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            Forever Amber
            Kathleen Winsor
            Fiction - Romantic Fiction
            Reviewed By: Carrie
            Review posted: 02/20/04

            February is the month of romance. With Valentine’s Day (aka single’s awareness day) set smack dab in the middle, how could it not be? I wanted to spend at least one review this month looking at this genre that is mocked and abused by so many, loved and defended by some, and read in the bathtub by many. Smuggled in-between copies of the latest epic presidential biography and a piece of literary fiction that only the New York Times book review could love, are the romance novels that we love. You know - the ones with the dashing hero clutching the heroine to his rippling chest as she swoons bonelessly in his strong arms.

            That’s a cliché. Nowadays, the best selling romances don’t have swoon heroines spilling out of historically inaccurate gowns of amazing and fearful construction. They have tasteful, sometimes humorous art. One might liken it to the classic brown-paper wrapper Playboy magazine was famous for being delivered in. No matter the contents, the cover is an inoffensive piece of art guaranteed to allow the romance lover complete anonymity in their guilty secret. Well, at least it would if they would stop naming books “Purple Passion” and “The Pirate’s Wanton Bride”.

            All right, you caught me - that was a cliché too. But things become cliché because they have some basis in reality, and I can guarantee you, more pirates, priests, outlaws, highwaymen, noble lords with tragic histories and interesting scars exist in romance novels than in all of history combined. But beyond the clichés and between the covers lie a tangled genre that is not so easy to dismiss. Romantic comedy, romantic suspense, historical romance, the classic “bodice ripper”, are all subgenres of the often-underestimated romance genre. And so I cudgeled my brain for the perfect book review for this month. I’ve reviewed romances before; I’ll review them again. I read them with pride instead of treating them as a guilty secret. But still, this one had to be perfect. I needed a romance that embraced every ounce of the genre with passion. One that typified every cliché, but still managed to defy definition. I flipped through the pages of my favorite authors. I raided my bookshelves. I sent out a cry for help on my mailing lists until finally, I stumbled across the book I was searching for. Forever Amber.

            Forever Amber was not the first romance novel ever written. It was not the one that sold the most copies, and modern romance readers have probably never cracked the cover on this hefty tale of romance during the Restoration period. Forever Amber is a romance novel that lovers of the genre cannot afford to neglect. Written in 1944, this particular book caused loads of controversy. Although it’s supposedly mild by today’s standards (nah. Not really) at the time, it was thought to be pure trash. And…they weren’t wrong. But that’s part of what Makes Forever Amber so deliciously enjoyable.

            The title character, Amber, is vicious. Cast from the same mold that would later produce Scarlett O’Hara, she is a scheming, fantastically wicked creature who knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. At heart, Amber remains an innocent girl throughout the book. She falls in love, and constantly pursues that love, getting sidetracked only to ensure her own survival. She has an indomitable spirit. She takes on the roles of wife, mother, mistress and actress. She survives the plague. And in the end, she survives everything.

            This is a fascinating book. It typifies everything people believe to be associated with romance novels, in the grand tradition of the bodice ripper. But it also escapes those expectations with a fascinating story that makes it difficult to put down. Even as you’re saying, “I can’t believe I’m reading this” you’re turning the page.

            This is an indulgent, shamelessly enjoyable and thoroughly trashy novel. It’s also an intriguing story written by someone who was a scholar of the time period. This is not a Harlequin novel. This is not light and fluffy romance. This is a down and dirty guilty pleasure.