Winds of the Storm
I am so glad I read this book. I had never read any of Beverly Jenkins’ novels before and didn’t know what to expect, but I came away from this story very impressed. Jenkins does a wonderful job of balancing passion, emotion, an exciting story, and a masterful command of history, and, while this did not quite reach DIK level for me, it came very close. If you’re looking for strong characters and a unique story, definitely check this one out.
Zahra Lafayette worked as a spy during the Civil War, returning after the war to the swamps of South Carolina where she becomes a laundress. She has no plans to spy again until Harriet Tubman comes to her with a mission she can’t refuse. Zahra is to relocate to New Orleans where she will set up shop as an upper-class madam, using her girls to gather information on white supremacist groups bent on stripping recently freed black people of their newfound rights.
Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Zahra meets Archer Le Veq, a man she rescued during the War. Though Zahra is hidden in her disguise as the masked madam of a high-end brothel, she feels the same attraction to Archer that she felt years ago and Archer also feels drawn to the mysterious woman in the mask whom he knows only as Domino. Archer is an upper class businessman and Zahra is not only not of his class, but he believes her to be a madam. Even though Zahra should be socially beyond the pale, Archer cannot help trying to learn more of this mysterious lady’s secrets.
Some may think that a romance set among black people during Reconstruction would have to be grim and unromantic indeed. Not so. Zahra and Archer have seen some hurtful things happen in the world and they go through hardships, but they are more than mere victims. Archer has made a very successful life for himself in New Orleans and, while Zahra comes from a less privileged background, she is certainly no doormat. Both of them are very strong, admirable people and their romance is passionate indeed. At times, things got a touch clumsy, but the story was enjoyable on the whole.
Jenkins does something differently than many historical romance authors, and I really appreciated it. While her characters very obviously love each other, they don’t spend every second of every day together. I have gotten so tired of books where some contrivance forces the hero and heroine to live under the same roof and to be in each other’s face every single moment of the week or so it takes them to fall in love. Zahra and Archer certainly spend time together, but the reader also gets to see each of them going about their daily lives and actually being able to have rather interesting lives of their own. This made Jenkins’ characters seem richer and more vivid, and it really adds a lot to the story.
Is this book perfect? No – it definitely has its weak spots. There are a few minor bumps in the road, such as touches of clumsy dialogue and a whorehouse that was perhaps a little too cheery. Still, the strength of the characters and their story and the author’s careful integration of historical detail into her story made this a delightful read. I enjoyed the story and I also learned a lot from having read it. That definitely sets this book above most I’ve read in recent memory.