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Well, That Was Certainly A Book

A review of the worst romance novel of all time. Probably.

Well, That Was Certainly A Book

Ever since November, I have found myself turning to romance novels. All I want is for two absurdly pretty people to fall in love and take the express train to the Bone Zone—and I’m not picky. It doesn’t even have to be in that order.

I’ve read some good ones, some mediocre but enjoyable ones, and then…there was Wild Splendor.

From the cover and publishing date (1993) alone, I knew it was probably going to be a wonderland of problematic representation, but my morbid curiosity (and the zero cost, zero shame factor of Overdrive) got the better of me. Since we at Forever Young Adult don’t believe in suffering alone, grab the adult beverage of your choice and meet back here in 5.

POSSIBLY THE WORST ROMANCE NOVEL OF ALL TIME

BOOK REPORT for Wild Splendor by Cassie Edwards

Cover Story: Coachella, Sponsored By Urban Outfitters
BFF Charm: Hell No
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Me Tarzan, You Jane
Anti-Bonus Factors: Stockholm Syndrome, Mustache Twirling
Relationship Status: A Case For Book Burning

Cover Story: Coachella, Sponsored By Urban Outfitters

Who the hell okayed this more recent cover? I’m trying to imagine the design team’s train of thought:

“I’m going to model this after my jackass nephew’s photos at Coachella with his Sigma Chi brothers! Are war bonnets those long feather hats still on trend? Maybe we should go for subtle and just give him a feather earring.”

“Hey, do you think we should use an actual Native American model for the shoot, or at least a non-white person?”

“Nah.”

“Should we do any sort of research into the Navajo culture and traditional garb?” 

“Jesus, who are you, the PC police? Our model has abs, his nipples will stand at attention, and his long hair will be blowing in the breeze. Ladies love stiff nipples.”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Now, for the girl: I’m thinking 19th century Ke$ha/Blake Lively, and she’s humping the back of his pants in the hip region. It should look like she’s pegging him, but slightly off-target. Oh, and the pants should look like they were a Wal-Mart $7.99 Sad Sack Special, but we’ll dress ‘em up with a concho belt.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

“I think that’s it. I’m going to cut out early for Monday Night Football. Go Redskins!”

The most positive thing I can say about this cover is that it accurately represents the contents.

The Deal:

Leonida is a virgin who can’t drive (to be fair, cars were not yet invented), living in Fort Defiance, Arizona. She’s engaged to a jackass of a general because it would have made her dead father happy, and also because she is stuck in the middle of the desert with a military encampment. She’s the sort of person who would think of herself as “fiery” and “headstrong,” but she is still going to marry General Jackass—that is, until she sees Sage, a Navajo warrior who makes her feel funny things in her swimsuit area. These are the Tingles of True Love.

Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with General Jackass, who is supposed to move the Navajo into a reservation. He sure doesn’t like his 19th century fleshlight having thoughts or feelings of her own, but his superiors might think poorly of him for actually peeing on her. What’s a fellow to do, except personally target the man who exchanged about six words with his woman? Seems reasonable.

Sage, who is in no way an amalgamation of "noble savage" Native American stereotypes, ends up kidnapping all the women of the settlement, as one does. Luckily, because he is hot and Leonida wants to ride the Bony Express, she forgives him and becomes his willing captive.

Unfortunately, the course of True Objectifying Lust ne’er did run smooth.

For some reason, this book is rated 4.34/5 on Goodreads.

BFF Charm: Hell No

Frankly, I'd like to set Leonida on fire within the first few pages. She is the type of featureless character expressly written to make white ladies feel okay about having thoughts and opinions without saying the f-word or even thinking about the p-word (“feminism” and “privilege,” natch). Oh girl, you have something of a conscience when your asshole fiancé blatantly insults an English-speaking Navajo woman right in front of her, as if she weren’t there? AREN’T YOU A HEADSTRONG REBEL!

But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it:

Wanting to find excuses for him because she had promised to marry him, she wanted to blame Harold’s shortcomings on having been an only child. But she knew that was not a valid excuse for his arrogance. She was an only child, and she did not see herself as spoiled. She always looked at everyone as her equal, even the poorest people who begged for food on the street corners of San Francisco, where she had lived with her mother after her father left them. Leonida even went out of her way to help the needy, by handing out food and clothes to them from time to time, as well as sometimes finding them decent housing and paying for it from the allowance both her mother and her father gave her. (page 13, ebook edition)

Translation: Some of my best friends are poor people!

When a fellow captive dies, exhorting Leonida to take care of her son, her first thought is “will this make me less desirable to my objectified Indian prince?” (Spoiler: no problem, Sage is going to raise him as a Navajo, with Leonida!) The second is, “let’s distract the child from the fact that HIS MOTHER JUST DIED…by showing him a horse.” Then she refers to him as “her little brave.” After that, they change his name to “Runner.” This is motherhood (and humanity) at its finest.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Man-As-Stereotype is something that really only works for Chippendales and Magic Mike, and even then, it’s limited to profession, for 3-minute periods of time: sexy firefighter, sexy cop, sexy soldier, sexy cowboy. When Man-As-Stereotype is an ethnicity, particularly a horribly-represented one, that’s not hot. (Sorry, Village People. At least you have the excuse of being a product of the 70s.) Sage has zero personality except “fierce warrior” and “tender but firm lover.”

And, of course, it’s instalove by page 16:

Even after living among so many soliders, Leonida had never become infatuated with any of them. None had touched her heart, nor had they caused any strange sensations within her. Not until now had she known how it felt to be attracted to a man—and this was not a soldier, or an ordinary man.

He was an Indian.

How open-minded of you.

Page 46, after speaking to Sage twice and kissing him once:

Her hair loose and flying in the wind, her silk dress hiked past her knees, Leonida bent low and rode hard out into the open, away from the creek, away from the wondrous, sweet sounds of night, and away from the man that she now knew she loved with all of her heart and soul.

“Why?” she cried to the heavens. “Why did I ever have to meet him? Why did I have to fall in love?” [Emphasis mine.]

ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Yes, of course. Love! Love is what you’re feeling right now.

Never one to let captivity get in the way of a good rumpy-pumpy, Leonida dreams by page 92 that Sage will teach her “ways of loving a man,” and that she’s “eager to bear his children.”

Of course, as a man, he must be randy as hell and unable to control his urges, right? Thankfully, on page 97, “[s]he was surprised when he did not attempt approaching her in any way sexually.”

Don’t get too complacent, though! By page 101, Sage declares that they will bathe together, which will “settle their differences.” This basically means that she gets a glimpse of peen for the first time, and he forcibly undresses her. But hey, it’s okay, because by page 105 we learn that it’s their DESTINY to be man and wife, “their hearts locked into a mutual respect and loving forever.”

Yep, I know I personally feel respected by men forcibly undressing me. But guys, it’s okay: then he saves her from drowning, and we all know the best way to reward men for acting like decent human beings is to offer them our glorious vaginas.

By page 110, they start sheathing the meat dagger.

“Sage, please…” Leonida said with her last trace of reason. “Let’s stop now, or…”

“Or else Sage might take you to paradise and back?” he said huskily.

This line was clearly plagiarized from What Color Is Your Fedora: Classic Pickup Lines For Young Gentlemen

Also super hot: several paragraphs dedicated to finding her hymen and breaking it with his fingers. Titillating!

“I prepared you for lovemaking,” Sage said, leaning his bloody fingers out into the waterfall and washing them. “Now it will be easier for you. You will not have to suffer pain at the moment you should be experiencing rapture.”

A true gentleman, with a thorough knowledge of female anatomy.

To be fair, they do the clunge plunge a LOT in this book—a change of pace from the Regency-era romances I’ve been reading. I’d rate Edwards’ descriptions of pelvic pinochle as “serviceable.” Of course, there are a lot of spontaneous orgasms, including the first time. Whatever, it’s supposed to be an escape, right? Maybe they’d be hotter if ANYTHING ELSE in the book was enjoyable. Anything. Anything at all.

Talky Talk: Me Tarzan, You Jane

Sage, who speaks English well enough to negotiate deals with the American military, refers to himself in the third person.

Page 48:

“Sage has never wanted trouble with the whites,” he said solemnly. “Sage’s heart has been good toward the whites. So has Sage’s people’s heart.”

So, he gets the basics of American English grammar, but refers to himself in the third person. Gotcha.

Then, of course, there’s the dialogue where the Navajo men translate their language TO EACH OTHER.

“What news have you brought me?” Sage asked, forcing his thoughts back to the present. “Is it hogay-gahn, bad?” (pg 66)

I find this ridiculous (absurd).

[On a serious note: I’m not Native American, so I did a fair amount of research to see whether certain things that pinged my radar as “off” really were misrepresentation.  Some were, and some were not. I do think the author did her own research, but between the “noble savage” stereotype and the godawful writing, this does not strike me as a fair representation of Navajo culture. I’m happy to be corrected if you know better.]

Anti-Bonus Factor: Stockholm Syndrome

You know what’s romantic? Being kidnapped, along with a lot of other women and their children, by a man you’ve decided you love, after just two conversations. Don’t worry, though, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation:

“You see, we had met before,” she said, blushing. “We had been attracted to one another before the stagecoach holdup. When we were thrown together as we were traveling toward his stronghold, our true feelings for one another surfaced. We were married shortly after we reached his stronghold.” (page 328)

Oh. Okay.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Mustache Twirling

He pointed at Pure Blossom and frowned. "I imagine that’s all she’s good at. Look at her, all bent up and out of shape and frail as a dove. I imagine she spends her days weaving and dreaming of life could be for her if she weren’t so downright disgusting and pitiful-looking.” (page 14)

Who needs villains with depth when you can just twirl your mustache all day long? Direct me to the nearest train tracks, for this fair damsel needs to be tied!

Relationship Status: A Case For Book Burning

Book, I’m not mad that you’re so bad (and I don’t mean that in a smoldering way). I knew what I was getting into from the cover alone. 1993 was almost 25 years ago (yikes), and the world has come a long way since then.

None of that excuses the fact that you are straight up terrible. Look, I know how hard it is to write a book. I also know this is a romance novel, so love and sex are pretty much the entire point. Yet no amount of locking legs and swapping gravy is going to make the plot or dialogue any better, or the stereotypes disappear just because Sage got his banana peeled and said a few words of "love." Basically, the only uses for this book are for dramatic readings in public places, or bonfire fodder. 

But hey, maybe I'm just afraid. Afraid of this book taking me to paradise and back.

FTC Full Disclosure: I checked out a copy from the library. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one. Wild Splendor is available now.

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.