Forbidden is the first book I’ve read by Beverly Jenkins. I’m always interested in a good Western romance, and since I knew Ms. Jenkins has received good reviews before, I snapped this one up when I saw it was available. Based on this book, I expect I’ll be returning to read more of Ms. Jenkins’ backlist.
Rhine Fontaine, the son of a plantation owner and the enslaved descendant of an African queen, has been passing as white ever since he moved to Virginia City, Nevada. He’s still a strong advocate for African-Americans — his saloon caters almost exclusively to them and he uses his position on the town council to push forward civil rights bills. Rhine simply decided that he could make more progress in life if he was seen as white. He’s now engaged to Natalie Greer, and generally has his life exactly in order.
Then Eddy Carmichael lands on his doorstep. Well, to be more accurate, he carries her right to it after finding her passed out in the desert. Eddy was heading to California in search of a new life, following her dream of running a restaurant, when she was abruptly deserted by her traveling companions. Rhine takes her in and nurses her back to health, falling head over heels for her in the process.
This mess of emotion brings quite a few problems along with it. The fact that Rhine is already engaged is problem enough, but then there’s also the fact that Rhine appears white, while Eddy is clearly African-American. Virginia City society would be scandalized by the match, and telling the truth about his heritage isn’t something Rhine can do on a whim. Although it doesn’t take him too long to see how ill-suited he and his fiancée are, it takes Rhine a lot longer to decide to embrace his heritage and stop passing for white.
One of the best things about this book is Eddy, who is exactly the sort of plucky, determined heroine I always admire. When she sets her sights on something — like running her own restaurant — she commits to it fully and refuses to give up. Yet she’salso extremely practical. Although she obviously cares about Rhine from the start, she refuses to keep mooning over a man she knows she can’t have. Eddy hasn’t had the easiest life, but she approaches every situation with good humor. This makes her easy to love.
I didn’t connect quite as well with Rhine, although I still liked him. He seems like a passionate, caring man, but nothing about him really stood out to me enough to make him one of my favorite heroes. I understand, though, that Rhine is actually a secondary character in some of Ms. Jenkins’ books from a few years ago. I suspect that this is part of why I didn’t connect with him—I haven’t been privy to Rhine’s history the way other readers have.
Overall, I really enjoyed Forbidden. The life of an African-American woman out west on her own in 1870 makes for a very different setting than many of the other Westerns I’ve read. I relished this look at black culture that was developing at the time, and I really loved spending time with Eddy in particular. It’s entirely likely that, should I see something else by Beverly Jenkins headed my way, I will pick it up and dive in.