an older Viking who is also enslaved as well as castrated. He is Tara’s faithful companion.

Olav could have been a complex character. Lamentably, Ferry takes his personality, heart, and emotions away with his balls.

His devotion to Tara is that of a slavish, dog-like protector, not that of a man who can ever physically or emotionally love. It would have been intriguing to see a eunuch engage in sexy antics–just for the WTF factor (like in Bertrice Small’s Enchantress Mine).

But no, nothing special happens in Tara’s Song.

This Harem Romance Has a Twist

Actually, that’s not 100% true, as there is one mildly engaging scenario after Tara gets kidnapped.

She then gets seduced by a handsome and arrogant, overbearing Muslim slaver. Although she enjoys his lovemaking, Tara finds him so arrogant. How dare he lust after her gorgeous body!

Then, mere days later, Tara is dismayed to see a sexy, young male slave dance his way into her lover’s bed.

Guess Tara’s not as hot as she thinks!

Again, a faintly similar situation was portrayed in Enchantress Mine. However, that situation was more shocking and actually entertaining.

And I wasn’t all that crazy about Enchantress Mine because I hated the too-perfect heroine. So to me, Tara’s Song is the lesser book.

Final Analysis of Tara’s Song

O, ancient gods of the Norse! At times Tara’s Song was as dry as the turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

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It does get good during the last few pages when Rorik once and for all displays his brutal warrior skills instead of the reader just being told about it. He viciously makes mincemeat out of his enemies. He slaughters them all, demonstrating his awesome Nordic might.

Too bad; too late. Where was that Rorik 400 pages ago?

I’d put this book in the to-sell pile, but I adore the George Ziel cover art too much.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 2.4


Hers is the song of all women. It cries to be heard as she sings of her love for one man. Listen! Tara’s Song.

He Was The Strongest Man of His Time–Until She Became His Weakness…

Beautiful, devout young Tara, a novice in a country abbey, finds her cloistered life suddenly destroyed when Viking invaders burn the convent and take her prisoner. Wedded against her will to the pagan chieftain Rorik, Tara slowly overcomes her fear as Rorik introduces her to the joy of passionate love.

Then a vicious abduction separates the lovers–and their search to be reunited takes them from the dramatic northern fjords to the shores of the Black Sea from Arabian domed palaces and the slave marts of Constantinople to an isolated Greek island. For the love of Tara and Rorik must survive the ravages of war, the cruel twists of treachery, and the challenge of a vast continent…