Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58124-4
Historical Romance, 2003
Katherine O’Neal isn’t a prolific writer, but her books are interesting in that she sets her stories in rarely-used settings and locales and her characters are often those you rarely encounter in today’s romance novels. With Silent Surrender, a sequel to her debut novel The Last Highwayman, she has come to a full circle in her career.
By the way, if you’re a fan of The Last Highwayman and you cherish the memories of that book, you ought to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that the hero and heroine of that book will be executed before this story takes place, being betrayed and having to die an ocean away from their daughter Liana Wycliffe. Liana was tossed into homes that see her turning into an almost inhuman creature, until she escaped and finally found herself an actress on stage at the dawn of the Age of Moving Pictures in the early 20th century. When the story begins, she has a passionate affair with a mysterious stranger named “Ace”, who then abandons her, because she makes love to him too well and hence is a slut and is no longer worthy of his affection. Four years later, they meet again. “Ace” is actually Spencer Sloane, a filmmaker who wants Liana to star in his new movie.
The movie, if you must know, is about this sexy but wholesome – of course – Tahitian nubile babe who gets raped by an Evil Christian Missionary, but she will rally the country with Pure Wholesome Unfettered Carnal Goodness until the war breaks out, she gets killed by this mad Missionary, and dies a martyr to her passions. It sounds just like the kind of story that a psycho with severe Madonna/whore issues like Ace will come up with, doesn’t it? Alas, Liana, now a actress more known for being difficult than talented, must work on this movie. Since he needs her more that she needs him, she decides to play hardball with him. Then the sordid story of her parents erupt, thanks to this supposed actress’s inability to lie to the press, and next thing I know, these two and the crew are filming a runaway movie at Tahiti. By “runaway”, I mean that Ace is making the movie starring Liana against studio objections.
I like the backdrop set against the rise of Hollywood, but alas, the author soon drags me away from Cecil B DeMille and Gloria Swanson to Tahiti and silly sex, silly because by this point, the sociopathic Ace has miraculously turned into Mr Alpha Sensitive as if one can just sweep away his ridiculous misogyny and ask readers to forget about it. It’s hard to forget that the hero, in another book, will easily fit the profile of a serial killer. Any man who hates a woman for being too good in the sack (hence “slutty”) doesn’t just have issues, he has at least ten subscriptions of them.
The brief lull of sex – mostly well-written (and rough too, yummy) but sometimes a little too purple – is pleasant, but then author introduces some suspense elements that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story. Liana turns into some intrepid Diana Do-Right and the whole suspense thing verges on exploding into outright melodrama. Readers familiar with this author’s work will have come to expect her melodramatic sweeping external plots, but in this case, the author should have concentrated on fleshing out her characters first before making heroes out of them. Ace is still a question mark – I still believe he is a serial killer waiting to break loose – while Liana turns into a superheroine. The characters have gone from cardboard to billboard without attaining anything more than one-dimensionality along the way.
In a way, Silent Surrender still showcases the author’s finer points: strong heroines, alpha heroes, both with lusty passions for life and sex, and sweeping, often melodramatic external conflicts and gestures of love. But at the same time, the intense chemistry between the leads is absent, characterization is meager, and the external conflicts don’t come together as coherently as they should.