Whether I’m choosing books from the laundry room or Amazon, I make a quick assessment about the book and decide to read it or not. I feel no guilt about the books overlooked – other readers will select them. Once I have made the choice and started reading the book, it is a different matter. There are very few books I start and do not finish, and I always feel I am being unfair to the author by not giving them the chance to tell the whole tale.
And yet I cannot continue with Catherine Creel’s Surrender to Desire, published by General in 1985. It’s a historical, set in Alaska in 1898. Marianna, a proud and free-spirited daughter of a wealthy Russian family, has arrived to visit relatives. She soon learns that a marriage has been arranged, and plots her escape. For reasons not entirely clear, although she is aristocracy she did not expect an arranged marriage, and is violently opposed to the idea. I’ve always felt the arranged/accidental marriage plot is a bit of a cheat, since it takes away some of the suspense, but it can still be entertaining.
Marianna tries to convince the young and handsome captain of a recently arrived ship to help her escape, but of course he is the intended groom, and of course neither of them realize who the other one is. So far, so good, but here’s where things go off the rails. In his words, he steals a kiss, but it sure seemed like sexual assault to me. I suppose he couldn’t resist her large and heaving bosom, which is repeatedly mentioned.
Alexander was originally opposed to the arranged marriage too, but he finds Marianna both attractive and a challenge. “It will give me great pleasure to tame you.” Over the next few days he delights in humiliating her and ordering her about, and they are quickly married. Now at this point I expected the standard “I’ll be your wife in name only, and never love you” / “You’ll come to love me” situation.
I was wrong – he promptly rapes her. She tries to fight him off for six pages, before she gives up, and despite her fear, anger and pain, has a few moments of “rapturous yearning.” Apparently he is skilled at lovemaking, but exactly how is not described. The night ends with him sleeping peacefully and her sobbing.
I know, this is a historical, and I know, this is a romance. I’ve read several romances where the sexual consent is at best questionable, or the seduction very forceful, including such tactics as blackmail or extortion. It can work, but this story goes too far. I’m a little over 100 pages into a 500 page story. Presumably the rest of the book is how she comes to love him, but I’m not interested in how her case of Stockholm syndrome progresses. What I really want is for her to take revenge, but that’s a different genre.