The difference between treason and honor…
On opposite sides during the English Civil War, Alexander Marshall was honor-bound to seize Virginia Courtney’s lands and take her prisoner. By transporting Royalist fugitives to safety, the defiant young woman had forsaken her right to freedom – and the colonel would keep her captive as long as he had to. Subduing her rebellious instincts with his kisses was a natural temptation – until desire became more compelling than duty……was one woman’s kiss
Elvie is in the house with another of her Way-Back Reviews. Today, to honor this month of lurve, as we will be doing all month here at Paperback Dolls, I thought I would take the opportunity to bring you a review of what might just be my favorite romance novel, ever. Period. And now, coming to you all the way from 1987, Elvie and Paperback Dolls bring you… Beloved Enemy.
Beloved Enemy is not a slam dunk for every reader’s favorite by any stretch. By telling you up front that I think this is a fabulous book, probably the best Jane Feather has yet written, and that it is a serious contender for the title of Elvie’s Favorite Romance, I’m going out on a bit of a limb. For every reader who loves this book, there is one who is ready and willing to rip it to shreds. But, you know what they say about one woman’s trash being another woman’s treasure… Some of the very things that people hate most about this book are the very reasons it works so well for me. It defies many of the conventions of the historical romance, making it either a disconcerting outlier, or a wonderful and refreshing change, depending on who you ask. Obviously, I fall into the latter camp.
The first thing that enthralled me about this book is its setting. Goodbye Regency England, goodbye Napoleonic Wars, goodbye Mayfair! Hello Cromwellian Protectorate, hello English Civil War, hello bivouac and battlefield! Set in 1648-49, more than 150 years before the majority of the romances out there, Beloved Enemy is a chance to slip into a world that is very different from that of most romance novels. And it’s a grittier, more tragic world. Unlike the Napoleonic Wars, which happened far away and didn’t touch the frenetic gaiety of the haute ton, the English Civil War was a brutal conflict that happened in people’s backyards. Like the American Revolution and the American Civil War, it pitted brother against brother, father against son, principle against familial love.
This drastically more somber atmosphere is reflected in the story and tone of Beloved Enemy, of course. It would be impossible to have a light, amusing romp play out against such a backdrop. It is precisely this darker, more realistic edge that I like best about the book. Not that I don’t enjoy cotton candy, but I like something more solid to sink my teeth into every once and a while. The emotions are so much more raw and intense, it feels like I’m vicariously living on the edge. But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you read romances for the lighthearted, humorous drawing room comedy aspect, for an escape from drama and heartache and tough choices, Beloved Enemy is not what you’re looking for. It serves up all three in spades.
The second thing that delights me about this book is the weight that is given to the historical half of the “historical romance” equation. In some romance novels, the history part is nothing more than different clothes, no electricity or cars, and the differences in gender roles. The actual events and people of the time period have little to no relevance in many cases. Nothing could be further from the case with Beloved Enemy. The historical events and figures aren’t just mentioned, they are critical – integral to the plot. The intricate detail of the historical backdrop, and its important role in the story, are one of the book’s best points, in my opinion. But for every history buff like myself, there is a reader who dislikes too much intrusion from the outside world into the story unfolding between the two protagonists. I enjoy the balance it lends the book; it’s refreshing to read about people who have other matters concerning them besides their own emotional pyrotechnics.
The third thing that makes this book stand out from the crowd in the romance genre is the nature of the difficulties that lie between the protagonists and their HEA. And this is where a lot of readers really get stuck. It’s not one of the standard plot devices standing between Virginia Courtney and Alexander Marshall. They don’t suffer a tragic misunderstanding. Neither of them refuses to admit that they love the other person for a variety of more or less silly reasons. Neither of them discovers a “horrible” fact about the other person with which they have to come to terms. They love each other, they know it, and they have lived it, but two major external obstacles stand in their way.
One is that they stand on opposite sides of the idealogical, political, and religious chasm that has been tearing their country apart for nearly a decade. As a high-ranking military officer in Parliament’s New Model Army, Alex Marshall, who has already cut himself off from his family for following his republican principles, cannot easily leg shackle himself to an unrepentant loyalist. And Ginny goes through agonies of conflicting imperatives as she learns to love the man but not his cause. Readers with no sympathy for the dilemma of the house divided will find these obstacles tedious and incomprehensible, rather than moving and tragic. The fact is, however, that love does not and cannot always conquer all, and I enormously enjoy reading a romance novel that does not require such a suspension of disbelief.
The second obstacle, and perhaps the one that some readers will find most disturbing, is the fact that Ginny labors under a misapprehension about her widowed state for a large portion of the book. Unknown to her, her loathsome, emotionally abusive husband was not killed in battle, as she was told. Once Ginny and Alex learn of his survival, not only principle and politics separate them, but also the looming specter of adultery, a capital crime at the time. Ginny returns to her husband, whose treatment of her, never stellar, deteriorates badly.
The husband is a revolting toad of a man with seemingly no redeeming characteristics. He is not, however, a one-dimensional throw-away villain. He is merely one-dimensional in his hatefulness. I have read reviews that complained that his unrelieved villainy was absurd and unbelievable, and found the last portion of the story involving him to be contrived and exaggerated. But the fact is that there are horrible husbands who constantly drink themselves into a stupor, emotionally and physically abuse their wives, can’t be bothered to meet life head-on and make something of it, and think that the world owes them something. Having such a one married to a heroine we’ve become attached to is hard. And if you belong to the school that thinks that marriage vows to such a man are still sacred, then the plot of this book will offend you. But if you believe, as I do, that the husband abrogated his marriage vows when he abused his wife, then you will rejoice when love eventually triumphs over this drunken domestic tyrant, although the victory is neither pretty nor tidy.
From the Isle of Wight to the battlefields of northern England to the Virginia colony, Beloved Enemy is a tale of two lovers that follows their joys, their struggles, and their tragedies during one of the most turbulent and bloody periods in English history (although England has had a number of those!). As they are ambushed by a forbidden love, Alex and Ginny learn about themselves and each other, as they try to find a way to bridge the gulf between them. It’s a moving, deeply passionate tale of love, heartbreak, loyalty, and redemption. It’s not light, it’s not fun, and it’s not easy. It is, however, highly rewarding.
This book was purchased by Elvie.
You can learn more about Jane Feather by visiting her Official Publisher Page.