I avoid romance novels, for the most part, because they disappoint me. They are too shallow, too sexy, or too predictable, but that magnetic pull toward romantic stories still exerts its influence on me no matter how disgruntled I become, and now I can say I have found an author who writes this type of fiction well.
Lawana Blackwell sets her “Tales of London” novels in late 19th century England, and follows multiple characters over an extended period of time: The Maiden of Mayfair (2001), Catherine’s Heart (2002), and Leading Lady (2004) published by Bethany House.
I read the novels in order and accepted each chronological jump forward, becoming emotionally engaged with the new characters in each subsequent book while enjoying the cameo appearances of earlier protagonists. What helped me track with the changes in time and character was the fact that Mrs. Blackwell maintains continuity with the same London setting and extended family.
Also, I found the stories satisfying in their complexity and length (each novel weighs in at over four hundred pages). Plots go far beyond the simplistic “boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy marries girl”. (Oh, did I mention? There are no sex scenes – hurrah!) In contrast, characters live within their communities and pursue various life choices. Issues of personal identity, vocation and calling, emotional wholeness, family bonds, and childrearing add richness to the romantic story lines.
In addition, Mrs. Blackwell expertly weaves cautionary tales into her novels that I didn’t find too heavy-handed. Stalking, obsessive love, and emotional neediness are themes that should be addressed when developing stories around relationships. I even found myself empathizing with certain missteps made by characters that paralleled my own relationship errors.
I found an example of this depth of insight into love relationships in Catherine’s Heart, the second in the series. The leading man breaks two very important factors in “true love”: !) he is physically attracted to his fiancee, but then finds himself drawn to another woman who crosses his path and doesn’t resist that temptation. 2) this “Mr. Wrong” doesn’t embrace the core life interests of his lady love, and doesn’t share a mutual life purpose or “mission” with her.
On the surface, we may enjoy reading about or watching the intense experience of first attraction and falling in love, but, in my opinion, what is more satisfying is seeing love unfold with a worthy man who truly loves a deserving woman. He doesn’t even need to be “indecently gorgeous”, to borrow Daphne de Luce’s description from The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. But we know he must be good, strong, protective, and kind which goes for the leading lady in romantic stories, too.)
Romantic comedies and “chick lit” will always be with us because the human heart longs for stories that show the fulfillment of our deepest desire that two people will find and value each other and experience a lasting love. Lawana Blackwell gives that to us in the context of historical fiction set in 1800s England, but still appealing to the modern woman.
An additional note about the author: Lawana Blackwell came late to fiction writing, after years of teaching and community service. I find her story inspiring, probably because, I, too, am a middle-aged woman who has yet to achieve my writing dreams. Her author profile on http://www.cbd.com chronicles the start of her writing career: “Life begins at 40—or so they say. Such was the case for the literary life of Lawana Blackwell. Writing had been a dream, simmering like a big pot of stew on the back burner of her existence for years. As she faced the milestone of her 40th birthday, she began asking herself when “one day” would finally arrive. Suddenly it became clear to her that she had been procrastinating all that time out of fear of failure.”