Saturday, February 18, 2017

Forbidden - Beverly Jenkins (Old West #1)

Forbidden (Old West, #1)In the Unapologetic Romance Readers' group, we're doing a reading challenge where one of the categories is "An African American romance."  And since February is Black History Month, we decided that it would be a great time to tackle the category as a group!  One member put forth Temptation as the nomination for the category, and it was pretty unanimously agreed upon, and so on we went.

In the years after the Civil War, former slave Rhine moves west to Virginia City, Nevada, where he starts up a new life passing for white.  Meanwhile, Eddy Carmichael dreams of leaving Denver, Colorado for California, where she wants to set up her own restaurant.  Unfortunately, Eddy's plans fall apart when she's robbed and left for dead in the desert in the midst of her journey.  Rhine finds her and rescues her, taking her back to Virginia City and helping get her healthy again.  After a few days, Eddy is transplanted to a boarding house owned by Sylvia Stewart, another woman of color, where she signs on as a cook to rebuild the money she needs to go to California and start her restaurant.  But there lingers an attraction between Rhine and Eddy, one that's problematic for two reasons.  One, Rhine is passing for white, while Eddy is very obviously a woman of color, and while some people in Virginia City are accepting, others remain entrenched in the racism of the antebellum era.  And two, Rhine is already engaged.  To a white woman.  Whoops.

There are a few strengths to this book.  The time, place, and premise are all strong--the tug of attraction across (presumed) racial lines, Rhine's desire to both be with Eddy and help "his" people in ways he couldn't if he wasn't passing as white, and the setting of the antebellum period in the West, rather than in the South (where even this premise probably would have resulted in someone being killed) all lend this a great degree of depth.  The side characters are also well-done, with all of them having backgrounds and places in the story that serve as more than just window dressings for the main characters to flit between.

The book's great weakness, though, is the writing.  It is very "tell" and hardly any "show," and consequently I didn't find it engaging at all.  I understand that Jenkins is trying to convey an immense amount of information about time, place, and background, but the result is that it doesn't come across as an immersive experience.  The writing was just too jerky to keep me fully engaged in the story and what was happening between the characters.  The other, great elements of the book were enough to persuade me to keep reading and finish the book, but the overall flow just wasn't there.  There was inconsistency on some details, too--for example, Eddy's last name appears to change from Carmichael to Cunningham and back again.  It's not enough to turn me off Jenkins entirely--I have another of her books, Through the Storm, that I was supposed to read in 2016 but never got around to--but I wasn't terribly impressed with this as a first offering in the writing department, especially not for a book that was named the American Library Association's Romance of the Year.

3 stars out of 5.

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