Tensile Strength Vs. Amorous Suitor

Wicked by Jill Barnett is an okay book – let’s face it, most romance novels are merely average – with some eccentricities. The excessive number of Adam and Eve references notwithstanding, there are a few details I quirked an eyebrow over. The female character learns how to be a knight in the year that her sweetie is captive in a Scottish castle – just a year in order to be strong enough to walk around in chain mail, not to mention actually fight and fight well in it. I won’t say they lost me there, but it was certainly a definite moment of doubt. (She learned from a nun! Who fought in the Crusades!)

My notes for this book include: “the writer should be slapped and given a better editor.”

I can only assume that this alludes to the part where I was completely mystified:

000001“She kissed him all over his face, his eyes, his neck and ears until he picked her up a good foot off the floor so her feet
were dangling, then he lifted her even higher and buried his mouth in the crease of her breast, grabbed the edge of her bodice with his teeth, jerked it apart, and ripped it in two with his mouth, so he could get at her breasts, where he sucked and played with them, flicked his tongue over her nipples and made them hard” (336).

(As an aside, I recently had a conversation with my uncle, who was surprised about how explicit sex scenes are in romance novels, and how often they appear. I am just beginning to see what he meant…)

There is a LOT going on. Passion, kissing, blah, blah, blah – Sir Tight Breeches has got to be an octopus: he has the beak strength to rip through what would have been a wool overdress. Wool! When is the last time you have tried ripping a sweater apart with your bare teeth? Without the use of your hands, which are holding up a woman who weighs a minimum of 150 pounds?

Let’s not mention the torturous sentence structure. (As you might be able to tell, that’s not necessarily the thing that makes or breaks one of these.)

As if this isn’t bad enough, we continue:

“He shifted and slid his thick thigh up so she was straddling it, then he took both his hands away and grabbed her gown in his powerful fists. In one swift and hotly sensual motion he tore it in two…His look was so intense, so filled with want for her that she almost melted there, but before she could say anything, before she could even think, he ripped her shift, still watching her face” (336).

What? WHAT? I don’t care how flush with cash you are, if you are a woman in Edward I’s reign (late 1200s), your clothes are really valuable. A peasant might not have had more than one or two outfits, and even if you were heinously rich (as these slobs are meant to me), your clothes are high quality and therefore crazy expensive. You would not – NOT – allow some dude (married or not) rip his way through an entire outfit. You just wouldn’t.

Additionally, considering that this assignation takes place in a stairwell (of a normal, and therefore busy, castle), how did they not get caught – or tumble down the stairs to their mutual deaths?

In response to this passage, I looked up a few things on the internet about medieval fashions and about the tensile strength of wool. I found one fascinating article which gives a gratifying amount of detail about what women and men wore. One of my university professors also helped me to figure out exactly which garments were probably linen and which were likely wool: linen underthings, and with wool under- and over-gowns. I found a study that is almost completely unintelligible, “The Tensile Behavior of Some Protein Fibers,” written in 1953 for the Army; I imagine that the mumbo-jumbo means that you can’t rip apart linen or wool with your bare hands – though I am sure they were looking into materials for uniforms and blankets, not examining the feasibility of romance novels written 46 years in the future. (You never can tell, though…)

Making passionate love on a stairwell is a terrible idea, if for the echoes alone. Ripping any woman’s clothes – unless she hates them – is a dreadful idea, because once the passion subsides, she’s going to have to chuck the ruined pieces or mend each tear, thinking about how much she hates her lover’s technique. As baseline rules for sex, these aren’t too bad.

No stairwells. (Unless you both are wearing inflatable sumo wrestler suits, in which case, good luck to you both.)

No ripped clothing. (Unless it comes with Velcro built in.)

What about contraception? …Dream on, Sarah!


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