Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell
Sons of Sin #1
Mass Market Paperback
When Sidonie Forsythe’s reckless older sister, Roberta, Lady Hillbrook, incurs a large gaming debt, the man she’s in debt to demands a night of her company in payment. Roberta’s husband, William, is already a wife-bashing bastard, and the sisters know that his discovery of her gambling debt alone could see him finally beat Roberta to death – especially when he learns who she’s in debt to. Jonas Merrick, the “bastard offspring of scandal”, is William’s cousin and the original heir to the title. His father’s marriage to a Spanish lady was declared null and void, stripping Jonas of the position he was to inherit – but not his father’s wealth. Now, William has the title, but Jonas has the money – and with his astute and ruthless business sense, he’s loaded while William slips further into debt. Sidonie knows that Roberta’s foolish gambling addiction and debt to Merrick will be the last straw, and she’s determined to do anything to keep William from learning of it – and to appease Merrick.
Jonas Merrick presents a confident, determined and even callous face to the world, a world that shuns him as much for his bastard status as for the ugly scar marring his face. He was looking forward to “teaching his cousin’s wife to endure his presence without suffering the megrims”, and the arrival of intelligent but innocent Sidonie puts him in a foul mood. Worse still, her relatively calm offering of her body makes him disgusted with himself, as does his attraction to her. But it’s her wit and her ability to look at him without flinching that appeals to him, and makes him drive a revised bargain: he’ll pardon the debt if Sidonie stays with him for seven nights, and gives him a chance to seduce her. At first, Sidonie doesn’t believe she’s in any danger of succumbing, but Merrick has devilish methods and the week becomes a true test of her resolve – and her loyalty.
Set in 1826, Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed is the first of Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin trilogy – featuring Jonas Merrick and his boarding school ‘friends’ (if he’d let them be his friends, something he has to learn in this book), Sir Richard Harmsworth and Camden Rothermere, Duke of Sedgemoor. All three have scandalous backgrounds, but only Jonas is a “Beast” type to Sidonie’s “Beauty”. I do love a Beauty and the Beast-inspired romance, and this one was excellent. Campbell’s writing is assured, intelligent and smoothly paced. It’s also not a wholly predictable plot – and yes, there is plot, and duplicity, and some complications that create the second tier of obstacles for Sidonie and Jonas’s ‘happy ever after’ ending.
Sidonie is an enjoyable heroine, intelligent, interesting, not annoyingly stubborn, and compassionate. I sometimes had to work a bit to see things from her perspective, perhaps because I empathised more with Merrick’s situation than hers, which is terrible really, considering the domestic abuse Roberta endures. Roberta isn’t a likeable character, though Sidonie knows it’s William’s influence that’s made her a shadow of herself. Still, that only goes so far – domestic violence doesn’t necessarily make a woman shallow, self-absorbed or small-minded. I would think those were traits a person possesses regardless (though of course, everyone’s different and responds to situations differently).
Merrick is a great romance hero, the brooding, tortured sort who just wants to be loved. Inside he’s still the little boy who wants his mother and his mother’s love, who wants his father’s love too, though both his parents are dead and he’s left with the scars. It’s a classic Romance genre trope, because although women don’t want to be a mother-figure for their lovers, we do gravitate towards the type of men (in fiction or fantasy-land, at least) who allow women to love them, and whose love fills that gap. It’s not about replacing the mother-figure, but about soothing the ache, helping them grow up, move on, embrace a new kind of love and have that be enough. It helped me understand Merrick’s initial reaction to what he perceived as Sidonie’s betrayal, though I’m a bit on the fence over his behaviour later, at the end of the book. I can’t decide, though, whether that’s because I lost some respect for him, or because it didn’t gel with my idea of the character, or because I was flat-out disappointed with how he handled it.
The fact is, I cared about the characters a great deal and loved their story. It was entertaining, engrossing and speckled with moments of humour. In terms of the romance, it was believable and satisfying, and Campbell’s going on my mental list of authors who write good sex. (That is to say, they’re good at writing sex scenes.) I enjoyed this so much that as soon as I finished it, I went and ordered the other two books in the trilogy. If you’re looking for spicy, saucy, well-written historical romance, I can already recommend Anna Campbell.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this book – the rest of it lived up to the high standard set in the first chapter. I do love a deeply flawed hero and Jonas was written so well – his vulnerabilities were beautifully done and it was impossible not to feel for him at many stages in the book. Likewise Sidonie was a well-constructed heroine, although her devotion to her sister did grate on me slightly towards the end of the book, especially the way in which her sister repaid her sometimes.” All the Books I Can Read
“Love, trust and betrayal are intimately entwined in this story and the path to true love peppered with pot holes and angst but trademark sensuality had me forgiving any questionable plot points. It’s lovely to be caught up and swept away in a read; romantic escapism is like chocolate for the soul.” The Eclectic Reader
“Eek Gads this was yummy! Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed sounded sinfully delicious and I was excited to read it. As Anna Campbell’s first book in the Sons of Sin series she dished up a hot steamy tale with wonderful characters and an engaging plot. Reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast I was quickly ensnared in this wicked tale and lost myself in its pages.” Caffeinated Book Reviewer
“If not for Jonas and his hissy fit near the end, this would have been a four star book. It was a very satisfying historical romance, which has been my genre of choice for the past couple of weeks. I would recommend this book to others, just be prepared for the cry baby ending.” Bad Bird Reads
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The debris was an impressive pile of sticks, plastic bottles, milk cartons and even a ten-pin bowling ball. The mass floated, soggy but stubborn, unmoving until tested.
PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Sandra Crook
“Go go go go!”
The shrieks filled his ears, his head. His blood ran thick with fear and excitement. One foot out, a pause as the sticks gave a little, then the other. He felt it shift precariously under his weight. The other children clamoured on the riverbank, as eager for him to fail as succeed.
With a sharp intake of breath, he ran. Ran, slipped, fell, up again. Then down, down, down.
Word count: 100
Friday Fictioneers is a weekly writing meme hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields @ Addicted to Purple. Participants write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt.
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Vintage Books 2012
Large Format Paperback
In 1926, on the small rocky island of Janus Rock off the south-west coast of Western Australia, the lighthousekeeper, Tom Sherbourne, and his wife Isabel, hear a baby crying. A small rowboat washes up, bearing a dead man and a young baby wrapped in a cardigan. Having recently buried the stillborn body of her third attempt at having her own child, Isabel reacts with instinct and quickly bonds with the baby. Tom, a veteran and hero of the Great War who takes comfort from the rules and regulations of maintaining a lighthouse, is required by law to send a signal to the mainland, and have someone come to collect the body and the baby. But Isabel pleads for time, and the next day talks Tom into not reporting the incident so that she can keep the baby, whom she names Lucy.
For the next three years, Isabel knows a time of bliss at being Lucy’s mother and watching her grow, while Tom suffers the pangs of his conscience and guilt towards the real mother even while he bonds with the child who takes such a delight in living on Janus and learning about the lighthouse. The question of whether they did the right thing becomes paramount when the idyllic days end, and the truth about baby Lucy becomes known.
We love lighthouses, and we love stories about them. They are the ultimate symbol of the frontier, the bastion between chaos and order, the wilderness and the tamed human world, and the ultimate paradox. A solid and highly visible symbol of colonial and imperial power, they literally shine a light into darkness (read what you will into the word ‘darkness’, which often stands for ‘uncivilised’), and make us feel protected from danger while also, through their very existence, remind us that danger is ever-present and ultimately undiminished. They stand tall, proud, regal, elegant, often at the edges of civilisation, perched above precipitous cliffs. They represent isolation and loneliness. The word ‘bastion’ (well-fortified, defensible) always comes to mind, as in ‘the last bastion of civilisation’, or ‘gatekeeper’, like a silent sentinel before the gates of a dark, otherworldly plane of existence. Even before you turn the light on and thus provide the promise of safety amidst danger, their solid presence reminds one of statues of gods and saints, protectors whose gentle kindness and humanity is edged with a hint of bleak, even necessary cruelty. As all of the above, Janus Rock and its lighthouse is the perfect setting for this story, and symbolic on several levels.
Earlier this year I read Othello, Shakespeare’s tragic play of a man – an outsider – driven to madness by his best friend, a sociopathic manipulator bearing two faces. It takes place on the island of Cyprus, far from the sophisticated and cultured civilisation of the Republic of Venice, from which the characters come. Cyprus is a rocky outcrop, a final frontier between civilisation and barbarity (the Ottoman Empire); this barely-habited military outpost becomes fertile ground for Iago’s villainy and the ensuing breakdown of the social order. Places such as this, barely tamed and “uncivilised”, provide excellent ideological settings for stories that pit good and evil, or right and wrong, against each other. The concept that individuals become detached from civilisation and morality through isolation and a lack of law and order, is borne out in The Light Between Oceans.
While Tom represents the law and order of the civilised world – as I mentioned in the summary, he takes comfort in following the strict rules and regulations of keeping the lighthouse, and is plagued by guilt over their actions – Isabel becomes the classic figure of a woman driven mad through her womb. I don’t mean she literally becomes unhinged or crazy, but that readers will unconsciously pick up on her irrational, emotional, “wild mother earth” persona, because it is just one of thousands of texts over the centuries that depict women in this way. Isabel’s womb cannot bring a baby to term, and while this and her deep yearning to have a baby of her own is, on the surface, an adequate motivation for her to insist on keeping Lucy, it also borrows heavily from this concept of madwomen and the mysteries – and diseases – of the womb.
But this book reminded me of other stories, or legends, or myths. I was particularly reminded of the Biblical story of the two women who both claimed the same baby. When told that the baby would be cut in half to solve the debate, the real mother immediately stepped back and said the other woman could have the baby, rather than see that happen. (I really must look up what story that is…) The Light Between Oceans is about motherly love, the mother-child bond, and what it means to be a parent – the responsibilities and hardships as much as the rewards.
As a mother of a three-year-old boy, I could certainly relate to both mothers in the story, Isabel and Hannah; I would add that even if I weren’t a mother, their experiences would have had the same emotional and mental upheaval. Theirs is an awful predicament, and I worried for a while as to how Stedman would resolve it – it seemed, at one point if not multiple points, unresolvable. It became apparent that someone would lose, someone would lose a child; it was only left to be seen who, and in what tragic circumstances. I was pleased that Stedman didn’t go for a melodramatic outcome, but rather a more realistic (and more believable) solution that involved key characters growing, figuring out things for themselves, and making personal resolutions. There’s more to learn from accompanying complex characters on a journey of self (not self-enlightenment etc., just “self”), and in asking yourself: what would you do in such a situation, if you’d been through what Isabel had been through, if you had lost like Hannah had lost.
And then there is Tom. He is in actual fact the central character, the light that shines between the oceans of Isabel and Hannah. The steady, solid, honourable light that seeks to bring people together, safely, not drive them apart. He’s the less flawed character, the one who, from a storytelling perspective at least, helps balance the emotional and turbulent women. Yet he has his own demons, is haunted by what he saw in the Great War and the fact that he survived – and feels guilty for that. A recurrent theme throughout the novel is one of lost children: not just Lucy, who is both lost and found, but all the brothers, sons and husbands who dashed off to war and never returned, or returned broken, shattered, crazy, debilitated, as well as the women who must try to put the pieces back together regardless.
The writing in this debut novel is competent, not fancy or frilly but nicely in tune with the story being told, the tortured characters. It does become fairly reflective, and I couldn’t find any purpose or pattern to the occasional switching from past to present tense, but in the first half at least it was highly engaging. There were parts where it lagged a bit, and towards the end it became more about telling the story rather than showing it, but overall it is a good story well told. More importantly, it packs an emotional wallop that had me reaching for the tissues several times. I was left aching for these characters in a story that resonates long after the last page is read.
Coincidentally, I decided to read this (after having it on my shelf for a while) when holidaying in Stanley, on the north coast of Tasmania, where they were filming the adaptation of this book. I didn’t get to see the stars (Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz; a Swedish actress plays Isabel), who kept a low profile, but we did get to see the small strip of old shopfronts transformed into Point Partageuse (the WA town in which much of the novel is set) – here’s some sample shots, where you can see a few made-up storefronts and the sealed road covered in sand and fake tufts of grass (it was extremely hard pushing a stroller along!) and, in the last shot, three antique cars:
“The book was beautifully written and therefore a pleasure to read. The feeling of isolation with Tom and Isabel on Janus Rock was very well described. I could not imagine anyone living so isolated but in the past there was no other choice if the light houses were to do their jobs properly. A slightly disappointed read for me, but still interesting enough to recommend. People that loved The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan) are especially likely to enjoy this book, too.” Leeswammes’ Blog
“The Light Between Oceans is intelligently and warmly written, and Stedman has done an admirable job of creating three central characters whom it’s possible to identify with and support, no matter how divergent their perspectives. The duality motif does come across as a little explicit at times, and I’m not generally a fan of forefronting a later scene in order to artificially pique a reader’s interest, but overall it’s an excellent read, and one I suspect will become a firm book club favourite.” Read in a Single Sitting
“Stedman weaves this tale of moral choices together with aplomb. It is the perfect fodder for a book club to test everyone’s reactions to Tom and Isabel’s decisions as well as those of the wider community as the novel opens up to include characters from Point Partaguese. … The Light Between Oceans is a compelling debut about the limits of love and parenthood— and forgiveness too.” Musings of a Literary Dilettante
“It’s not a perfect novel — I felt Isabel’s motherly devotion was sometimes too contrived and Tom’s never-ending patience unrealistic — but it is an intelligent, page-turning read. And the ending, so beautifully and touchingly rendered, means only a hard-hearted reader won’t want to cry buckets over it.” Reading Matters
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The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare
Introduction by Russ McDonald
Penguin Books 2001
As I try to catch up on reviews of books read earlier in the year, this being the middle of December, I very nearly overlooked this gem of a play. I’ve read two different editions of this tragedy this year, several times over, so the fact that I first read it was back in February doesn’t come with the usual problem of forgetfulness. On the pyramid scale (i.e. Bloom’s Taxonomy) of learning, teaching a thing is high up there. I won’t be forgetting the details of this play or the complex ideas and issues it tackles any time soon.
Othello is a simple enough story, in terms of plot, though whenever you start to explain it you discover just how intricate and multi-layered it is from the beginning. The character of Othello is a Moor – that is to say, a dark-skinned foreigner of uncertain origins, though he himself tells another how he is the son of a king in his own land – and the celebrated general of the Venetian army. Venice is a republic, a cultured and civilised city-state, the envy of the civilised world. It holds many territories beyond the city itself, including the island of Cyprus, a military outpost on the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. Venice is ruled by a duke – or “doge” – and many senators; one, Brabantio, spent several evenings with Othello, inviting him to tell the fantastical stories of his childhood and pre-Venice days at the senators home, where his beautiful daughter, Desdemona, listened avidly. She falls in love with Othello and the two marry in secret.
On the night of their wedding, Iago – Othello’s ensign, or ancient (standard-bearer – the third-in-command in the army) – rouses Brabantio from his bed to tell him “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” [Act I, scene I). Brabantio may have been interested in listening to Othello’s stories, as a curious exotic, but the idea of a foreigner – and the protector of the city’s wealth – stealing one its most precious jewels (Brabantio and other characters refer to Desdemona as a jewel, and in other instances as a possession), is not to be borne. Iago has long been Othello’s trusted ensign, but behind his mask of friendliness and trustworthiness is a self-obsessed, misogynistic man of great ambition. He has cultivated friendship with Othello but this night learned that Othello had promoted Cassio to be his second-in-command over Iago. Cassio is much beloved by the ladies, and Iago scorns him as a man who may have studied the art of war in books but hasn’t proven himself on the battlefield. Iago’s cunning is, at first, unfocussed: he makes up his plan as he goes along, starting with betraying Othello to Desdemona’s father, all the while carefully keeping his own role in it secret. His foil and dupe is Roderigo, a wealthy civilian who Iago constantly borrows money off.
Brabantio takes the matter of the unsanctioned marriage between his daughter and the outsider to the Doge, but the Doge does not take his side. Othello has proven his worth, the marriage is done, and Desdemona sides with her husband over her father. More pressing matters are afoot: the Turkish fleet is massing and looks set to target Rhodes; however, the clever senators understand it for the trick that it is and believe Cyprus is the real aim. The Doge must send Othello and the army out to defeat them. It is arranged that Desdemona will follow the army to Cyprus in the company of Iago and his wife, Emilia.
Desdemona arrives before Othello, as a violent storm destroyed the Turkish fleet and scattered the Venetian one. By the time Othello arrives on Cyprus, the war is over without a single fight between men. But the real war, the war between good and evil, the war between Iago and Desdemona for Othello’s soul, is just about to begin.
My students were rather annoyed that I gave away the ending of this play at the beginning of the unit on Othello, so I’ve refrained from doing so here. In fact, there’s so much to discuss with this play it’s worth a whole book. For the purposes of writing this review, I’m going to focus on a couple of ideas in the play, a bit of context and the difference between the two editions I read this year.
Shakespeare adapted his play from an earlier, Italian play, changing certain things but keeping the general premise and the setting. It’s set in the previous century, though a clear date is hard to discern as Venice was at war with the Turks four times (it certainly wasn’t the last war). Yet it’s very much an Elizabethan play, in terms of attitudes and prejudices (it was first performed for King James I in 1604, if I remember my dates correctly, but the Jacobean was a clear extension of the Elizabethan era, in which it was possibly written and at the very least, informed). While Hamlet is, on one level at least, about Queen Elizabeth I in terms of the anxiety the play reflects at the time it was written, Othello doesn’t seem to speak to any major fears at home. Certainly, black people (Africans) were not hugely common, and the era saw the start of racism towards dark-skinned foreigners (more because such people were turning up on English shores and as servants/slaves in English homes, making them a visible affront compared to a distant, vague idea), but it could also be about the ongoing battle between perceived notions of civilisation and barbarity. The ‘known world’ had become even larger during the 16th century, with explorers journeying forth and bringing back all sorts of new things and stories, but the interesting thing about the play is just how sympathetic a character the dark-skinned outsider actually is.
(On a side note, there is an excellent essay – the first chapter in fact – in Stephen Marche’s How Shakespeare Changed Everything, that sheds a perceptive light on the whole race issue: really fascinating. Also, Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England – both the book and the 3-part TV series – provide additional contextual information that I recommend. Plus the show is great to use in the classroom!)
Othello may be denigrated by his foes, likened to animals and his foreign features exaggerated (Roderigo calls him “the thick-lips”, for instance), but to his friends and employers he is valiant, noble and brave. He has won not just the heart but the (literally) undying loyalty of Venice’s most treasured, beautiful women. In the first half of the play, he has the gift of a silver tongue, and humility too – he doesn’t comprehend just how charismatic he really is. It is his insecurity, as the perceived outsider amongst the refined, civilised folk of Venice, that makes him insecure and self-conscious. And it is Iago’s incredible ability to discern people’s weaknesses, their flaws – their ‘hamartias’ – that enables him to turn Othello against his wife. Truly it is a remarkable performance that Iago puts on.
My students were preoccupied with two elements of the play, both of which surprised me – it shouldn’t have, but it did, perhaps because this was the first time I’d taught it. The first was Iago’s apparent lack of motive. It’s hard to get across the old “just wait till you’ve experienced more of the world, then you’ll see: there are plenty of Iago’s around” without sounding incredibly patronising. The other is Othello’s trust in Iago. They saw Othello as incredibly naive and gullible, and it was a struggle to help them see just how charismatic Iago was, too, and how clever. Watching the 1995 movie (with Lawrence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh) helped a bit, but considering these plays are meant to be watched rather than read, it’s not that strange that they had trouble visualising and stringing it together. It is a surprisingly complex story told with a deceptive simplicity and a very fast pace – so fast, in fact, that on my first reading it lent an unrealistic ridiculousness to the whole proceedings – a criticism that others have made over the centuries. But in the process of studying the play in order to teach it, the surface reading peeled back and I glimpsed pure genius at work in this play, both in terms of constructing a gripping, intense play and in terms of the wonderful imagery, symbolism and use of language used within it.
Cambridge School Shakespeare edition, edited by Jane Coles (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
The Pelican Shakespeare edition has an absolutely excellent introduction by Russ McDonald that you should definitely read after reading the play; however, my students used the Cambridge School Shakespeare edition
instead, a well-laid-out, accessible edition with the text of the play on one page, and explanations, plot snapshots and dramatic activities on the facing page. It’s an excellent edition for use in the classroom, and there’s plenty of room for making notes (more than a few pages of my copy are covered in notes, while my Penguin remains clean). Having used both editions simultaneously, I can say that if you’re studying a Shakespearian play, you should definitely make use of more than one edition. The editors are different, the ‘translations’ are sometimes different (in fact, I referred to two other editions in compiling definitions for some of Shakespeare’s more archaic language), and the introductions – worth the price of the book – are different. Other theorists and critics worth consulting (alongside Marche, above) include Harold Bloom, AC Bradley, Marilyn French, Thomas Rhymer and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
I enjoyed studying (and teaching) this play more than any other Shakespeare play I’ve studied, which includes the ones I did at university. It’s thought-provoking (and provocative in other ways), clever and mesmerising. Having got so much out of this play, I look forward to delving into his other plays just as deeply – without the additional research, there’s only so far you can go in this day and age (his original audience would have got more out of it on their first viewing, which is ironic considering how little education some of them would have had). It’s just as well that I love learning, and getting stuck into texts – something I’ve missed doing, since my undergrad. Othello has piqued my interest in tackling Shakespeare in ways I hadn’t felt before, and that is a glorious feeling.