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Louise Allen on the BBC, discussing Mills and Boon’s 100th Birthday. (third from left)

The Society Catch, by Louise Allen

I found this novel at my local library’s used book store last month, after reading another book by Ms Allen, and being the curious cat that I am, I bought it. With one thing and another (I still blame Lisabea, by the way), the poor thing ended lost in the TBR mountain until yesterday. But it was, I think, a good thing, because I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Here’s the (misleading, as always) back cover blurb:

Running away from Love

Miss Joanna Fulgrave has turned herself into the perfect society catch to be worthy of dashing Colonel Giles Gregory. But all her hard effort to improve herself comes to nothing when it looks as if Giles is about to propose—to someone else!

Deciding that bad behaviour is infinitely more attractive than perfection, Joanna flees her shocked family. Giles is hot on her trail, determined to catch her and bring her safely home. But will he be as determined to make her his bride?


Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, by Louise Allen

Like many other regulars at different romance blogs, I decided to get this book after the little episode between its author and Julie Bindel, who put both her feet in her mouth with her contribution to this article at the Guardian.

Perhaps because of Ms Allen’s very articulate response to Ms Bindel, my expectations for this book were a tad too high; in the end I was rather disappointed with it.

Here’s the back blurb:

Julia Livia Rufa is horrified when barbarians invade Rome and steal everything in sight. But she doesn’t expect to be among the taken! As Wulfric’s woman, she’s ordered to keep house for the uncivilized marauders. Soon, though, Julia realizes the she’s more free as a slave than she ever was as a sheltered Roman virgin.

It would be all too easy to succumb to Wulfric’s quiet strength, and Julia wants him more than she’s ever wanted anything. But Wulfric could one day be king, and Julia is a Roman slave. What future can there be for two people from such different worlds?

The story starts on the first day of the sack of Rome in AD 410 by the Visigoths. The period and setting are fairly unusual for category romance novels, and that is already a positive for me. Given the premise, I had hoped for something meatier, original, different; perhaps better written character development and a more realistic conflict between the two main characters, but alas, it didn’t happen. Sadly, the novel itself, while competently written, soon falls into rather predictable and too often trod paths. He kidnaps her—to protect her. She vows to cling to all her preconceived notions about these barbarians—and promptly outgrows them. Within days they have fallen in love—but can’t tell each other because of what each perceives the other needs and deserves.

From their first encounter, Wulfric is set as the perfect hero. He is compassionate, honorable, controlled, and understanding of Julia’s reactions and cultural background. He is loyal to his dying king; loyal to the point of stupidity. Instead of thinking about his people and their welfare, Wulfric chooses to follow and enforce Alaric’s commands regardless of the highly negative consequences he—and the reader—can predict.

This is quite jarring because Wulfric is also described as one of the potential heirs—supposedly because he’s both intelligent and a leader of men. And yet, it takes him until page 225 to realize that one of his main supporters, Hilderic, “… sees himself as a kingmaker … He sees his daughter as my queen and himself as the power at my elbow.”

Julia, on the other hand, is irritatingly feisty (over the years, I’ve grown to hate that word with a passion). She’s been taken slave after narrowly escaping rape, and the very next morning she blithely decides not to do what she’s ordered to:

“She had no objection to assisting this friendly woman with the clear blue eyes and the swelling belly. She just had no intention of clearing up after two hulking males.”

What the hell? It is one thing to know that up to now Julia has lived in a bubble, insulated by her rank and her family’s money. It’s another thing entirely to believe that she would be unable to grasp just how precarious her position is in this new reality. Even more irritating is that she pretty much gets away with it. Wulfric yells and postures, but doesn’t actually hurt her, or even punish her—is she a slave or a guest? But then, and almost without exception, the Goths are painted as the morally right, good people, and the Romans as the morally corrupt, evil ones. There’s even a bit, rather early on too, where Julia herself articulates this in a rather sweeping comparison between the two cultures.

Even though the author included an end note showing that she did a fair bit of research on how the Goths lived at the time, their wanderings through Italian peninsula, and their contentious relationship with the Roman Empire, my main objection is that these characters feel and behave like people in the 1990s to 2000s would—theirs are modern sensibilities plunked down in the distant past.

While I wasn’t wowed by the book, it is not a terrible read by any means. Six out of ten.

You can see other reviews by SBSarah, SBCandy, Dear Author, and much more than reviews at the amazing Teach Me Tonight