A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

November 11, 2013 Historical, Reviews 7

Book cover for A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser. A white woman with brown hair in a loose updo, wearing a 19th century gown, stands with her back to the camera and looks over her right shoulder at the viewer. Standing in front of her is a tall black man in a red army uniform that's partially removed, baring his smooth, muscular chest.I picked this one up a while ago based on the unusual pairing for a regency, and then promptly forgot about it since my TBR is out of control. When I was ranting again on Twitter about how hard it is to find romance with POC characters, someone brought it up as a suggestion. I’ve been starting and discarding books for days, and this was only a novella, so I figured I’d give it a shot. It was a quick read but, unfortunately, not a very good one.

Like Fraser’s other books, A Dream Defiant takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. We meet our hero, Corporal Elijah Cameron, as he and his men are looting a French supply train after a victory. When one of his men is mortally wounded by a French straggler in a struggle over a ruby necklace, Elijah promises the dying man that he’ll give the jewelry to the man’s wife, Rose Merrifield, so that she can sell it and “be what she wants”. Of course, giving a now unprotected woman in a military camp a treasure like that makes Rose a target for schemers, so she and Elijah enter into a practical marriage of convenience.

And, that’s it, pretty much. The premise is basically a plot synopsis. Rose keeps saying she loved her husband, but three days after he dies she marries Elijah, and a week after that they’re knocking boots and exchanging I-love-yous. After that, the book jumps two years into the future, where Elijah solves racism with a clever pep talk. There’s an almost complete lack of internal conflict and very little went into developing the romance.

Because they were already friends and secretly fancied each other, pretty much the only thing delaying their HEA is the fact that Elijah is black and the son of runaway slaves and reluctant to take Rose down with him, so to speak.

“I know. But, before we make this real, I need you to think. I need you to be sure you want me.”

She let out a gasping laugh of sheer exasperation. “I am sure. Can’t you tell?”

“That’s not what I mean.” Already his voice was calm and steady again. Rose at once admired his control and vowed to break it as soon as she could. “I— I wouldn’t think much of myself, if I took advantage of you wanting to lie with me, just at this moment, without you thinking of what it would mean to have me, for the rest of your life.”

I see this sentiment often in romances with disabled characters, and I don’t like it any more in this context. This is all about making the heroine look good by emphasizing what she stands to lose by staying with the hero and how noble she is to not care about it. It does the hero an injustice to treat him like a charity case. He assumes risk as well by marrying a white woman.

My other two criticisms are pretty neatly exemplified in this excerpt:

“Well, yes. My father has lighter skin than I do, because his father was a white man, but my mother is darker. Her skin is almost black, truly black, and not a medium brown color everyone calls black, like mine.”

“Why do people say it’s black, then?” Elijah kept his mouth serious, though his eyes danced as he looked over Jake’s head at Rose . “A very good question. But, if you think about it, it isn’t like white people are the color of snow or— or clean linen.”

Jake studied his own grubby hands and giggled.

“I suppose people say black and white because it’s simpler,” Rose put in. “Otherwise you’d have to go around saying that Elijah is medium brown, and Fernando is light tan, and Jemmy Whelan almost is as white as snow in winter, other than his freckles , but then he turns red in the summer sun.”

Jake gave her a superior look. “It’s all very silly. People are people.”

Elijah ruffled his hair. “You’re a very wise lad, and I wish more grown men and women thought the same.”

Two things happen here that I dislike. First you have the innocent child dropping pearls of wisdom Emperor’s New Clothes-style. Jake is three years old at this point. Three year olds do not sound like this. Convenient plot moppet is convenient.

Secondly, this seems to be that frustrating thing called “colorblindness,” where it’s held up as some sort of virtue to not see race. For all skin color is a superficial thing, it signifies meaningful differences in culture and experiences. Acknowledging differences is only “silly” if your background matches the dominant culture and you don’t notice how that gives you privilege. I’m doing a bad job explaining this, but tl;dr, I don’t think highly of pretending race doesn’t matter and that we’re all the same.

Final Assessment: It’s an “issue” novella. It tries to tackle a Big Idea then doesn’t take enough time to do it justice. I know I was all complaints, but it was competently written and enjoyable enough, it just lacked substance. C-/D+

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Ridley

An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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7 Responses to “A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser”

  1. pamela1740

    Great review; too bad this one didn’t live up to its promise/premise. I also HATE plot moppets. This one sounds particularly egregrious.

  2. Ridley

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I was being kinda flippant, but I swear the “issue novella” is publishing’s new favorite thing. It’s like authors figure they’ll take “risks” telling “gritty” stories when it’s only a novella’s worth of writing. That way when it doesn’t sell well they’re not out as much money.

  3. Liz Mc2

    It does seem, from my recent reading, that novellas are a place where authors feel they can take “risks” (and the fact that certain stories are seen as risky is obviously an issue). And I understand that–the stakes are lower, there is less time invested in a story that may not sell as well.

    But a number of these books have been frustrating reading, in part because the novella form did not give enough scope to explore those stories fully or do their complexity justice. The novellas ended up not being risky *enough*, which sounds like it is part of your problem with this one.

    I will keep trying them, because I want stories like this to get told. So maybe I’m contributing to the problem of more novellas that take on too much. But what can you do? Just keep saying you want these stories to have more space, I guess.

  4. Olivia Waite

    I really wanted more of the village part of the story here, too. This was the second IR romance I read this month, and it may have shone a little brighter for me because the first was full of so much POC fetishization that it left me a little dizzy.

  5. Roslyn Holcomb

    For the most part, I think of novellas as a light, fluffy read. Fun, but no place to get into “issues.” I do tend to make them sexier, and at times freakier, so I guess, in that respect that’s “risky.”