Genre: Historic Romance, African American
While this is not my first Beverly Jenkins rodeo , I’m still pretty new to the fandom. Historical romances are without a doubt my favorite in the genre, but it stinks that unless there’s a “gypsy,” people of color are virtually non-existent. Or so I thought. My discovery of Smart Bitches Trashy Books in fall 2015 lead me to their podcast with Jenkins and a review of her novel Destiny’s Captive, which I immediately requested from my library and finished in a day. It wasn’t the uptight regency rule and regulations in a ballroom novel I know and love, but it was full of characters that looked like me and my family and aspects of our history and family life and perseverance that weren’t solely slavery and The Civil Rights Movement. It was enlightening and liberating that while historical romances about minorities are small in number, they are out there. I still need to get my hand on a Jeannie Lin book, but one author at at time. I also began Google searching Jenkins and came across mentions of the then-upcoming Forbidden and how it would be the beginning of a new series taking place in the Old West and that the hero was a minor character in her 1998 novel, Through the Storm. Of course I had to get my hands on that novel to see what the fuss was over this minor character named Rhine Fontaine who appeared in a book that was published 18 years ago. And of course once I finished I was completely bursting with curiosity as to what did happen to Rhine Fontaine. Figures.
Before I get into the review, can I just say this cover is exquisite. Rhine is a dreamboat, Eddy is stunning, and the way they look at each other makes it difficult for me to break my gaze.
Five years after running away from his life as a slave born of his African mother and slave master father, joining the Union army with his White half brother, and starting a new life passing as White in Virginia City Nevada (none of this is a spoiler because it is mentioned in Through the Storm, the novel that prompted Rhine’s spin-off, and it is mentioned on the back cover), Rhine is one of the richest men in town with a mixed-race saloon and political power. The heroine, Eddie Carmichael, has finally saved enough to fulfill her dreams of owning her own restaurant, which she plans to do in the progressive California. But after a series of unfortunate and sometimes terrifying circumstances, she finds herself left for dead in the desert only to be saved by Rhine Fontaine and his business partner Jim (who better get a novel because he’s super stinkin’ lovable). In the days she spends recovering from her near-death inducing heat exhaustion, she becomes as attracted to Rhine’s generous and easy-going nature as he does her determination and strength. But because Rhine is “White,” Eddy is anxious to part ways and leave her attraction to Rhine there in Virginia City. However, being virtually penniless, she has no choice but to stay and find work, which she does as the cook of the adorable Sylvie. The remainder of the novel covers Rhine and Eddy trying desperately to remain platonic and Rhine wondering for the first time if his decision to lead a life passing was the correct one. And in a rare occurrence in the romance world, [aside from the shirtlessness and the color of her dress] the cover actually reflect the novel perfectly; the characters look as they are described, and multiple times in the novel they have electrically charged stares thick with words unspoken.
One of the difficult parts of historical romance novels (and fantasy/sci-fi, for that matter) is setting the time period. I think because of the saturation of it in literary education, medieval and regency novels do not do a lot of backdrop work. But as I have expanded to some Bevery Jenkins novels and some highlander novels, I have noticed a significant amount of educating, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Having actual history in my historic romance novels is super cool, as long as it does not bog down the romance novel aspect of it too much. Forbidden definitely educated me on Nevada/The Old West and the racial politics at the time, but not only did I need it because my knowledge is limited but also since Eddy was traveling across country and many of the characters in Virginia City were politicians, that background knowledge actually fit in with and advanced the plot.
I love the hero and heroine. Eddy had worked since she was twelve, so she understands hard work was needed to pursue ones dreams, and Rhine was an ex-slave and takes absolutely nothing he earned for granted. I also loved that from the beginning Eddy’s strength and often stubbornness neither intimidated nor frustrated him; he respected and admired it. Often times romance heroes get imposing and annoying when encountering a heroine who can do for herself. Rhine never pushes her whenever she rejects his offers to assist financially or smaller offers like carriage rides. The scenes in which she is initially under his care and is determined in her weak state she does not need his assistance to walk to the facilities are possibly my favorite moments in the entire novel because Rhine could not have been more patient, and Eddy’s insistence on her independence as she essentially flops all over the place left me in stitches. Also if you read Through the Storm which goes over much more of his backstory as a slave and in which you meet his sister Sable and his beloved Mahti, you see that Rhine has been surrounded by fiercely strong women his entire life, so his reverence makes perfect sense. The Eddy and Rhine were also a breath of fresh air for me because I have been reading so many books lately with combative hero-heroine relationships that it was nice reading a novel in which the plot was conflict enough and the hero and heroine get along well enough that you actually don’t worry about the “ever after” portion of their “happily ever after.”
For a Jenkins book, Forbidden isn’t actually that steamy. I mean, don’t get me wrong; it’s definitely explicit, but since the entire basis of the conflict is that they cannot be together, they don’t get it on until towards the end of the novel. When their armor starts to crack towards the middle of the book, Rhine and Eddy can only verbalize their desires, emotional and sensual, and even that is on the down-low. But those moments are so full of glorious tension even I was holding my breath.
My issues are as follows (highlight to read because SPOILERS):
- Zeke the “practical” suitor, gets SUPER BUTT-HURT about his rejection. I mean, I get that in this town the pickins are slim when it comes to Black women, let alone pretty ones. But COME ON. He’s a big old grumpy cat for the last third of the book, and it’s off-putting to the point where I don’t think all of the townsfolk who told Eddy he’s a great guy actually know him. He handled her rejection with the maturity of the popular boy in middle school. I’ll keep an open mind about him though because he’s pretty and never caused anyone bodily harm, which means he’s a prime candidate for one of the sequel books in this series.
- Eddy’s evil sister’s children. With their sucky mother and the story’s consistent pro-adoption themes, I assumed they would be a bigger part of the story, kind of like the charming children Sable and LeVeq adopt in Through the Storm. However, they appear in the very beginning, the very end, and are mentioned I think twice through the meat of the novel, so you don’t really get to know the children outside of the understood unstable home life, making them not so significant to the story.
- Why couldn’t Mavis, his full White sister, make an appearance at the wedding like Sable and Drew?
Small complaints aside, this novel is the bomb.com. Without a doubt Forbidden has officially become one of my favorite historic romances. I think Jenkins has truly perfected the balance of history and romance and has created a lovely town of which I cannot wait to read more.