Back to Old School, Dueling Review, Rant, Recommended Read

Back to Old School: Hottie McScottie Week

The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux (1980)

Heat Factor: It slipped in. Consent optional. Do you need consent if you’re married?

Character Chemistry: He is large, grumpy and swarthy, and she is fair, smol and pure. How can they not fall in love?

Plot: One damn thing after the next, caused by miscommunication and stupidity.

Overall: They’re mad at each other, but they don’t know why they’re mad at each other, and they won’t stop doing dumb things to each other.


versus


The Bride by Julie Garwood (1989)

Heat Factor: It’s the sexiest one we’ve read so far in the Old School read-a-thon

Character Chemistry: It’s The Taming of the Shrew, but who’s taming who?

Plot: Jamie’s like, “You told me to handle it! So I handled it.”

Overall: This book is absolutely delightful.


Content Note: These books contain rape, ablism, and racism and we discuss this content in our review. Also, sorry, Ranulf of The Black Lyon is not actually a Hottie McScottie, but he’s got highlander energy.


What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting The Black Lyon?

Holly: So. Here’s what you need to know. There is no plot. Just a bunch of shit happens. Some of which makes sense, and some of which makes no sense and then is never spoken of again. 

Ingrid: It’s hard to argue with that eloquent logic. And also I happen to agree with it. If you don’t like absolutely ridiculous characters who go out of their way to do things that are annoying and inexplicable, then this probably isn’t going to be the book for you. 

Erin: This book stroked my id in a way that The Flame and the Flower did not because it was so full-blown bodice ripper. “We’re absolutely gonna make assumptions and not communicate with each other and live in this toxic world of no communication and fall in love anyway and be ridiculous.”

Ingrid: “THEY MADE ME CHOP WOOD!”

Erin: *laughs*


What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting The Bride?

Holly: It’s delightful. This is a book that hinges on communication (and lack thereof). But somehow not in a frustrating way—in a hilarious way. It has all of the hallmarks of a bodice ripper but it’s fun rather than serious.

Ingrid: I read that the author was warned against making a funny book because her publisher thought it wouldn’t sell, but she couldn’t help herself and wrote it anyway, and it became a bestseller. My take is that this book takes all the components of bodice rippers that might be less fun to read and makes them hilarious. This book is thoroughly enjoyable. 

Erin: It’s important to note that this book was published in 1989 and so while it’s absolutely true that it’s just a fun read, and that’s probably why it’s still delighting new readers, it still has that bodice ripper content full of toxic masculinity. And there are other things we can’t refuse to acknowledge, such as the villain being mentally ill.


Let’s talk about the influence of The Flame and the Flower and other bodice rippers on these books.

Erin: So, I saw a lot of influence in terms of who’s in charge in the relationship, rape culture / toxic masculinity, and even the way they communicated (did not communicate) with each other in The Black Lyon.

Ingrid: They went out of their way to not communicate with each other. Let’s just say it.

Erin: Then we have The Bride nine years later, which is starting to play with some of these ideas. 

The interesting thing about these books is both of them start with the marriage, so there’s not the problem of sex outside of marriage. But in The Black Lyon, Ranulf’s attitude at their wedding made their first sexual encounters rapey and toxic for their relationship, and while I would not say a full-on consent discussion occured in The Bride, the situation was more playful and positive because Alec cared about making it that way. The Bride was trending more in the direction we see in more recent old school romance where you have the clueless virgin who needs to be taught how to have pleasure, rather than The Flame and the Flower (and The Black Lyon) where the characters have unpleasant sex because you can’t have good sex without being in love with your spouse. 

Ingrid: I would also like to point out that in The Flame and the Flower and The Black Lyon, the heroine’s big change is her acceptance of her powerlessness. In both of them she’s choosing to accept being subservient. She’s choosing to accept her role. In The Bride, part of the reason it felt better to a more modern audience is that it goes both ways. She accepts that she’s different, but in the end all the clans and her husband show that they accept who she is and how she’s part of the community. It’s a pretty big difference. 

Holly: Right, so if you think about the scene in The Black Lyon where Lyonene is like, “So husband, what if you didn’t sleep with other women?” and he’s like, “Oh…I never considered that…”

Erin: MIND BLOWN!!!

Holly: And compare that with discussions that Jaime has with Alec where she’s like, “This is a thing that husbands do” and he’s like “GRUMBLE GRUMBLE” but then he just does it. He grumbles and puts on a show about it but in the end, he does everything she asks him. And then everyone’s like, “Oh, he’s going to be so angry!” and she’s like, “Oh no, it’ll be fine. He promised he wouldn’t get angry with me.”

My bigger point is that the differences in the way those conversations played out really highlights the shift in which the character arcs of these naive, virginal heroines are being written. The level of control they have in their relationships is shifting.

Ingrid: If you look at what all of these characters are bringing into the relationship, the men are quite similar because they’re wealthy, powerful lords who are used to getting their own way. 

But the women are different because it’s made very clear in The Black Lyon, Lyonene is special to Ranulf (and others take note of her for the same reason) because of the way that she makes him feel, and that’s it. It’s not like she’s remarkable for any other reason; she’s just very pretty, and she makes him feel good. In The Bride, Garwood goes out of her way to make sure from the jump that the reader knows Jamie is a badass on her own terms. She can shoot, she can ride, she runs the household…

Holly: She’s super competent except she gets lost all the time.

Ingrid: It’s cute because that flaw makes her endearing. But otherwise she runs the show. Even in the nine years between these books, there was a big readership shift (this book was a smash hit bestseller) where we expect more from our heroines and we want the men to like it.

Holly: But at the same time, we are not really expecting more from the heroes.


About that toxic masculinity… 

Holly: So about that toxic masculinity!!

Erin: It was so striking. What really got me in The Black Lyon in particular is that it’s coming from all sides. When Lyonene takes on the six-year-old page, Brent, she’s already started teaching him how to behave as a man in an Earl’s household, and it’s already full of toxic masculinity. Like: you’re a strong man, and I’m a weak woman, and it’s your job to protect me and my job to see to your comfort.

It was less striking in The Bride because we don’t get the same input from all sides, but Alec’s attitude towards women in general and taming his wife in particular, it’s all rooted in toxic masculinity.

Holly: It’s funny in The Bride because of the way it’s written. You’ll have a sentence where he’s like, “She’ll learn, and I’ll tame her, and this will happen.” And then the next thing is the opposite happens. So Alec himself has toxic masculinity and has these traits and is He-Man, but the text is poking fun at that. He might think that he has to bury his emotions and dominate his wife, but that’s not what Garwood is doing. Alec has these moments where he’ll do something kind or emotionally open, and then he’s like, “OH MAN! My wife’s influence! I can’t do that anymore!” But then he continues to do it anyway. For example: 

He nodded, then waited for her next remark. God only knew what was going on inside her mind now. Odd, but he found himself eager to hear what she was thinking. Another affliction, he told himself. He’d have to work on that flaw as well.

(Of course he never stops being eager to hear what she’s thinking.) 

Ingrid: I agree that the toxic masculinity was more overt in The Black Lyon and more subtle in The Bride

It was a sign of how things had progressed in just nine years. I would be interested in seeing some sales statistics on this, but from what I’ve seen The Bride was a smash hit and probably inspired a lot of romantic comedies since. 

Holly: The Bride to me read very similarly to Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Philips. When we read it together, we were like, “This is a Highlander romance with football players!” But it was a Julie Garwood Highlander romance, not a Jude Deveraux Highlander romance.

Ingrid: One comparison between the two books is the difference in way the children characters are used. Both books include a child who is there to nurture mothering instincts in the heroine. In The Black Lyon, the child is used to get Lyonene on board with the bigger picture. Like the scene where they’re talking around the fact of the camp followers that Lyonene is not supposed to know about.

In contrast, the little girl in The Bride is used to soften Alec. Jamie goes in there the way she normally does, grabs the little girl, and brings the child home—and then expects Alec to hold and nurture the child (and he does). I’m not going to say that that situation doesn’t have its own toxic masculinity going on, it certainly does, but it was an interesting comparison point.

Erin: The heroines are the representation of pure, maternal womanhood. Loving spouse. Center of the household. There’s definitely a certain type of woman who qualifies as a romance novel heroine thus far in our old school romance novel journey.


What about other female characters? Specifically, let’s talk about evil other women.

Ingrid: This really did bother me. I understand that in the grand scheme of things, we’re talking about archetypes. For eons, villainy and what we now know as mental illness were really tightly connected. In The Bride, I was like “Oh, don’t let the bad guy be one of the sisters.” And I knew it was gonna be and I knew there was gonna be mental illness. And what made her go crazy was being denied the love of the man she wanted. I get it— at the time of publication, I understand why that would be the choice. In The Black Lyon the two women involved in Lyonene’s kidnapping were both super skinny and ugly, and super lusty and loose. Number 1, some people are just skinny. Whatever. Number 2, Lyonene’s eventual captor (lusty and loose) was already married. She did her time, and she’s free to go after whoever she wants. We’re gonna judge her? Come on. The men discussing her were so rude about how weak her knights and guards were because she didn’t have a man to train them. She can’t outsource that?

When you read so many contemporary authors who are creating multi-layered, dynamic, juicy characters with complex motivations and desires, these kinds of oversimplified, archetypal characters are…boring. I like reading evil other women who are not sex starved, or skanky, or mentally ill, or don’t have the right bodies. I like when evil women are evil for the same complicated reasons men are.

Holly: It was really striking that all three of the books that we’ve read so far have an evil other woman character. Furthermore, in all three books, the hero is either blind to the evil other woman’s faults, or pretends to be blind to her faults when talking to his wife.

In The Black Lyon, Lyonene tells Ranulf that she doesn’t like Amicia, and Ranulf waves away her fears and tells her to be nice to their guest. Lyonene thinks that her husband didn’t listen to her, but Ranulf’s inner dialogue makes it clear that he knows Amicia is bad news—he just never communicates that to his wife.

In The Bride, the fact that the villain was a woman was presented as a surprise plot twist—but it’s not actually because she’s just an evil other woman. 

I did think it was interesting the way the two heroines approached the other women. Lyonene saw Amicia as a threat and responded with dislike, whereas Jamie saw Annie and Edith causing trouble for her, but saw them as potential future allies who she hadn’t figured out yet.

Erin: I don’t have much to add except it’s definitely a trend at this point. And although I agree with your note about The Bride, Holly, it’s still woman v. woman. As Ingrid was kind of intimating earlier, it’s not spelled out why—other than because of men—it’s another woman here. There’s no narrative of what other struggles this villain faces. Why can’t the villain be a man, or overcoming other obstacles, or a woman overcoming a smarmy man…

Holly: Well, in The Flame and the Flower and in The Black Lyon, the super villain is a MAN behind it. He’s the one with the motivation to make the evil stuff happen. The woman is more of a tool in his revenge. The conflict between the two women is drawn out, but we only know about the motivations for the male villain.

Erin: Because women are ditzes.


What even was the third act of The Black Lyon?

Erin: WTF even was that? Lyonene and Amicia are sworn enemies, and then all of a sudden they’re on the boat and riding on their horses and are suddenly allies.

Ingrid: It’s not because they’re women. It’s because douchebag wants to rape Lyonene and Amicia wants to sex the douchebag and he declines. Amicia is just changing with the wind, always trying to screw Lyonene over and then she’s like, “Oh, you don’t want to have sex with me??? You’re going DOWN.”

Erin: It didn’t even make sense from a characterization standpoint. Even if that were true, why would Lyonene suddenly decide to trust a woman that she’s hated since she saw her and who she thinks is stealing her husband and pregnant with her husband’s baby, AND who has contributed to her abduction? But, okay, we’re cool now. 

Holly: So I think trust is a strong word…I think what’s really going on is that Lyonene recognizes that she’s in a bad situation and through her eavesdropping knows that Amicia and douchebag are maybe not on the same page. She is taking advantage of any small bit of allyship she can get. She knows if things go south between her and Amicia, her protection is over.

Erin: Except—they’re, like, sharing little secret smiles.

Ingrid: They smile at each other once. All the other times it’s eye contact where they’re like “She knows I know but we’re not going to say anything.”  

What I thought was going to make Erin go smoke-out-of-her-nose rage breath was when Lyonene was like, “You’re not trustworthy, I don’t like you, oh wait, you think I should leave tonight, immediately, without telling anyone and most especially not my husband? OK, let’s do it!”

Erin: YES! THAT WAS INFURIATING AND MADE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE!

Ingrid: I feel validated now. No more logic for you Lyonene!

Erin: She’s a stupid, clod-headed woman who’s extra emotional because she’s pregnant and jealous.

Holly: I agree that the third act was infuriating, but also the first act was infuriating, as was the middle act where she pretended to be a camp follower. And then there’s the part at court which we don’t need to talk about because it was boring. And there were a lot of secondary characters introduced who might have their own books? Like, I’d read about beautiful Berengaria who marries the troll man because she fell in love with him when she was three and he stormed her castle. Because that makes sense. 

But let’s talk about the camp follower section, where Lyonene decides to pretend to be a serf and follow her husband’s camp when he goes off to do a military campaign. I get the logic of “I’m going to follow my husband and find out what’s wrong, and also I’m jealous of him potentially sleeping with other women, and I want to fix my marriage.” But the whole thing where she’s learning to bellydance? And how she dances for him but refuses to sleep with him because he’d be sleeping with someone else? But then she takes an arrow for him so now he trusts her?? Like, A) what is this racist nonsense? And B) WHAT IS THE PLOT CONFLICT IN THIS BOOK?? Is the plot conflict is that you don’t trust your wife because you have baggage but you don’t listen to her when she tries to tell you what’s going on? But then they solve that? I don’t even know where I’m going with this. Act 2 made me more angry that Act 3 because at that point I was like, I don’t even give a shit about this anymore.

Erin: I was on board for Act 1 and Act 2. A lot of it was just like, “WHAT is this?” But it made sense in the context of “bodice ripper, off the rails, it strokes my id.” But the third act just jumps the shark. It didn’t even make any sense. 

Ingrid: I’ll be honest with you, I had this moment of scorn in the third act because she’s sitting in her prison missing him and then he comes back and she’s so happy. Of course you’re happy because you’re daydreaming about a person who isn’t actually your spouse. Lyonene…do you not recall that you have had like, one happy month with this guy?Their marriage has been a struggle from day one, so clearly they are missing the idea of their spouse and not their actual spouse. 

Erin: Well that’s an interesting thing in our analysis. In The Flame and the Flower and The Black Lyon, which are older books, the plot is sprawling and not very well structured. But in The Bride, we’re getting a clear and relatively tight story arc.

Holly: The Bride has a setup for a stupid third act kidnapping, but it doesn’t do that because that’s not what the plot arc calls for. What the plot arc calls for is a show of Jamie being accepted by her community, not that her He-Man needs to realize he loves her and needs to rescue her. Because they already know that. It’s the bigger context, not their intimate relationship.


The hero’s darkness

Erin: Isn’t it totally bizarre (I mean it’s not really in the context of our white socialization) that this white man in England is referred to as “dark skinned” and “black” when he’s like MAYBE a little swarthy and has just…dark hair. Like, when people keep being described as dark in these books (Brandon was also, in The Flame and the Flower) it’s as if they were people with actually dark brown skin. Which they are not. 

Holly: It’s especially striking in The Black Lyon. We have to mention that he’s covered with black hair everywhere.

Erin: Including on his hands!

Holly: I love it. We’re stepping up from the gorgeous mat of chest hair to the gorgeous mat of EVERYWHERE HAIR. But he has a lot of baggage because his first wife was like, “I would never want to be with you and no woman ever would because you’re so dark.” So his elite guard is only guys with dark hair. He lets this thing he has about his looks control a lot of his life. British guys with pale skin and lots of dark body hair is not that unusual, but the way it reads makes it seem like he’s a shocking outlier. 

Ingrid: The part where his hands are covered in dark hair, that’s the part where I was like, “Oh, he’s not dark-swarthy, he’s, like, covered with hair.”

Erin: It’s like this picture!

The other thing to note here is that all of Ranulf’s baggage, and all of the comments on his appearance, are centered on his darkness being ugly. And Lyonene is the only person who sees beauty in him which on the one hand is great but on the other hand, this whole darkness is ugliness thing is centered in racist ideas. 

Holly: It reminded me of Dain in Lord of Scoundrels, who is convinced he’s ugly because he’s dark (as is everyone else). But LOS is from 1995, so this isn’t an idea that goes away. The idea that the dark hero is unattractive to other people continues to persist.


Sex and consent

Holly: We talked about the first sex scene already…Is there anything we want to dig into? What do you think we’ll continue to see in sex scenes going forward?

Erin: We’ll leave the full on rape behind but continue in dub-con territory as we continue to read newer old school romances is what I’m expecting.


Historical accuracy

Erin: Holly! They called the banns in The Black Lyon!

Holly: They did?

Erin: Yeah! That’s why he had to leave her and they got all loopy about each other.

Holly: Just so we have context, The Bride takes place in 1102, and The Black Lyon takes place in the 1270 to 1280 range. What I thought was interesting was the different levels of historical accuracy that the authors were interested in maintaining. Because I thought it was striking. 

For example Deveraux was very specific about the clothes the characters were wearing and makes it clear that the clothes they’re wearing are different from what the reader is wearing.

Erin: The buttons! Lyonene’s mom meets Ranulf and is like, “Tell me about these buttons things!” and the Ranulf explains about button holes, etc. But then in the next scene that Lyonene is getting dressed, she’s wearing a dress with functional buttons. 

Holly: Britannica says that button holes were, in fact, invented in the 13th century, but non-utilitarian buttons existed before then. By the 14th century buttons were common as both ornaments and fastenings. So Lyonene’s mom asking about buttons seems about right.

Erin: Deveraux’s adding it in there to reveal setting, but even so, there is a continuity disconnect in the first chapters about the buttons.

Holly: Anyway, the interesting thing is not so much the continuity issues but how authors are using these historical facts—or not—strategically—to show us things about setting and character. Since you brought up Lyonene’s wedding dress, let’s talk about Jamie’s wedding dress. When Alec and Jamie are about to get married, Alec says, “Go put on your wedding dress. I like white.” And then Jamie puts on a black dress, which conveys mourning to the modern reader. But the whole white for wedding / black for mourning didn’t really widely take hold until the Victorian era, so that symbolism wouldn’t have been important to people in the 12th century.

The clothes are important in what they symbolize to the characters, like the whole fight about whether Jamie is wearing a dress or wearing a plaid. They don’t give us information about the historical setting, they give us information about the character. In contrast, in The Black Lyon there’s lots of information about her tunic and her over-tunic and how it’s belted and where it’s okay to rip it because it was sewn on anyway…It’s about the historical setting, not the meaning of the clothing.

Erin: For me, history wise—because I’m not the clothing reader, that’s apparently Holly’s job—I found it interesting that in The Black Lyon, Ranulf is an Earl, Lyonene’s father is a Baron, and they’re treating it like there’s a significant difference in rank and that Lyonene’s father would not be a member of court. I’m not a medievalist, HOWEVER.

Holly: Famous last words.

Erin: So, at this time in history for both of these books Earl was the highest rank. The aristocracy as we currently understand it did not exist. Earldoms came over from Scandinavian conquerors because jarls were Scandinavian leaders. And when William the Conqueror arrived, that’s when Barons were introduced, along with the foundation of feudal society in England for many years. So, yes, Earls technically outrank Barons, but the idea that marriages between the only two groups of feudal overlords in England would be a misalliance seemed bizarre to me. And in The Black Lyon it was very much an issue. 

{We think it needs to be said that Ingrid was staring into space and nearly drooling at this point.}

Ingrid: Guys. How do you discuss a romance novel and make everyone fall asleep? Very interesting, Erin. I feel so informed. Good stuff, don’t stop now. More facts, please.

Holly: But what Erin said, I did hear something…there’s that scene in The Bride where Jamie puts up the tapestry of William the Conqueror and was like, “HE BROUGHT FEUDALISM TO US, HOORAY!” I thought that was a joke, but apparently it’s…not? Who knew?

And we don’t need to write this down, but I did have an extensive conversation with my husband about military history and when longbows were introduced and whether it would make sense for Ranulf to have a longbow. We concluded that they were really used 150 years later. But as far as I know, historians don’t know where they came from, so maybe they came from Ranulf.

Ingrid: I was like, this question will be so quick and easy…EIGHT YEARS LATER. Oh, wait. Let me verify that time frame from a historical perspective.


Would you recommend The Black Lyon to contemporary readers?

Erin: No, it’s completely ridiculous. It stroked my id a little bit, but then the third act happened and I was like, “I want off this ride.”

Ingrid: I struggle to put everything from this book into one book recall. It was too bananas to put into one book memory. I don’t remember it but I just read it.

Holly: No. The plot is just really badly constructed. The Flame and the Flower is also badly constructed, but it’s also kind of thrilling. “What’s going on with their relationship?!” But when I read this one, my reaction was more like, “COME ON!” So I thought it was not only badly constructed but also boring. 


Would you recommend The Bride to contemporary readers?

Erin: Yes. The Bride is amazing and delightful. As long as you’re not fully committed to everyone in your romance novel behaving properly, and you’re willing to ride with some problematic elements that we seem to have aged out of. 

Ingrid: There are certainly people that would be annoyed by some of the more backwards shenanigans. But if you can suspend that then this is a really funny book and I did enjoy reading it a lot. 

Holly: So, I snort-laughed aloud at least once and I teared up at the end, which tells me that this book still has the emotional chops to entertain.


Buy The Black Lyon: Amazon | Bookshop

Buy The Bride: Amazon | Bookshop

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