Before I begin the recap, a couple of notes. I asked my mother if this level of blatant sexual violence was common for romance novels written in the ’70s and she said it was not, but that other women she knew found it very romantic. Obviously, some people still enjoy the book.
I know I enjoyed it, reading it thirteen or so years after it had been published. I’m still trying to figure out why that was, so I’ll come back to this later.
One defense that has come up for what Tristan does is “that’s just how things were back then”, meaning that rape was acceptable in the seventeenth century and so we should give the book a pass for that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me. There are two reasons:
- Rape wasn’t okay, not even then. Read this awesome story about a Byzantine woman killing a Norseman who tried to rape her. All of his buddies rallied around her, gave her the possessions of her attacker in compensation, and then threw his body out into the wilderness to rot without a proper burial. Rape is bad. Even Vikings knew that. Yes, it was probably more common, but it wasn’t okay.
- Lindsey was born in the twentieth century and chose to write a story with a rapist as the hero after clearly demonstrating an understanding in the narrative that rape is wrong. She also chose to have her heroine be nineteen, when most readers at the time erroneously thought noblewomen were married off at an extremely young age. Just as she chose to make Bettina be an adult, she could have also chosen to not write about a rapist as a romantic hero. Making the hero a rapist was an active, creative choice. Johanna Lindsey has gone on to write far better books than this, thankfully, but this book by itself isn’t absolved by her being so very good later on.
But maybe things will get better, somehow. Maybe Tristan redeems himself, somehow. Let’s continue reading and find out.
In the last chapter, Bettina was raped by Tristan, who suffered premature ejaculation.
Chapter seven begins with Tristan talking about his as-yet-unexplained quest for vengeance and laughing about how awesome raping chicks is with his first mate Jules.
“No. I would consider keeping the wench for myself, but she might distract me, and I cannot rest until I find Bastida and put an end to his miserable life!” Tristan replied heatedly.
“I know what eats at you, Tristan, but let’s not think of it now. There is time and enough to find Bastida.”
“You’re right, old friend. There are much more pleasant things to think of now.”
Jules grinned mischievously. “I thought you liked your women willing.”
Did you think I was joking or exaggerating? No. They’re literally cracking up over how hilarious rape is. While this is going on, Tristan notices Madeleine going into his cabin and realizes that Bettina will now know that he was lying about having prisoners. Jules wants to know why Tristan would have lied and…
“Why did you tell the girl we had prisoners when we have never taken any before? Why didn’t you just threaten the servant’s life? That would surely have done the trick.”
“I did not want the girl to think me monstrous enough to kill old women,” Tristan answered irritably.
You didn’t want her to think you’re so monstrous as to kill an old woman. Instead, you told her you’d let other people torture and kill prisoners and then you raped her. Because you want her to think well of you, I guess? I can’t hope to wrap my mind around Tristan’s thought process here. It’s simultaneously terrifying and jaw-droppingly stupid.
In another display of idiocy, after this Tristan goes into his cabin alone with her. She’s standing there with her hands hidden in the folds of her skirts, almost certainly hiding a weapon. He turns his back on her immediately, giving her an opening to attack. She attempts to stab him with the dagger she found. Because he left a woman he’d just raped alone with weapons. Because he’s that amazingly dumb.
He stared at her in disbelief as he twisted her wrist until she dropped the weapon. Tristan hadn’t believed she would actually try to kill him. Threaten him, or fend him off, yes. But to raise the blade and try to spill his blood, no.
Mother of God! Did she have no care for her own life? Did she think that she could kill him and that his crew would do nothing about it? Perhaps she didn’t care what happened to her. If that was so, this woman was more dangerous than he thought. If she could put her hatred for him above her own life, then—but wasn’t that the way he felt about Bastida? He would have to take precautions with this little flaxen-haired beauty.
Really, dude? You didn’t think the woman you just kidnapped and raped would want to kill you? And, yes, it’s not a plan on her part that’ll lead to a happy ending, but since Tristan’s already proven himself a liar, she doesn’t have any reason to believe she and Madeleine are really going to be delivered safely anywhere. I’m firmly Team Bettina on this one. Stab him.
She tells him she wants him dead by her own hand, for lying to her and raping her and all that romantic stuff. Tristan laughs, because this book wants to break my soul. He asks what difference it would have made if he hadn’t lied to her and she points out that she could have fought, sparing herself the indignity of having to submit to her attacker. He’s unimpressed.
“Yes, of that I am sure. So where is the harm? I saved you from hurt, for who knows what I might have done in the heat of passion to still your struggling. I have never been faced with the situation before, so I can’t say for sure, but I might have beaten you or—killed you,” he added, just to test her reaction.
“But you would not have been unharmed yourself, monsieur,” she spat at him.
“Really, Bettina?” He laughed deeply now. Never having been faced with a woman’s anger, he began to find it amusing. “How would you have done that, when you can’t even escape my grip now?”
Bettina stomps on his foot and frees herself from him. Her options are limited, since they’re on a ship, so for the moment she puts the long table in his cabin between the two of them to buy herself more time. She wants to kill Tristan or at least disable him, then see if she can get a weapon to force the crew to take her and Madeleine to shore. It’s not the smartest plan, but again: she’s been kidnapped by pirates, has been threatened and raped and told she’ll be raped again, has been lied to, and has zero reason to believe she’s getting out of this alive. Anything she does at this point is a desperate bid for survival and she’s doing a hell of a lot better than most real people could manage under these circumstances.
Because Tristan is awful, he threatens her yet again:
“You little she-devil!” he growled. “I will do more than come near you, vixen. I will take you again—now! And this time you can fight all you want, but don’t be surprised if I give you the same.”
So now he’s telling her he’s going to rape her again, with physical violence this time instead of just threats. Bettina’s response is to throw things at him until she cracks him upside the head and he collapses like the sack of shit he is.
She flees, but is caught by the crew before she can get any farther with her plan. They look in his cabin and see him knocked unconscious and, being as woefully stupid as their captain, assume he’s dead. Jules says he’s going to kill her and makes sure to throw in some misogyny while he’s at it:
“I want you to know, bitch, that you have killed the only man I could call my friend. And for this you will die the worst of deaths, by my hands and mine alone!” He shoved her forward, and Bettina fell into the arms of two crewmen. “Tie her to the mainmast and stand by with water. This bitch will feel the full weight of the cat—until she is dead!” Jules stormed. His dark-brown eyes showed no mercy.
The chapter ends with her tied up, her dress torn to expose her back, awaiting the lash.
I’ll be back with chapter eight tomorrow. Will Tristan wake up from his head injury with a better personality? I hope so!