The Surrender of a Lady
I initially picked up Surrender of a Lady because it was one of those books I wanted to like. It’s set in the Ottoman Empire and the heroine is a harem girl. The author explores some unusual themes and gives readers a picture of a very exotic time and place. However, the romance at the center of the book felt rather underdeveloped and this kept me from truly enjoying it as much as I had hoped I would.
The hero and heroine of this novel do not meet right away, but that is an aspect of the book that truly does work. Instead, we get to know the heroine a bit and, given her unusual backstory, understanding how she came to be who she is during the main action of the book is important. As the story begins, Elena Ravenscliffe’s husband has gambled her into slavery in Constantinople. After a harrowing time in the slave market, Elena is sold to Amir’s harem. Amir runs a pleasure garden where he auctions the favors of his various harem girls.
The harem is a world far from what Elena has come to expect in life as an English lady, but she still receives far better treatment there than she would otherwise. Watching Elena learn the ways of the harem and come to accept what she will be doing is difficult at times, but I also appreciated how the author did not judge her characters. Elena, who takes the name of Jinan in the harem, is no degraded or pathetic heroine. She and the other women in the harem have strength and character, and the author shows both good and bad aspects of their world. This might or might not be your kind of book, but I appreciated how the author did not flinch from showing some of the realities of life for women in Elena’s circumstances. As a general rule, courtesans, prostitutes, and harem girls did not get whisked away by their first customer to live happily ever after, and this book shows that.
After being in the harem for five years, Elena’s world turns upside down after Griffin, Marquess of Rothburn, bids successfully for three months with her. Before marrying the feckless man who lost her at cards, Elena had been courted by Griffin back in England. Griffin had intended to marry Elena, but a convoluted series of events separated them and he is now shocked to see her in the harem and determined to have her. After he bids on her, Griffin embarks upon a passionate affair with Elena and falls in love with her.
The resulting conflict could have been quite poignant. After all, Elena belongs to Amir and she cannot simply fall in love with a patron and expect to have a relationship with him. In addition, Elena’s loyalties are torn. She has friends within the harem and, in her view of the world, Amir has treated her well, so she does not see Griffin as a great rescuer. After all she has lived, she wouldn’t fit neatly back into English society at any rate. All of this could have been meat for a great love story.
Unfortunately, none of this gets explored with sufficient depth. We get many sex scenes between Elena and Griffin and, while some of them have emotional power to them, others simply do not advance the story. The two also do not spend enough time together talking or otherwise interacting so that the reader can really believe in their deep emotional attachment. The lust is certainly believable, but the deep, everlasting love that will supposedly allow these two to surmount the obstacles facing them just didn’t seem apparent to me as I read.
While Surrender of a Lady did not deliver the best of love stories, it does tell an interesting tale. This novel brings a faraway time and place to life and the worldbuilding was definitely strong enough to earn a qualified recommendation from me. With some polish and a little more emotion added to her love stories, this author could really go great places.