March 1, 2015

A Hellion Schools a Know-It-All: How Bertrice Small Broke the Mold

Mom's favorite Bertrice Small novel. What's yours?
Mom’s favorite Bertrice Small novel. What’s yours?

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.

My copy falls open to the threesome. Click for your own copy.
My copy falls open to the threesome. Click for your own copy.

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?

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  • Post authorKemberlee

    Bertrice was a lovely lady. I remember the day she gently put her foot on my hear and told me her name was BERtrice, not BEAtrice 🙂 I’d already been reading her books from very early on and we’ve ‘met’ on one of the author groups that existed long before Facebook was ever thought of. I think Zuckerberg was still in nappies back then! 😉 Anyway, I really enjoyed the Skye O’Malley books and read them over and over. I know Bertrice had a great influence on the genre, and I’m betting her legend will live on for years to come.

    Reply to Kemberlee
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      She was at the IASPR conference when it was in NYC (this was the same year that RWA Nationals was in NYC, a few years ago). She was at the end of my row during one of the panels, and I had to try hard not to stare at her like a stalker. But in my head, I was like, “OMG! Bertrice Small is five seats away from me!”

      I might have to try Skye O’Malley now. I’m such a hoarder that I don’t really have a Keeper Shelf, I have a failure to move books along after I’m done. But I do pick Hellion up every so often, even now, almost 20 years down the road. It basically falls open to that threesome scene. 🙂

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorLeah St. James

    Loved Bertrice Small but I can’t remember any specific titles! (At one point I was binge-reading them.) This one isn’t ringing a bell though. (I wonder if the library has the eBook version….) Great post, Alexa! Brought back some great memories.

    Reply to Leah St. James
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    OMG — I thought it was Beatrice Potter who died–and THAT’S what everyone was upset about. Oh sh**. Oh man, I feel like such an idiot now. Needless to say, I haven’t read her. Clearly I’ve been missing out. This stuff looks sorta 80’s old skool. When did she publish this stuff?

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Her first novel, The Kadin, came out with Avon in 1978, I think. Hellion came out while I was in law school, in 1996. Lucianna came out in 2013.

      She’s one of the women who built the Old School, but those heroines are pretty fierce. Definitely worth reading!

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorLiz Everly

    I’ve not read anything by her–at least I don’t think so. But I’ll definitely be looking to catch-up!

    Reply to Liz Everly
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Oh, man, you are going to have SO much to choose from! Enjoy!

      Reply to Alexa Day
      • Post authorElizabeth Shore

        For some reason I’m just seeing your post now, Alexa. Forgive me. I had the honor many years ago of being in an anthology with Bertrice called Delighted. It was an enormous honor for me. I wrote a tribute to her last Wednesday. Your post, too, captures the many reasons why she mattered to our industry. Great post.

        Reply to Elizabeth Shore
        • Post authorAlexa Day

          I saw your Wednesday post — I had no idea you were in Delighted! Bertrice was a real driving force for our genre. She turned the erotic romance into the heroine’s adventure, inside the context of the main relationship and outside it, too. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was for me, a child of the 80s, to read a heroine who could rescue the hero, have sex (and enjoy it) with men she wouldn’t marry, and get to that happy ending on her own terms. With all that, I was so willing to identify with that heroine that I could overlook the fact that she didn’t look like me. 😉

          Reply to Alexa Day

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