By Alexa Day
I was a very typical young person — the sort who already knows everything about everything in the most tiresome way imaginable — when my mother really got into reading Bertrice Small. Mom never made any secret of her reading habits. Her interest in the romance genre was open and notorious.
Of course, at the time, that embarrassed me. All those books were the same, I said. Those little blonde girls who didn’t know anything fell instantly in love with the first person who looked at them the right way, and then they got married at the end of the story. Whatever Mom was reading, it was basically the same old story, I said.
Mom is sharper than I am, and she’s very patient. She’d stopped wasting her time on arguments with me over her reading choices. Instead, she sent me a copy of Bertrice Small’s Hellion. It probably arrived in one of my law school care packages. By that time, I’d started reading romances because law school will have a woman desperate to read anything that isn’t about the law. But even as my own romance habit took hold, I was still pretty sure the books were all the same, and I was vocal and obnoxious about it.
Bertrice Small put a stop to that with Hellion.
Isabelle of Langston is no little blonde girl. She’s inherited her father’s land. She’s refused to swear fealty to the new king. She’s not going to marry some stranger at the king’s command.
Isabelle impressed me. It only took her about 20 pages. I forgave her for marrying Hugh because she did that a few pages later, at the beginning of the book. She was full of surprises.
Before the story is over, Isabelle sets off on a mission to rescue her husband. Her master plan exposes her to dark sexual magic, and she has to examine whether she enjoys the things she’ll have to do with one partner to regain her husband. She has to confront her attraction to these new sex acts and to the man who holds her captive. She isn’t mindlessly swept along by these depraved strangers. She isn’t begging or bargaining or pleading. She’s working the situation to achieve her goal. I loved it.
She also has a magically enhanced threesome with her husband and her captor. I loved that, too.
Definitely not the same old story. Multiple partners, strong-willed heroines, deep questions about sexual power and why we desire the things and people we think to be forbidden. I enjoy exploring these themes and characters and situations in my own work, and I absolutely love to read about them.
And I wouldn’t have known any of that without Bertrice Small.
Mom called after I texted her that Bertrice Small had died last week. “I really loved her books,” she said.
“I remember,” I said.
“Do you remember when you used to think all romances were the same?”
Mom has waited a pretty long time to mention this. I don’t want it to sound like she sticks me with this every day, but she was certainly entitled to.
“I was totally wrong about that,” I said.
“That you were,” she said, and then she started telling me about The Love Slave, which she preferred to the O’Malley series.
What was your favorite Bertrice Small book? Did you go for harems or highlanders? Hit me up in the comments.
And follow Lady Smut. Who knows where that will lead?