Beverly Jenkins has been an autobuy for me ever since I was first introduced to her books as a reviewer. Since our prompt this month calls for reading an author with more than 1 book in our TBR, it was an easy call for me. I tend to accumulate books far more rapidly than I read them (I know, I know), so I have 3 or 4 of Jenkins’ on my shelves. I’ve heard great things about her Old West series, so I decided to go with Forbidden, published in 2016 and the first book in the series.
The premise of this story intrigued me right off the bat. Rhine Fontaine grew up enslaved in Georgia until the Civil War set him free. Given that he was conceived as the result of his white father assaulting his black mother, not to mention that he spent his childhood being resented by his father’s wife, his life has contained no small amount of pain. He left his difficult past behind and headed west to build a life for himself.
The main story opens in Nevada. It’s 1870, and Rhine has established himself as a successful saloon owner and investor in Virginia City. Due to his coloring, he has been able to pass as white and this has allowed him to build a secure life for himself more easily than if he had not. Throughout the story, readers will see Rhine’s consciousness of his status and his inner conflict over this issue. On the one hand, Rhine goes out of his way to help black business owners and he welcome people of all races into his saloon. However, he keeps his own past firmly secret and as of the beginning of the book, he seeks to solidify his position in town by courting the daughter of a prominent white family.
Eddy Carmichael’s position differs vastly from that of Rhine. Working as a cook in Denver, she dreams of moving to California and hopefully saving enough money to open a restaurant there. As she plans her journey, we see how growing racism has narrowed her prospects and made it more difficult for her to earn a living in Denver. When she sets out for California, she not only faces the usual dangers of a woman traveling alone, but she is at times spoken to in more racist ways such as being called “girl” or later in Nevada, having white people behave as though she were invisible.
After being robbed and left for dead in the desert, Eddy is rescued by Rhine, who happens by just in time to save her. He helps her find lodging in Virginia City, and a job as cook in her landlady’s boardinghouse. Luckily for Eddy, her landlady Sylvie is not only a good boss, but becomes a good friend who helps her find her footing in the community. Rhine surprises himself by feeling quite taken by Eddy and he shows up in her life on all manner of pretexts.
Given that just about everyone in the story believes Rhine to be white, race is one of the main sources of tension in this romance. While conditions are not as bad as those faced in the South, Eddy still encounters daily reminders that her community is expected to live separately from their white neighbors in many respects. The local schools are integrated, but many other aspects of social life are not and a biracial couple would be all but unthinkable. And for Rhine, disclosing the truth about his background could endanger everything he has worked for. As a prominent citizen in Virginia City, pursuit of a relationship with Eddy could cost him dearly.
As usual, Jenkins does a good job of weaving plenty of history into her story. For that reason, I found Forbidden a fascinating read. However, the historical background also led me to my one major frustration with this book. Toward the end, Jenkins introduces a crazed villain. Given the inherent tension that Rhine’s passing causes in his relationship with Eddy, the villain’s doings just felt tacked on and unnecessary. Instead of devoting time to that subplot, I found myself wishing that Jenkins had explored Rhine and Eddy’s story – and the decisions that ultimately must be made – a bit more deeply. There’s a lot of material and a lot of emotion woven into the decisions that these characters make about race and I would have liked to understand them a little better. The story that readers get is good, but I have to admit I wanted more.
Recent Comments …
That’s a good idea, just one book by author. The one most voted. I like it.
My heart bleeds when I have to choose only five. Am I sure these are my five favourites…? IDK. I’ll…
Lucy Parker is a genius. I am the pickiest of bastards and she has 6 of the 7 books of…
I’m so glad to see Lucy Parker on your list! I love the humor in her London Celebrity Series.
Which is your favourite movie version of Persuasion?
Ravished with the highest example of one of my two favourite scenes in romance, impassioned defence of the other.