All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

on November 6, 2015

Victoria Dahl
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author via NetGalley

Blurb {courtesy of the author/}:

He came home to marry an angel…
After working in the gold fields of California for two years, Caleb Hightower has come home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jessica Willoughby. But when he returns, Caleb learns his refined bride-to-be is now a whore. Enraged by her betrayal, he can’t reconcile this shameless woman with the sweet innocent he once deeply loved—but Caleb knows what to do with a harlot. He’s determined to get everything from her that she’s sold to other men. And he’s prepared to pay for the pleasure of his revenge.

But all he found was sin.
Left penniless after her father’s death, Jess made a deal with a devil. Now she must face her first love, whose scorn is no match for her regret. To make amends, she’ll let Caleb quench his rage with her body. Their bargain strips them down to searing passion and naked vulnerability, and Jess can still glimpse her loving Caleb buried deep inside this rough cowboy. In the end, an unbearable truth emerges that could push them toward forgiveness…or could destroy their fragile bond forever.

I quite enjoy Victoria Dahl’s contemporary romance novels so when I saw this I was intrigued. The title is quite attention-grabbing and a switch in genres to erotic Western also piqued my interest.

Caleb and Jessica had a teenage understanding, despite their different upbringings. She was the daughter of an educated doctor, refined and elegant whereas he had worked the land from the time he was a boy. Despite Jessica’s protestations, he leaves her to seek his fortune working the goldfields in California so that he might be able to keep her in the lifestyle to which she has been accustomed. At first Jessica wrote to him and when the letters ceased, he decided that he’d better get back and find out just what is going on with his girl. It takes him a while, but there’s whispers that his beloved Jessica is now a whore, working at a house on the outskirts of town where a man had better have good coin to afford it.

Caleb is understandably horrified that his love has taken up this new role – but that doesn’t stop him wanting to buy what the marriage bed would’ve given him for free. He wants to punish Jessica, degrade her in every way possible but as he doesn’t understand the circumstances behind Jessica’s choice (and doesn’t really stop to ask at first) all he manages to do is show them both that their feelings for each other are still strong and even as he’s trying to hate her, he’s still loving her.

This isn’t a very long story and because of that, it was difficult to really develop the conflict. Everything moves at quite a rapid pace and instead of the reader being given a really fleshed out background with Jessica and Caleb, all we get are a few vague memories. I quite liked Jessica and I think she was portrayed as a strong character who knew she had little in the way of options and after her father died and did what she could to stay with her head above water. However I definitely think she could’ve been explored in more depth – her best scenes come at the end of the story when she’s questioning Caleb on his choices and prejudices and it’s there where her strength really shows. For most of the rest of the book she’s definitely more submissive to him, perhaps this is driven by guilt, that she’s made this choice based on information she was given. I think that a lot of Jessica’s story was glossed over, especially the impact on her on what it must’ve been like after she lost her father, her changed circumstances and the way in which she was treated.

Caleb was less likable but as a reader, you have to try put yourself within the context of the story and the ‘wild West’ as such is a very different time to what we know with incredibly different attitudes and roles for men and women. It takes him a while to see how few Jessica’s options truly were and how hypocritical his own behaviour is, even when called out on it by Jessica. To his credit though, he does eventually see although I’m not overly sure how realistic that is for the time and setting. When he finds out the true extent of what has happened to Jessica to force this decision upon her, he also doesn’t indulge in victim blaming and he knows exactly who is that has brought about these events. Quite a lot of angst could probably have been avoided if Jessica had been honest with Caleb from the very beginning about her circumstances, instead of keeping quiet on it and leaving Caleb to discover the truth himself. But in order for Caleb to buy Jessica’s services, he had to believe the stories being put around about her.

I thought this was certainly an interesting take on an erotic romance and I enjoyed it for its differences from the sort of romances and erotic stories I’d been reading. I think the opportunity was there to go a bit deeper though and flesh out both the main characters a little more.


Book #165 of 2015


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