The Chick: Lady Serena Riverton. Recently widowed from a monster of a husband, when her greedy, feckless brothers decide to marry her off to another abusive lecher, her only option is to flee.
The Rub: Her only assets are her looks and "bed-work" skills, so when a gentleman rescues her from a storm, she tries to use both in order to secure him as a protector - with disastrous results.
Dream Casting: Christina Hendricks.
The Dude: Francis, Lord Middlethorpe. A man who is preparing to offer for another woman, he is not pleased to be roped into the trickery and games of an altogether too-attractive woman who is clearly Lying About Everything.
The Rub: However, he is an honourable man, and decides to take care of her - but the girl has more issues than Reader's Digest.
Dream Casting: James McAvoy.
Serena: My husband's dead! I'm free!
Creepy Brothers: ....Free to a good home, our slutty sister, in return for payment of our gambling debts? Who's ready to bid? Going once, going twice...
Francis: What's a disturbingly attractive woman like you doing travelling alone? I immediately don't trust you.
Serena: "If you wish, you may mount me." **actual quotation from the book**
Francis: Um, NO.
Serena: *while Francis is asleep* Your mouth says no but your penis says YAY!
Serena: No need to get snippy, I'm barren.
Three months later
Serena: *pregnant* Whoops. Guess I'm not.
Francis and Serena: *married*
Serena: Woe is me, I'm broken and unwanted and he only married me because I raped him.
Francis: Woe is me, I love her but she's so delicate and fragile I don't want to break her with my lustful manhood!
Francis's Mum's Secret Boyfriend: Hey! Someone order a Big Misunderstanding?
Francis: SERENA, YOU TART!
Serena: FRANCIS, YOU VIOLENT FIEND!
Francis: I STILL HAVE YOUR HUSBAND'S PORNOGRAPHIC JEWELLERY.
Serena: I STILL HAVE YOUR VIRGINITY.
Serena: Getting angry makes me horny. Let's kiss and make up.
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Virgin Hero
1 "Well Trained" Widow
1 Sexy, Supportive DudeGroup of Sexy Supportive Dudes
1 Not-Entirely-Consensual Deflowering Scene
1 Nasty Racehorse
1 Bad Ass Spinster Aunt
1 Set of Pornographic Jewellery
1 Unwanted Pregnancy
2 Evil Pervy Brothers
1 Evil Pervy Husband (Deceased)
1 Surprise! MILF
The Word: I loves me some virgin heroes. They're just so... rare, and oftentimes there's usually an interesting story behind their celibacy (since apparently guys need a Special Reason not to stick their dick in something, but I digress). Plus, they're almost always Betas. So when I heard a bit about the plot of Forbidden, I decided to find myself a copy - even though my first Beverley read (the so-so Hazard, starring Francis' abandoned TSTL fiancee Anne Peckworth), hadn't impressed.
And also, as per usual in Virgin Hero romances, the heroine is anything but. At fifteen years of age, Serena was married off to a degenerate, abusive lecher who spent the years of her marriage "training" her in the art of "bed-work" to maintain his flagging sex drive, please his kinks, serve tea at his orgies, that sort of thing (to be fair, given the descriptions of what he did, it might have made for quite a pleasant erotic romance had their relationship been consensual).
However, now His Kinkiness has kicked it, and Serena is back with her creepy, spendthrift brothers who are all too willing to hand her off to the next perv with a purse in order to clear their own gambling debts. Serena would rather die than be married again so she flees into the night with barely the clothes on her back and nary a thought in her head (a popular Beverley Heroine Move, it seems to me).
Fortunately, she is rescued from death from exposure by a passing gentleman, Francis, who's been sent on a wild goose chase by his flighty mother who doesn't want him to discover that she's been exploring her inner Cougar with a younger math tutor. Thinking he's on the trail of someone who's been blackmailing his mother, he's not too pleased when a storm and a mysterious woman who is clearly of ill-repute force them to take a detour and spend the night in a farmer's cottage.
By this point, Serena is desperate to get herself as far away from her brothers as possible, so she tries (very clumsily) to seduce Francis and gain him as a protector. Although Francis assures her he'll drive her to the nearest town, he refuses her advances. But life has given Serena little reason to trust men, so she waits until Francis is asleep and takes, uh, matters into her own hands until a half-asleep Francis takes things to their natural conclusion.
So, several things happen from then on - first off, Francis is appalled to discover that he lost his virginity a) without his consent and b) without being awake enough to properly enjoy it. Secondly, now his Honourable Man Instincts are all riled up, double standards or no, and he feels obligated to help Serena by finding her a place with his Bad Ass Spinster Aunt. Francis' plans are further entangled when, three months later, Serena discovers she's pregnant.
And so the Unwanted Lovemaking leads to an Unwanted Marriage. And Serena's Creepy Brothers are still very much in evidence. And the girl Francis was going to marry is Not Very Happy (her Manly Brothers even less so). And despite her (deserved) guilt, Serena can't help but feel Unwanted as well, and her deep-seated sexual issues thanks to her late husband's abuse throw up even more barriers between her and the inexperienced but still willing Francis.
And, I may have forgotten to mention this, but Forbidden is apparently part of a DudeGroup series (more info on such series in the first paragraph of this review), the Rogues, so there are a bunch of Dudes and DudeWives (and even a former DudeMistress) thrown into the mix as well - although, to Beverley's credit, they are not as much of an obstruction or annoyance as former Dudes tend to be.
Character-wise, I enjoyed Francis (when Jo Beverley signed this novel at RWA 2011, she wrote, "In praise of gentle men!"), mainly because - yes, he's just a Nice Dude who gets Crapped On for much of the book. He's a regular, somewhat boring Dude at the beginning of the novel, who's remained a virgin because he's too picky to bed experienced whores and too nice to bed virgins. And, through no real fault of his own, his life is completely thrown upside down, and as he struggles to overcome the troubles he's been unwillingly dragged into, his true character (that of a Super Nice Dude) becomes more apparent.
I was a little less sympathetic towards Serena - it's hard not to feel bad for Francis as various people give him shit for "taking advantage" of Serena. We know why she did it, and her motivations are all there, but she's still a very shaky, scared, limp female character who spends most of the book feeling Super Guilty and Mopey. Again, she's a victim of abuse and it's all understandable, but these sorts of heroines have never been my cup of tea. While she belatedly comes into her own in a surprisingly funny and hot way at the very end, I kind of wish she'd found her spine earlier than the final chapters.
That being said, the main problems I had with this novel are the same problems I had with Hazard - uneven, slow pacing and lots of Inner Whining. Once Francis and Serena are hitched, the novel's pace takes a nose dive and becomes rather episodic, as linear obstacles pop up one by one to be quickly dispatched like wooden ducks in a carnival shooting game. Francis and The Gambling Horserace. Francis and the Pornographic Jewel Collection. Francis vs. The Brothers of His Jilted Fiancee. Francis vs. Serena's Brothers, etc. etc. And all of these episodes are glued together with moping from both Francis and Serena on how Life Isn't Fair. While it's understandable to a certain extent (and would be unrealistic if it wasn't present at all), it seems like there's just a bit too much of it here.
When all is said and done, however, I enjoyed the novel. Francis is a sweet character and his romantic scenes with Serena are lovely. The Dudes and their Wives don't make too much of a fuss. The pacing, while slow, isn't as slow as Hazard and there is enough angst and drama to explain most of the moping. While not a favourite, and not enough to truly convert me into a Beverley fan, it's nonetheless a solid romance with good characters.