Review – Bianca (The Silk Merchant’s Daughters #1) by Bertrice Small

Cover for Bianca by Bertrice Small
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publish date: Out Now (October 2, 2012)
How I got this Book: print book from publisher

Renaissance Florence comes to passionate life in a vivid new historical romance series by “legendary”* New York Times bestselling author Bertrice Small.

Florentine silk merchant Giovanni Pietro d’Angelo and his wife want nothing more than to marry their daughters to wealthy men of distinction. But when their son’s dangerous indiscretion implicates him in a tragic accident, it is their eldest daughter who must pay the price. Blackmailed by the powerful and debauched Sebastiano Rovere, the Pietro d’Angelos must give beautiful Bianca in marriage to Rovere to buy his silence.

With the aid of her mother, Bianca flees her dark, cruel union, seeking shelter in a seaside villa. It is the shocking murder of her husband that allows her to find the possibility of love at last. But Florentine society would never approve of the man she’s chosen: Prince Amir, grandson of Memhet the Conqueror.

Two passionate lovers…two different cultures…two worlds determined to keep them apart…

*Blurb taken from Goodreads

I’m at a bit of a loss on where to start with this review. No, that’s not quite accurate. I do know where I want to start with this review – I’m just struggling with being diplomatic about it.

Simply put, I did not like this book. For many reasons. So many reasons. Most of all, I’m irritated with myself for not properly vetting this book so I could have avoided the whole experience altogether. I was drawn in by the back-cover blurb and the cover artwork. It was a bait-and-switch.

First, the writing style is stilted, stale and skims along the surface. The dialogue does not flow in a natural way. The characters are cardboard cut-outs. There is no cohesive plot, just events that happen with a bit of randomness thrown in out of left-field towards the end. Conflicts arise and are easily settled within a page of being mentioned as the narrative trips along in a jarring way which weakens any attempt at presenting drama or tension. Aspects of the story that held the potential of developing a plot happen offstage and are presented in the narrative as recaps. There are 419 pages of words – words that failed to connect me to the story or the characters or the setting or anything remotely interesting. There were, however, plenty of words that skeeved me out for the first 100 pages or so.

Let’s be clear here. When this story begins, Bianca is a fourteen year-old girl about to be wed to a thirty-six year-old man who is into sadomasochistic behavior – and not of the safe, sane and consensual kind. He likes to inflict pain and gets off on it and he doesn’t care whether the person is consenting or not (actually he seems to prefer when they are not consenting). When Bianca is first presented to Sebastiano, the narrative had his “cock twitch” at the sight of her. Inappropriate! She’s fourteen! This story takes place in 1474 and the issue of her age could fall under the guise of “historically accurate for the time,” but my brain protested the entire time I had to read through this slog. It gets worse. During their betrothal period (prior to the wedding), apparently Sebastiano has permission to “introduce” her to certain sexual caresses (i.e, he perversely fondles her) despite that it makes her uncomfortable and she doesn’t like it. He also makes her kneel in front of him while he unveils his cock, teaches her how to handle it and perform fellatio. When she turns fifteen (about a week or so before the wedding), he fingers her to check the tightness of her hymen and takes pleasure in the thought of how much pain it will cause her when he “breaches” it.

The six months they are married are even worse. Bianca is submitted to cruelty, physical and emotional abuse and is repeatedly raped by her husband and almost raped by her stepson at her husband’s urging. There is a slave girl thrown into the mix whereby she is forced to have sex against her will with another woman and she comes very close to being violated by a miniature donkey.

She’s fifteen.

So let’s fast forward. She’s escaped with the help of her mother and is now living by the ocean. And guess what? There is no psychological blow-back from her experience with Sebastiano. She’s not traumatized in any discernible way. She just sorta carries on in a “tra la la” kind of way. And that, despite being skeeved out by her previous experience, presents an even bigger problem. Why even have the character go through all that horrible trauma if it wasn’t going to be used in the story to show something? Character development, hope of recovery, building a life after trauma, something, anything?

There’s no story here. No plot. Just a character to whom bad things happen without any point to it all. This is what I mean by cardboard cut-out – as a character, she is just unfazed by any of it.

  • I have to marry an older man because my brother did something that could bring scandal to the family? Oh, ok. Tra la la.
  • Because we are betrothed, he is allowed to do whatever he wants to me? Oh, ok. Tra la la. Even if I don’t like it? Yup. Tra la la.
  • (About her father) You made me marry this man who did atrocious things to me? Oh, ok. Tra la la. You are forgiven for how could you have known? (even though the narrative did tell us that it was widely know that Sebastiano was depraved)
  • I have to go live in a sort of exile by the ocean while fearing for my life? Oh, ok. Tra la la.
  • I will never marry again! I would die rather than marry again and let a man have dominion over me! What? You want to marry me and take me to your country of infidels and live with your other two wives? Oh, ok. Tra la la.
  • But I must have the union blessed by a priest as I will not convert! No? Not possible? Oh, ok. Tra la la.
  • And on and on it goes like that…

*koffs* MarySue *koffs*

She meets the hero of the story, Amir, a Turkish prince, when she’s sixteen or seventeen – the timeline’s a bit murky. She’s been living at the ocean for one or two years by this time. As you might expect, their first time being intimate together she’s telling him “I want you like you want me, I’m not a delicate flower, there’s nothing that could remind me of Sebastiano. I want to see you naked, I’ve waited so long.” Really? Sigh. So, back to Amir. Actually, no. Let’s not. He’s a cardboard cut-out of what you would expect to find in a prince charming character.

As for building up to the (anti) climatic ending in Turkey, the family skirmish over power and politics that came towards the end seemed so random. Some kind of pointless journey was undertaken by Amir and resolved without much drama at all. I couldn’t decide what purpose it served other than an attempt to introduce tension or drama that (briefly) separates Amir and Bianca, but I was so beyond caring by this point. As with everything else in this story, it gets neatly wrapped up. Amir is told “thank you for your service, now go home.” And we end yet another story element in which nothing really happens. Except that finally, we get to the end of the story.

Thank goodness.

Except for this odd “Afterwards” section in which things were revealed that probably should have been in the story itself but clearly got missed. Some of it read more like an “oops, we probably should have pointed this out sooner, but better late than never…”

My rating of Bianca (The Silk Merchant’s Daughters #1): F

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Being a bit of a hermit, Joy’s love affair with reading began early on in life when she discovered the rich solitude that comes from experiencing a good story. When life isn’t busy intruding, she can usually be found holed up somewhere in her house with a book (usually on her Kindle), a cat or two and at least one dog curled near her feet. She is currently giving her life a complete overhaul (‘cuz hittin’ the forties is a bitch! But in a good way;-) and trying her hand at various creative endeavors including blogging, book reviewing and finding ways to cook for her veggie family that don’t include gluten, grains, dairy or sugar (it’s not as bad as it sounds).

7 thoughts on “Review – Bianca (The Silk Merchant’s Daughters #1) by Bertrice Small”

  1. Ok, you sure picked the wrong one to start with then. If you want to try again, try the Border Chronicles. Or even her contemporary erotica, which are less erotic than her historical romances.

    I do not agree with your review at all, even though the parts with the donkey are too much for me, and I still think the book should come with a warning on the cover.
    To me, the characters are not cardboard, and you make it sound like Bianca just takes whatever is coming her way without a fight of complaint. Which is not true. Bertrice Small puts a lot of historical detail in her books, and in that time, a girl was ready for marriage at age 12 or 14. People did not get much older than 40 back then. A girl or woman was a possession, and if she had not run away with the man she fell in love with (she was 18 then, you forgot the time in the convent), she would have been married of again by her grandfather or parents, without any say in the matter. And well, that he was Turkish, well, that is one of Bertrice Smalls favourite subject.

    Try my review,

  2. @aurian: Well, I guess this is one of those situations where we agree to disagree:-) I could give you a list of examples from the narrative for why I felt the way I felt, but in the end that doesn’t really matter. As you stated in your own review, Ms. Small is one of your favorite authors and I have no desire to diminish that for you. I think there will always be books that resonate with some and not so much with others. Reading is such a subjective experience.

    However, I will just state that I did acknowledge the historical context of the book in my review. I simply didn’t like it. Perhaps the book should have been categorized as Gen Fic instead of Romance. I’m not sure. And although she was 18 when she finally did go off with Amir, she was 16 when they first met and some point thereafter became lovers, which was what I was trying to refer to…I think I clouded that by the way I wrote the sentence that followed. Opps! My bad.

    In the end, I’m just a single voice in a sea of reviews. I knew my review might not be popular going by what readers had put up on sites like GR and AMZ. And I’m ok with that:-)

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