Sweet Release
by Pamela Clare, historical (2003)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5169-9

There is a dated, old school feel to Pamela Clare's debut novel Sweet Release. It takes place considerably in a 18th century Virginia plantation, the hero is appropriately macho and prone to jumping to judgments (we call that "masterful" in romance novel speak), the heroine is appropriately besieged up to her armpits with Daddy problems, money problems, lecher problems, and of course, she also finds time to practice her Equality and Fraternity thing on ex-slaves (they are so grateful, they still act like slaves for her because she freed them) and nicely pops out a baby, her legs spread wide so that I get to read every gory detail. I haven't read a book where the woman's "ultimate victory" is experiencing the agonies of labor just to gift the hero a son to sate his relentless patriarchy in a book since, oh, 1994. Which is around the time the author is working on her book, judging from the foreword.

Our hero is Englishman Cole Braden (not his real name) who, through some convoluted backstory best left unexplained, ends up a convict sold to Virginian Southern belle Cassie Blackwell. Not that she's a slave mistress, oh no. She freed the slaves she could, and those she can't, she treats them very nicely. They just wait on her hands and feet and tell Mistuh Braden what a wonderful missus Cassie is. Not that Cole listens - one look at the whip marks on a slave and he assumes that Cassie does the whipping. Of course, thanks to Enlightened Free-Not-Quite-But-What-The-Heck-We-Are-Grateful slaves who tell him all about Slavery Is Bad 101, he soon learns that slavery is, uh, bad. Meanwhile, the "courtship" is our heroine or her loved ones getting into all sorts of troubles (there are enough bratty brothers, sick fathers, beloved horses, and evil perverts around Virginia to pad things up) and love is because the hero is always around to save the day. Love is having a man around the house to pop out baby boys for.

Non-stop actions peppered with the heroine's protestations of virtue and selflessness pepper this story like some bygone nostalgia epic. Think of those Shirlee Busbee Western novels - Sweet Release could have fitted back there, its only concession to contemporary norms is its absence of gratuitous "forced seduction" scenes.

Which is not to say that this book is bad. The author knows how to move her story along in an enjoyable if rather campy way. When there's trouble, trouble is everywhere. Once they have sex, they can't stop having it. And the whole external plot-driven fun doesn't seem to stop even when the heroine is screaming as she pops out her baby boy for her husband at the epilogue. Personally, I would prefer a little more time and space spent on character development and a little less of a romantic courtship overly dependent on the hero making things okay for the heroine, but then again, I did mention that this book feels dated. It probably is dated. But it's fun. So what the heck, this book is probably alright after all.

Rating: 77

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