#historicalhistorical—Amanda Quick’s Ravished: The One with Fossils and Cave Sex
[CW: discussion of gender essentialist language]
I first heard of Amanda Quick’s Ravished on the Fated Mates podcast. Sarah and Jen did a deep dive on this book and so I knew it had very beach-y themes AND a sex scene in a cliffside cave. So, for my seaside locale week, I decided to read this romance for my #historicalhistorical series. (For anyone who hasn’t read any of these posts before, I read and analyze historical romances published before 2000 in this series. Ravished was published in 1992). I have read one Amanda Quick before—With This Ring, published in 1998—and I really enjoyed it, so I was excited to read this one, especially since I’d heard so many good things.
As anyone who follows this series knows, when I read pre-2000 historical romances, I often find aspects that make me uncomfortable or seem really dated, but that was largely not the case here. The one big caveat to that, though, would be the rampant gender essentialist language. For instance, when the hero and heroine are having sex, Quick describes them as “bound together in the way only a man and woman could be.” Yikes! I did not enjoy this aspect of the book and this particularly heterosexist and trans-exclusionary example detracted from an otherwise lovely sex scene. The intensive use of “feminine” and “masculine” throughout was also an issue—while I’m generally fine with authors using “feminine” and “masculine” here and there, I like it less the more it gets used. When used too frequently, especially in the context of sex scenes, it is not only exclusionary and invests in stereotypical ideas of gender, but I also feel like it waters down the strength and specificity of the characters' romance (and don’t even get me started on “manhood” as a synonym—if I never saw it again, it would be too soon). In Ravished, Gideon perceives Harriet as “feminine” a lot. Their romance was so strong that it didn’t ruin their chemistry, but even with Gideon, at times, it did start to feel a bit flimsy, as if Harriet’s stereotypically feminine traits (which are never specifically detailed) draw him in as much as her other far more distinctive qualities. All of that said, I can’t attribute the gender essentialist language in this book to its publication date—unfortunately, a lot of contemporary HR has similar language, although probably not to the extent of the egregious example above. In short, it sucks that Ravished uses so much of this language, but I can’t pick on it specifically—it is a problem in the genre, past and present.
With this one caveat, I would recommend Ravished to readers who are interested in pre-2000 historicals that still feel fresh, are low-angst, and have a super enjoyable romance at their core. I found Harriet very charming—she had a delightful matter-of-fact attitude and was so forthright with Gideon. Main characters keeping information from each other is going to naturally be a part of a lot of romances, but I loved how Harriet never does that and, in turn, insists that Gideon be more open with her. Even though Gideon was the more shut down/secretive one of the pair, it didn’t feel destructive or contrived on his end either because he was so devoted to her from the beginning. Harriet’s irrepressible interest in fossils also worked really well—I could see how, in certain books, it might be grating to have a main character so obsessed with a given interest, particularly if that character is a heroine and the narration elevates her to "not like other girls" status due to it. What I loved here, though, was that Quick shows how Harriet is kind of annoying about the fossils, but it ends up feeling like a funny and charming trait (but it is only funny and charming because it is presented as an obsession and not a way in which she differs from other ton women who only care about needlepoint, dresses, etc. It helps that there is at least one other woman character interested in fossils). Harriet is the perfect match for Gideon, who with his tarnished reputation and face scarred from a rapier duel, needs someone who will bring light and understanding into his world (you could even say he needs to be excavated!!). From the beginning, Harriet doesn’t believe the rumors about him and they have a really endearing dynamic around the issue of his past.
One of the other things that I really enjoyed about this book was the different rhythm of the sex scenes. While I love the usual patterns of the contemporary historical romance, it does get a little repetitive when the same general series of erotic acts is repeated in a very similar sequence in most books; main characters tend to start off with kissing and then progress to some kind of semi-clothed hand/mouth play (and an orgasm for just one character—usually in a M/F romance, that one character is the heroine) before having a scene with full nudity and orgasms for everyone. It is not that Ravished didn’t have aspects of this usual sequence (they have their first kiss early in the book, for instance), but I weirdly liked that their first sex scene in the cave (also pretty early in the book) was a bit different. In short, they have sex (her first time) and she doesn't even has an orgasm! It is also very short---he penetrates her for about a minute before he comes. In their later scenes, of course, she does have orgasms, etc., but I liked that Quick switched it up here (or maybe back then it wasn't a switch up?? either way, it was a switch up for me) and I thought that this sex scene focused on Gideon’s pleasure contributed to the freewheeling, explorative nature of their dynamic. It also made sense in the broader context of the book since he is the one who has been isolated/alone and is really in need of healing.
If you are looking for a pre-2000 historical that is fun, different, and influential (you can feel how much Amanda Quick influenced writers like Tessa Dare or Eloisa James, for instance), I definitely recommend Ravished (with the caveat above!).