Conquer the Night by Shannon Drake
(Zebra, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76639-2
**
Did you think that no one wrote those books anymore where the hero rapes the virginal heroine out of some misguided sense of revenge and in practically no time they’re succumbing to overwhelming mutual attraction? And if someone did write it, publishers knew better than to put it in print? Did you believe that authors and editors listened when readers insisted that rape is not romantic and that we wanted heroes who treated heroines with respect? Well, we need to repeat that loud and clear because the hero-as-rapist is back. When I read that the hero intends the heroine’s fate “to be used, abused, and perhaps left to the buzzards,” I thought “he’s just trying to scare her ... he’s not really going to do it.” I was wrong, and, yes, he does.

Oh, the author tries to habilitate the hero by having him engage in a lengthy discussion with another conquering warrior about the need for freedom and national autonomy where you can almost hear Mel Gibson in blue war-paint doing the voice-over. “We fight for Scotland, and not for a king, and we fight because we have no choice.” (He’s also a man way ahead of his time, wearing tartan centuries before they were developed.) Perhaps you’ll find him a more sympathetic hero than I. Not quite one-fifth of the way through the book, I already wanted to kick the hero out of a tower window.

The book is set in the late thirteenth century, the historical period of Braveheart, when Scotland’s king has died without a male heir, Edward of England is trying to subjugate Scotland (it’s not necessary to refer to him as Edward I as the book does), and the commoner William Wallace is commanding the resistance against the English invaders. Sir Arryn Graham leads an attack against Seacairn Castle south of the English/Scottish border. His pregnant wife had been violated and killed by the forces of Lord Kinsey Darrow, and Arryn is seeking revenge.

Lady Kyra has been left with a handful of defenders; Darrow, her betrothed, left with the majority of the troops. Seacairn Castle quickly falls, and Arryn seeks out the lady of the castle. He is confronted with a surprise attack in the castle chapel, and an even greater surprise awaits him when he ably defends himself because the skillful attacker is not male but in fact the Lady Kyra herself.

Arryn intends to exact his revenge by raping Darrow’s betrothed just as his own wife had been violated. Kyra had prayed to be delivered from marriage to the cruel Darrow but capture by the vengeful Arryn isn’t what she’d hoped for. Kyra tries to escape only to be recaptured, and in hopes of convincing Arryn she’s beneath his notice, informs him that she has had many lovers. Nothing deters him, however, and he learns she lied about not being a virgin when he forces himself on her. Once is not enough. Within moments his lust is aroused and he beds her again, but this time Kyra feels “something.”

I found the rape scene objectionable in every way -- including the fragmented writing style. Here’s an excerpt from their second go-round:

Oh, God, his eyes the way he looked at her ... she seemed flushed, trembling, shaking, on fire, denying, and yet...

There was something about him, this, the intimacy....

He caught her to him, lifted her.

Fight!

She didn’t.

His eyes kept burning into hers.

He laid her upon the bed. He came over her. Some kind of a terrible groan seemed to rake through the length of him.

And still, his eyes pinned hers....

He was within her; she closed her eyes, moistened her lips....

She didn’t feel the pain, just something strange, burning, building.

She should have been twisting, turning....

She couldn’t have stopped him.

She hadn’t tried.

But she wasn’t in any pain! Indeed, there was that something.

It sure isn’t my kind of something.

There is frequent use of this fragmented writing style (particularly when Kyra is thinking which doesn’t say much for her mental processes), which quickly becomes annoying. Characters spend an excessive amount of time hashing over the political situation as though they were panelists on a medieval “Scottish Week in Review” interrupting the pacing of a story that’s already overlong. And the supposedly lovely, accomplished, capable heroine is a few cards short of a deck. Darrow may not be a romantic heroine’s dream match, but he’s left her untouched when he has legal, royally bestowed rights to her person and property. Kyra, however, despises Darrow and spends a lot of time ogling the hunky rapist Arryn’s physique. If he’s heroic, give me the villain.

There may be some of Ms. Drake’s fans who will want to read Conquer the Night, but readers who share my displeasure at the return of the hero/rapist will want to think twice.

--Lesley Dunlap


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