After reading Jill Sorenson’s blog about “Dangerous Fantasies”, I checked my Goodreads list to see if I had read Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven. I did not have it listed among the books I have read, so I decided to find a copy and see what Ms. Sorenson saw in this book. About thirty pages in, I realized I had already read it. The pet martin struck my memory chord, but also made me realize why I overlooked reading this book. First published in 1996, it reads more like a 1980s romance to me and I do not believe it has stood the test of time.
Hastings Trent is the only child of the Earl of Oxborough who is dying. Oxborough is a very wealthy holding and Hasting’s father wants to see her safely wed before he dies, especially since a despicable neighbor has his eye on both Hastings and Oxborough. His choice for his son-in-law is Severin of Langthorne who must agree to add the Trent name to his title when he marries. Severin’s estate in France has been ravished and he needs the wealth of Oxborough to save his lands and people. He almost balks at changing his name, but decides to go through with the marriage.
Hastings is impetuous and a bit of a brat. She has been allowed to run wild because she reminded her father too much of her mother whose father beat her to death for infidelity. She doesn’t really want to get married, but hey…it is the Middle Ages and she doesn’t have a choice. Severin seems better than the alternative. With the wicked neighbor trying to steal Hastings for himself, Severin knows he has to consummate the married very quickly. What follows is marital rape using lotion to smooth the way. Hastings is not pleased with her lot. The only thing that allows her to hold out hope that her husband is not a brutal man with no feelings is his love for his pet marten/weasel. Any man with a marten for a pet cannot be all bad…right?
Severin knows that a wife should be submissive, sexually accommodating and obedient. That is all he wants and when he discovers that Hastings is none of the above, he gets angry. Majorie, his one true love, was beautiful and had all of the qualities he desired in a wife. When she married an older baron because Severin was merely a second son, he became disillusioned with women. His journey to the Holy Land made him hard. Hastings’ feelings or comfort matter not to him and their marriage begins on a very rocky foundation.
Hastings finally takes the advice of two of her older female servants and tries to bring some harmony to her new marriage. This advice is to sexually manipulate her husband. It works and Hastings and Severin begin to enjoy the physical aspects of their marriage bed. That is until exquisitely beautiful Majorie returns from Severin’s past. Hastings then becomes a jealous shrew and once again the marriage flounders.
Severin has reason to be the hard man Hastings meets and the medieval setting gives authenticity to the unequal relationship between Severin and his wife. But…even though there is a HEA, it is very hard to forgive marital rape no matter what the setting, and there was too little change in Severin’s character for me to believe in his redemption. When a hero has acted despicably toward the heroine, I need serious groveling and character change to believe he is worthy of the title. That did not happen it this book in my opinion. But oddly enough, I still liked Severin better than I did Hastings. She was very juvenile in her behavior and resorted to physical violence against her husband when angered. The change in her behavior was not motivated by a change in character, but by a means to control and manipulate her husband. Given the time setting of this story, that might have been the only method of some women retaining some control in their lives, but I also never really saw Hastings grow as a character either.
Medieval romances remain among my favorite of the historical romance genre, but in the future when I re-read an older medieval romance, I will probably seek out Madeline Hunter or Elizabeth Hoyt for my fix.