Monday, April 5, 2010

Why Woodiwiss' Shanna is important

Kathleen Woodiwiss' book Shanna is a book which was ahead of its time when it was written. I won't lie, I have re-read Shanna at least once a year since I first found it in 1978.

Romance to that point was full of helpless heroines who were often too stupid to live, and who were the most beautiful, desireable, talented and pure women in the world.

Not Shanna. She was thoroughly a total and unapologetic brat. She has to get past her father's rule to marry or else. She hasn't found a man who is good enough for her, so she goes to the death row of a prison to pick a man, clean him up, marry him and then send him back to face the hangman, all to spite her father who has given her everything she ever wanted. The father is an honest man who only wants some grandchildren. I suppose it would be better if he could birth those grandchildren himself or adopt a couple, but his added sin is to see his daughter settled, married, and most important, happy with her husband as he was happy with her mother. He falls into the category of gruff but loveable parent.

Too bad for her plans that the man her servant chooses cleans up really well - and I do mean REALLY well. The marriage happens but she reneges on the one promise she made to the man, Ruark (I pronounce it Rourke nor Roo-ark, but that's me, to spend one night together as husband and wife. He goes back to gaol and she goes to her father's island in the Caribbean as a widow.

Shanna goes around being one of those totally mean girls who have the best clothes, best father, best everything. Everyone dotes on her, gives her everything she could ever desire, for no other than the fact that she is who she is by birth and not really a nice person.

Then her life gets tough. Ruark didn't meet his appointment with the hangman and ends up an endentured servant on Shanna's dad's island. Once there, he amazes and astounds everyone he meets because he can a) read, b) is a horse whisperer as well as an engineer and c) goes around all day in cut off shorts and no shirt. He is shirtless, tan and buff and sets all the girls hearts a-pumping and their girls parts singing "zing!" He is a perfect man and seriously doesn't deserve Shanna. Did I mention he was seriously hot?

That changes when he rescues her practically single handed by pirates on a nearby island. In the getaway, he saves two of the island's non-pirate inhabitants, destroys the pirate island, and sails the getaway ship by himself with a wood splinter the size of a baseball bat stuck though his thigh.

They survive and Shanna finally sees him as a worthy man and falls in love with him. I kinda wish he had made her grovel, but the perfect man does't make the bratty heroines like Shanna grovel.

There's lots of other stuff that happens on the island, like a murder for which Ruark is framed, an extremely unappealing suitor for Shanna's (remember, everyone thinks she's a widow still and not married to Ruark) and some petty embezzling by another unappealing character. The book is pretty full of action.

There's a happy ending and I'm happy to say Shanna fell in love with Ruark before she finds out that he and his family are richer than the King of England.

To see what I mean compare this book to one of Woodiwiss' earlier books, The Flame and the Flower. The hero (Brandon) is cruel and the heroine (Heather) is vicimized first by her family, then by her guardian, who almost rapes her, to the hero who DOES rape her, the hero's former fiancee who wrote the book about bitchy. The heroine does grow a backbone, the hero shapes up, though never enough for my taste (I hate Brandon Birmingham!) and the mean girl gets betrayed by the man who wants to have Heather for his own. Of course, this guy is completely unappealing, physically and morally, and only wants to be taken seriously as a dress designer. Tim Gunn would be very concerned.

If you haven't read either book, I recommend you youngsters read both books to see where we were and how Woodiwiss pointed us to the future, May she rest in peace.


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