Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016), narrated by Kim Staunton
Salt to the Sea.
On an episode of the DBSA podcast the host interviewed author Beverly Jenkins who writes romances with African-American characters. She writes in a variety of sub-genres, including her very popular contemporary inspirational series, but it is the historical novels that really interests me. In her newest book, Forbidden, a mixed race man who passes for white falls for a young black woman and has to make some very difficult choices. The post-Civil War setting intrigued me because of the implications for the black characters, plus most of the romances I've read so far were about white people.
Eddy Carmichael (which is pronounced Edie, not Eddie, as it appears) longs to leave Denver and go to California to start her own restaurant, but when she finally tries to go she is foiled at every turn until being left in the desert to die. Along comes Rhine Fontaine, who brings her home to Virginia City, Nevada to recover. She does so quickly, and soon has a job cooking at the boarding house where is to live until she is ready to move on to California. The locals are drawn in not only by her excellent cooking, but by her beauty, none more than Rhine himself. Wealthy owner of the local saloon - the only one that doesn't discriminate based on race - nobody but his business partner knows that he was born a slave. But if he is to pursue Eddy, the truth will have to come out.
Rhine is involved with the local Republican party, which at the time was the party that supported non-whites. One of the interesting bits in this story was that it took place as that was changing. The party was fracturing, the town was considering segregating its schools, and even whites who claimed not to be racist wouldn't patronize Rhine's saloon because of all the "colored" folks who went there. Although Rhine did what he could to help out black-owned businesses in town, he felt conflicted about passing as white.
There is so much interesting stuff going on in this book and I haven't even gotten to the romance part yet. Race wasn't the only barrier to these two getting together, because Rhine was engaged to a stuck-up, entitled, racist young woman named Natalie Greer. It was a marriage of convenience, based on some business and political interests and Rhine's relationship with her father. It was obvious from the start of the book that she and Rhine would not be together but, boy, she caused some trouble. The romance between Eddy and Rhine was both sweet and steamy, but I was never really as into it as I was into the other parts of the story. I liked them both and wanted them to be together, but for me the other parts of the story were just as important, if not more so.
The narrator, Kim Staunton, did a good job and I found her voice warm and pleasant, though I thought she sounded a bit matronly for a story about young people and their sexytimes. (Oh, and Eddy was super naive about sex, which is maybe appropriate for this time period? But probably not for someone whose sister is a prostitute.)
Probably the most interesting part of the interview with Beverly Jenkins that I mentioned early on, was when she told a story about a young author trying to sell her book, and an editor said something like "Well, we already have Beverly Jenkins," as though it is not possible to have more than one black author at any given publishing house. This must be incredibly frustrating when you're trying to get published, and also ridiculous. The attitude seems to assume that most readers are white, and that white people only want to read about white characters. I'm about as white as they come but I certainly liked reading this book and would be happy to read more by Beverly Jenkins in the future. If you like historical romances set in the American West, be sure to check this one out.
Have you read anything by Beverly Jenkins? What others books of hers would you recommend?