Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Love Slave, by Bertrice Small [1]

*/***** (1/5)

"There was life, and there was death. Living was the harder, stronger choice, and she wanted to live even if she could not have Karim."

Granted, THE LOVE SLAVE ends on a happy note, but the journey to arrive at that happily-ever-after proved nothing short of torturous. In THE LOVE SLAVE (1995), author Bertrice Small chronicles the sexual triumphs of beautiful Zaynab (Scottish-born Regan MacDuff) in 10th-century Moorish Spain and northwest Africa. Initially, what piqued my curiosity for this novel was a strong heroine not melting at every kiss and not cooing at every touch. Definitely, Zaynab is a strong heroine. I was also interested in the different locale for this historical with middle-eastern lavish settings, lavish settings admirably staged. I also found the grand scope of the novel intriguing in this 449-page superior paperback. Finally, Bertrice Small's erotic love scenes will assuredly engage the interest of any romance fan.

Unfortunately too many things didn't work for me. First, our libidinous heroine Zaynab is 13-14 when she undergoes extensive tutelage in the erotic, eastern arts. I realize this is the 10th century, but a 13 year-old going at it with a 28 year-old? I thought Bertrice Small should have taken some liberties with Zaynab's age. Although the book was at times unputdownable, the pacing of the story crumbles in a lot of places too. The pacing and story especially dulls and chokes in places detailing Zaynab's love scenes with men other than the hero. I understand the hero Karim is honorable, but he seemed too amenable to relinquish the heroine he loves. Twice, he lets her go *without putting up a fight*, once in the beginning and later towards the end. Though a couple of rape scenes in the beginning of the book could have been worse, I found the scenes of brutality and fornication at the villain Ali Hassan's camp towards the end and the retribution following it, overly gratuitous. Certainly, THE LOVE SLAVE doesn't hold back on its ruthless savagery. Finally, THE LOVE SLAVE contrivedly effected too many deaths at the end to manufacture its happily-ever-after and to make Karim a Prince. And it's true, the "hero" Karim sparingly appears in this novel.

You'll definitely have liberal sensibilities to enjoy THE LOVE SLAVE, as the "romance" didn't seem like a romance and the "hero" didn't seem like a hero. I keep saying I'd like markedly different romance stories, but maybe I'm a hypocrite, I don't know.

I constantly wondered whether the elixir concubines and mistresses quaff daily to prevent childbirth in THE LOVE SLAVE was really as effective as this book implies. I mean our heroine Zaynab is very active with 3 different men and she's enceinte just once over these years (and that was the time when she wasn't taking the elixir)! The elixir seemed one-hundred percent, efficaciously fault-proof, what's in it and how is it different from birth control pills?

Zaynab's rapacious carnal appetite no matter the man drained the novel's "romance" too quickly. I understand she's making the best of her circumstances and being strong, but c'mon the book even described her arousal by a brutal rapist and murderer at the very end. Before, Zaynab desires to lie with an esteemed physician just to sate her lust. Undoubtedly, this is the only "romance" novel I've read where one of the last love scenes isn't between the hero and heroine but in fact a threesome involving the heroine and 2 other people not including the hero! Empty...

On the plus side, the first part of the book did manage to hook and reel me in. In the first part, the Passion Master Karim training the apt Love Slave Zaynab was equal parts sizzling and fun. For example, the scene where Zaynab suspiciously dumps cold water on an aroused Karim after bathing him was fun. And I had to find out what happens after that first part, even as the book painfully gorged on graphic accounts of Zaynab's sexual conquests with prominent men other than the hero. The final nail in the coffin comes at the end, a copulation with the villain Ali Hassan.

Yep, the ugh/*wince*/ok-next-page/aaah-let's-end-this moments appeared in droves after the first part. I don't know, maybe men and women may find this book interesting strictly in the carnal sense. But there's other erotic books out there without the cringing revulsion THE LOVE SLAVE evinces.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Twin Regan MacDuff was supposed to be a boy. Her bitter mother Sorcha weaves an intricate conspiracy of vengeance on the Fergusons and the Ferguson laird who killed Sorcha's husband and Regan's father. Born second behind her twin sister Gruoch, Regan never knows anyone's love as her mother preserves all of her affections for her twin Gruoch. Ever since they were young, the sisters know that Gruoch will marry the Ferguson heir while Regan will head to the convent after Gruoch is bedded (Regan hanging around as back-up). The twins grow into beauties and on Gruoch's wedding night, Sorcha cruelly plays on Regan's affection for her twin sister to make Regan switch places with Gruoch on Gruoch's wedding night. Sorcha's grand vengeance has Gruoch impregnated from another MacDuff prior to the wedding while Regan sacrifices her virginity to the Ferguson heir.

Satisfied of Gruoch's virginity (really Regan at the time) and Gruoch's potential child, the Fergusons then ship off Regan over to a convent run by a corrupt nun dealing in female slaves. Eventually, Regan finds herself in the services of Moorish Captain Karim al Malina, one of the last Passion Masters who trains Love Slaves. Love Slaves are a treasured commodity in Moorish culture as the Passion Masters who train them are few and far in between. Karim gives Regan a new name for the new culture and for the majority of the novel, she's referred to as Zaynab, or most beautiful one. Karim accepts the commission to train Zaynab, and agrees to present a trained Zaynab to the Caliph of the Moors Abd-al Rahma as a new addition to his harem already consisting of hundreds of concubines. If Zaynab manages to win favor and become the caliph's favorite (which she does in no time), it will bring great honor to Karim and the man who entrusts Zaynab to Karim, Donal Righ. After an year of exquisite training, Karim regretfully and honorably turns over Zaynab to the 50+ year caliph Abd-al Rahman despite both Karim and Zaynab admitting their love for each other.

Even though both the caliph Abd-al Rahman and Zaynab find comfort and pleasure in each other, the graphic scenes of their erotic lovemaking are grueling from a reader's standpoint. Especially after Karim. But alas, the caliph wasn't the end of Zaynab's conquests. Afterwards, Zaynab copulates with the hard-working, virgin physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut (a Jewish prince in his own right) and finally the brutal villain Ali Hassan, a murderer and rapist that Zaynab pleasures to death. THE LOVE SLAVE attempts to assuage the intimate scenes with the villain Ali Hassan by noting Ali Hassan's monstrous manhood, in fact the biggest Zaynab has had! The entire sequence with Ali Hassan served as sort of a case study in perverse attraction to a monstrous villain (yet handsome and with a huge manhood). The final conquest with the villain represents some sort of a crown on Zaynab's varied triumphs in her promiscuous resume. It was too much and certainly not enjoyable.

Earlier, Hadsai and Zaynab go at it (often) under the "hero" Karim's very roof where Karim and Zaynab settle down together by the conclusion! Karim is aware! Worse, after Zaynab prepares for her marriage with her "One-True-Love" Karim, she indulges in a threesome with Hasdai to show Hasdai her gratitude for reuniting her with Karim! Yep, I'm too traditional I think, I couldn't take that threesome after Zaynab knows she will finally get to marry Karim.

I particularly didn't care for the plotting which bartered Zaynab's daughter's life from her days as the caliph's favored concubine for her happily-ever-after with Karim. The happily-ever-after also bartered away Karim's entire family. Had Karim's family not perished and had Zaynab's daughter not died, Zaynab would have continue in her role as Love Slave for Hasdai. She would never know her happily-ever-after without these tragedies.

I could only take so much ugh-next-page moments.


Anonymous said...

Small is one of the original old school bodice-ripper authors of the 70s and early 80s and she really hasnt changed her style that much.

She is a great-grandmother and she still writes like this. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. No way, I could be a heroine in her stories which usually feature them going through many violent hardships and less strong heroes who show up at the end

Caine said...

I was going to give her another chance but thanks for the heads-up. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way because she sure seems prolific.

I still get an *ugh* feeling just thinking about what I've just read.

Anonymous said...

well, when you have been writing for about 30 years, your backlist starts adding up. If you had asked me what Small book to read, I would have recommended SKYE O'MALLEY, one of her earliest but still probably her best. It still has lost of creepy, dramatic, violent themes -- incest, slavery, etc. -- and the heroine starts the book at age 15 but this is all set against meticulously detailed, engrossing Elizabethian history. Definitely a page turner.

However, THE LOVE SLAVE is a good example of her later style so your pick wasnt bad. Small has written books that are less "ugh" but you really have other authors for that.