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Willaful Review: Destiny's Surrender by Beverly Jenkins

17331377Sensuality rating: sinfully steamy, then lawfully steamy. ;-)

I didn’t make it through the first book in this series — feisty heroine and love/hate relationship, I could not deal — but Destiny’s Surrender sounded so interesting, I had to give it a try. It was a very different kind of read, and pretty compelling.

Set in San Francisco in 1885, the story opens with an encounter between prostitute Billie and her favorite john, Drew. She’s a little perturbed afterwards to discover her birth control was faulty, and sure enough, she becomes pregnant. This isn’t a book that follows the unwritten rules of romance, however: Billie has no certainty at all that Drew is the father.

The realistic tone continues as we discover that Billie has been pregnant before and had a chemical abortion. It made her so ill she can’t face another, and decides to have the baby and give it up to a good family — or more accurately, let her madam sell it for the money to live on when she has to stop working. However she didn’t realize how much she would love her baby, and when the time comes, can’t bear to let him go. A convenient birthmark proving parentage, she turns to Drew for help.

Drew’s reaction is also far from typically “heroic.” He’s very angry — the fact that Billie arrives just in time to ruin his engagement to a “suitable” woman doesn’t help — and just wants her and the baby to go away. But his strong-willed stepmother has other ideas.

I was sorry the splot hinged on an implausible heriditary birthmark; I think it could have worked without it. I also disliked the suspense plot, which features a very nasty villain. (This was also why I DNF’d the first Beverly book I tried.) But I really enjoyed Billie, who’s about as far from emo as a person can be; she always faces facts and does what she has to do. This line kind of sums her up: “for Billie birthdays had never been anything to put on the dog for. She acknowledged it when she got up in the morning, then got on with her day.” It’s sadder, in its way, than many a more obviously tragic heroine. Billie is also brave and resourceful, and eventually makes a place for herself in “respectable” society through those traits.

Drew was less defined as a character, and I would have liked to see less of the nasty villain and more of Drew’s growth as a person. One of the interesting things about this story is that it’s set during a time when black Americans were starting to lose freedoms they previously had. Drew, who is of African-American and Spanish heritage, is a successful lawyer who finds that judges are suddenly refusing to allow him into courtrooms; although he’s from a well-off family and isn’t financially dependent on his career, this is a blow. But not a lot of time is spent on it.

I appreciated how essentially ordinary Billie is – she’s neither exalted as special, nor demonized for her pragmatic reactions to  being poor and pregnant. Contrarily, that made the book something out of the ordinary. I give it 3 1/2 stars; you can buy it here.

Published by Avon. Review copy from the public library.

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