Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins (2019)

Women Who Dare, Book #1

Heat Factor: warm to moderately steamy

Character Chemistry: sudden but believable

Plot: worked, but there was a lot going on

Overall: This would be a good holiday read except that it’s also heavy because it’s set during Reconstruction

There’s a lot going on in this book. Valinda and Drake meet while Valinda is being assaulted in the woods and Drake and his sister-in-law come to her rescue. Valinda is having a Very Bad Day. She’s been having trouble getting paid, her school has been spoliated, her precious readers have been burned, she’s been assaulted by the men responsible for the spoliation, her nice landlady has died, and her rude and racist landlady has evicted her. To add insult to injury, she can’t get into the safe haven of the convent that’s been providing her teaching work, and she’s from New York, so it’s not like she has local family to turn to.

Naturally, Drake’s family are A++ humans, more than happy to take in an unknown waif, and Drake himself has decided he’s going to stake a claim. If he didn’t do it, one of his brothers totally would, because even after the terrible day and with a bruised face and no money, Valinda is obviously a cut above. There’s an unfortunate issue of Valinda being engaged, but we’ll manage that. After all, Drake is a hot, wealthy, playful bear of a man. Pretty much irresistible. So Valinda moves into Drake’s mother’s house and proceeds to become a part of the family. Because why wouldn’t you adopt a homeless woman you don’t know at all and proceed to spend a ton of time and money on her?

In terms of suspension of disbelief, this book asks the reader to accept that Valinda and Drake are pretty much perfect human beings. As I consider this, one might not believe they’re perfect human beings, so I’ll amend: this book asks the reader to pretty much accept that Valinda and Drake are perfect human beings provided that you believe in equality among people and justice when the justice system fails. This is where the “a lot” comes into play. What exactly are the problems that Drake and Valinda need to overcome to be together?

  • Is the conflict going to be because Valinda’s engaged but she and Drake are MFEO?
  • Is the conflict going to be because Valinda will move away?
  • Is the conflict going to be because Drake loves Valinda but she doesn’t believe in love?
  • Is the conflict going to be because Drake is going to be somehow harmed by white supremacists?
  • Is the conflict going to be because Valinda’s father is going to force her to marry someone else?

There are points when all of these questions crop up and they are each addressed with very little drama (which is slightly odd, considering the stakes of some of them). Indeed, this might be more a story of Reconstruction New Orleans and less a story of people overcoming obstacles on the path to love and happily ever after.

This story being set during Reconstruction was rough. Most my association with romance set during a period of significant turmoil is linked to Culloden (because British history is my jam), and from this period authors are able to pull a reasonably believable HEA. But if you know the history you just know the ugly future, and it’s so difficult to buy in. Jenkins seems to be of the same opinion, because there are numerous instances in which a scene fraught with racial tensions is presented and then concluded with a “when will this end?” And we know that we’re not even in the Jim Crow era, and it’s going to get extraordinarily worse before it gets better. More to the point, we know that it hasn’t ended, even in the present day.

The history of Reconstruction and systemic racism is a story that needs to be told, and Jenkins presents this story in an engaging and easy-to-ingest way. Maybe too easy? I think not. At the end of the day, here we have a nice love story with lovable characters and a sweet HEA, and if that’s the way people feel comfortable consuming the history, it’s not a bad thing.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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