The Innocent
by Bertrice Small, historical (1999)
Fawcett, $12.95, ISBN 0-449-00180-6

Call me paranoid, but I have this feeling that the title of this book, The Innocent, must be an inside joke between the author and Fawcett. At least I hope it is, for the irony of the title with the story within the pages is really spectacular. The last thing you can find in this story is innocence.

Someone wrote to me, saying that, well, to be professional, I ought to bring out the best points about a book, even when everything else is pretty down the drain. I'd be accommodating to those from that school of thought.

People, I love the cover! It's beautiful. I also love the title and the irony of it all. THE END.

I'd go on, but be warned that there will be nothing "good" hereonwards.

First off, plot synopsis. Eleanore de Monfort, or "Elf" as she prefers to be called, is called from her convent to her brother's bedside and realizes that she has inherited everything! Lucky girl. Isleen, her sister-in-law, is not happy, naturally. She hatches a plot to have Eleanore kidnapped and raped (Isleen, of course, will bake popcorns and watch), but too bad, Isleen and her lover botch things up.

Elf is commanded by King Stephen to marry Ranulf de Glandeville, the king's faithful knight, and even though Elf wants to be a nun, they get married anyway. Ranulf teaches Elf the glory of the Glory-O's and they all live happily ever after.

That is, after Isleen and her other lover botch up many, many more stupid plans to have Elf kidnapped and raped (really, people, go rent a video!). After Ranulf goes on a mission and leaves Elf to fend for herself. After lots of skanky boinking (I've lost count of how many men Isleen slept with) involving blunt and elongated household items and many positions I wouldn't advise anyone to follow (except the yoga practitioners, maybe, and even then I'd advise them to get their lover's permission before bringing in the whole party to bed like Isleen did).

Usually, I'd say if a woman likes it rough and painful like Isleen, here, more power to her for her ability to celebrate her sexuality. If she likes getting tied up, blindfolded, or indulging in rape scenarios, and gets off on these, good for her. But the book ridicules Isleen, making a mockery of her sexuality and carnal perferences. That I find distasteful. The message here seems to be that women that enjoy sex in various forms are inherently Jezebels and Delilahs. A woman can't be pure and holy and enjoy sex unless she is "awakened" to it by her man. This I find really offensive. You'd think Women's Lib have reduced all these Good Woman/Evil Woman polarization by now.

And Elf and Ranulf, bland bland bland, get it on like Energizer Bunnies on pheromones. The creepy thing is, Elf's fourteen. I have no taste for pedophilia (I'm not that open-minded, sorry, and I wouldn't hesitate to report pedophiles to the cops, no matter how much the former squeal that they are misunderstood), so you can say my reaction to Ranulf's tutoring of Elfie to Love and Joys of Boinking make me want to take a shower. Not a cold shower, but a long, cleansing one.

Hence, I'm not sure, in the end, what TI is all about. Erotica glorifies carnality, TI makes it clear that only evil, skanky women enjoy sex in anything but white bread variety. Erotica rewards the sexually adventurous characters, but TI punishes and humiliates them. And when the romance is outright pedophilic in nature... sorry, but I'm really biased here, but I'd give this book a toss in the UBS bag and rate it a 01.

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