I actually started this because I hear Jenkin’s latest, Forbidden, is really good, and its hero Rhine is introduced here. Word is it’s fine to read Forbidden as a stand alone, but there is some interesting background on Rhine, a former slave who is passing for white. He falls out of the story early on, but lingers poignantly in his sister’s memory:
“Rhine crossed her thoughts often. Had he found peace? If she passed him on the street, would he acknowledge her or walk past her with the nonseeing eyes of a White stranger?”
This is also a sequel to one of Jenkin’s most beloved books, Indigo, and the start of a series about the hero’s brothers.
Through the Storm is a Civil War/Reconstruction era romance about a biracial woman named Sable, who escapes slavery and joins a camp of “contraband” slaves which is run by the Union army. The commander of the camp is one of a very few black officers, the charming, wealthy, rakish Raimond LeVeq. Despite some obstacles, they find happiness together while both fighting tirelessly for the rights of “the race.”
I’m not usually a big fan of historical fiction (as opposed to historical romance) which seems to generally focus on long ago and far away politics, war, and royalty. Although this is definitely a romance, it also includes a great deal of history — history which is much closer to our time, and also about ordinary people. I was fascinated by some of the small details that so tellingly show the realities of slavery: for example, the mansion Sable originally lives in was built by slaves to have numerous hidden passageways for eavesdropping, a vital source of information for people who had no voice in their own lives. Sable’s connection to her roots is also a small but intriguing part of the story, as she is not only the granddaughter of one of the Firsts (the people originally captured and sold, rather than born in slavery) but has royal blood. There’s a touch of mysticism to the story that springs from the spiritual beliefs of the Firsts.
As a romance, this is a touch old skool at times — Raimond “charmingly” manhandles Sable at one point — but their relationship is almost entirely consensual and tender. There is a betrayal/Big Misunderstanding but even at his most angry, Raimond never goes beyond sharp words and trying desperately to ignore Sable. The hardest parts to read, aside from descriptions of gruesome wartime medical practices, are the ugly racist attitudes of the book’s villains.
I didn’t love the prose, which is in a very plain, declarative style without much in the way of description. I found it flat and thin at times, and some of my romantic expectations were thwarted. (When Raimond discovers he had misjudged Sable, he doesn’t say a word about it!) The beginning and end are nail-bitingly suspenseful, however, and I enjoyed the cozy in-jokes that develop between the couple, around their sensual “discussions.”
“Looking down, he kissed her sweetly and said, ‘Being parents has cut deeply into our discussion times.’
‘I know. We haven’t lectured each other in over a week.'”
This isn’t my first Beverly book, and even though I preferred Destiny’s Surrender, I have a new appreciation for the way she brings lesser-known history — and happy endings — to light. On to Forbidden!