We therefore decided to analyse one of the novels mentioned by Bindel, Louise Allen’s Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, and because we were joined by many other bloggers, this was an Internet Event of Stupendous Proportions.
Appropriately for the time of year and the historical setting of the novel, these posts, Janus-like, look back to a debate from last year, and look forward to a new era of romance scholarship which is based on detailed analysis of the primary texts in question. Allen’s novel also looks both back and forwards. The first chapter begins on the 24th of August 410 AD, the date of the fall of Rome, it looks both back to the Roman past and forwards into a Visigothic future.
Here are the posts from those of us at Teach Me Tonight. They're not reviews, so they do include plentiful spoilers.
- Laura Vivanco, with a focus on myths.
- Sarah S. G. Frantz, with a focus on Allen's construction of masculinity.
- Rev Melinda's a frequent visitor to Teach Me Tonight, and on her blog she's analysed Allen's "exploration of what it means to be a family."
- Eric Selinger, with a focus on Allen's revision of "bodice-ripper" conventions
- CataRomance's Julie Bonello states that "Louise Allen’s historical romances are in a class of their own. Meticulously researched, wonderfully evocative and absolutely mesmerizing, her novels are a surefire guarantee of excellence [...]. Romantic, enthralling and atmospheric, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is a powerful love story featuring two vividly drawn characters you will find absolutely impossible to resist." Star Rating: 4.5
- Romantic Times's Kathe Robin gives the following summary: "Accurate political details, a noble savage hero, a heroine who comes to appreciate another culture and a jealous woman who schemes to win the hero's love all harken back to the classic '80s Indian romances. Allen proves that timeless themes always entertain." RT Rating: 3 stars
- Mrs Giggles gives the following summary: "This perplexing politically-correct, sanitized, and rather bloodless story makes being a captive slave of a Visigoth barbarian come off like a walk in the park. File this one under It does not compute." Her review specifies that she finds the book unbelievable mainly because of issues of historical inaccuracy: "While this book is pretty readable, I find that there is too little in this story that feels remotely real for the setting and storyline." She gives it a rating of 65/100.
- Terri Pray writes that "Ms. Allen has written a delicious novel that I found hard to put down. Wulfric is strong, compelling, honorable, and sensual. He makes some hard choices that put others first ahead of his own desires in life and love, and by doing so he won my heart in a way that few romantic heroes have done before."
- Alicia Thomas at The Good, the Bad, the Unread gives the novel a B: "Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is fiction but the presentation of the principal parties involved (under light, quick inspection) rings true. So, with historical accuracy out of the way, what about the characters? Wulfric is a great hero. He’s exactly what you’d want a hero to be. He’s a little too perfect but it’s ok. Julia has a lot to learn and she changes and grows through the book. [...] a few things niggled at me. Over all, though, this book is a great read for any historical buff."
- Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books "finished the book deflated and disappointed that a premise that could have yielded so much was flat, predictable, and ultimately a big yawn." SB Sarah touches on something TMT Sarah felt was the most unusual aspect of the book: "Beyond the cultural differences, which are easily mended with the Superglue of effortless assimilation and blithe acceptance, there is no villain, no issue to be overcome except that of choice and geography." Trashy Books Grade: D
- Jayne and Jane at Dear Author give their opinions. For Jayne "There are parts I like which then got balanced with things that seemed to be taken straight from Romance Central and that I’d read 100 times before. The whole ends up being a C+". Jane managed to find "one positive thing I can say about this book [...] I didn’t find it to be advancing the agenda of the male patriarchy and the suppression of females." Other than that, Jane thought that "There was no serious introspection at the differences between Roman and Visigoth cultures. Instead, the cultural conflict comes down to Goth=Good and Romans=Rotten." She gave it a C- .
- Candy at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gives the novel a D and says that "Wulfric is a politically correct hero, and hot damn, does that ever make him tiresome. [...] he’s not a human so much as he is a Ken Doll, except instead of plastic, he’s molded from untempered wish fulfillment". Laura finds this highly diverting, since she'd been comparing Wulfric to Aeneas. Admittedly "The extent to which the Aeneid promotes or subverts the political program of Augustus is debated," but if you read it as "a national epic, a glorification and exaltation of Rome and its people", then Virgil really couldn't have got any more "politically correct" than that, and Aeneas has been described as being "handsome and strong, pious and brave, serious and wise, indeed just a bit too perfect in some people's eyes" (Janson 53).
- Meriam at Rape and Adverbs thinks that "Allen has taken a situation ripe with conflict and then effectively removed the heart of the conflict. [...] some of my favourite romances deal with this imbalance beautifully - To Have and to Hold, My Reckless Heart, Voices of the Night, The Smoke Thief. These stories work so well because the imbalance is compellingly portrayed, before it is negotiated and then redressed to achieve a satisfying HEA (to put it very simply). Having failed to present a compelling power imbalance with suitably high stakes (incredible as it seems, in a master/ slave dynamic) the romance fails to take off in VS,BK. I was left thinking that the only other master/slave romance I have read - Johanna Lindsey’s Hearts Aflame, complete with spanking, chains and a giant Viking heroine - worked better as a romance." She gives Allen's novel a C+
- Shannon C at Flight into Fantasy is of the opinion that "The characters are standard romance novel fare. Julia is a feisty, well-bred woman with a touch of the Mary Sue [...] Wulfric is equally derivitive. He’s a leader of men who is nonetheless kind to children, women and puppies, and he has the world’s most intelligent wolf as a companion and pet. [...] But the real disappointment for me was the setting. I really wanted to learn more about Rome and the Visigoths, and I felt that this rather colorful time period was rather underutilized. It’s obvious that Ms. Allen did some research, and while I didn’t really want pages and pages of it crammed down my throat, I’d have liked a bit more." She gives the novel a C+
- Hotflashes51 does "the Bindel thing. I blogged about the book without buying it." Her comments, which have something of an "a plague on both your houses" feel ("Of this debacle the only one that holds my sympathy and admiration is Louise Allen. She has behaved elegantly. Very professionally. She is a writer, so she wrote a book to entertain the masses. She didn’t write it to change the world or perpetuate any kind of myth or behavior. Nor did she write it to be meticulously analyzed by all a thunder"), can be found at her blog, Hot Flashes Cranky Life.
- A haiku, by Charlene Teglia.
The illustration is of Janus, "the Roman god of gates and doors (ianua), beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions" and this month takes its name from him. I've borrowed the picture from the University of Memphis's Cognitive Computing Research Group.