You need summer reading? I got yer summer reading right here, pal! Look no further than The Windflower, the craziest and swooniest romance you’ll ever read! I’ve written about it before, I’m sure, but darn it I’m gonna write about it again, because this is THE book you want to read this summer, on the beach, while drinking a margarita. This book is funny (SO FUNNY) and exciting and sexy – just what every summer needs. The book has gone through many printings, each with it’s own hideous cover. Just lie back and let the fuchsia happen.
The Windflower, which was originally published under the name “Laura London”, is wonderful because, among other things, it takes the romance tropes that were popular at the time and turns them upside down. The first line is a legend among romance readers: “Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn.”
Merry is the most ingenue-est ingenue that ever there was, so naturally she is drawn into international intrigue and subsequently kidnapped by pirates. She spends her first week or two on board the pirate ship crying, throwing up, and occasionally fainting, but by a third of the way through the book she’s learned how to fire a cannon because that’s the kind of book this is, and the pirates adore her. As the rather disgruntled Devon explains later, “Rand Morgan’s ‘devils’ would eat soot if she fed it them with her baby fingers. She was ill once, and they spent so much time weeping into their shirtsleeves that there wasn’t a dry bicep in the fo’c’sle.”
The pirates are famed for being terrifying in all the old-school romance kinds of ways but as it turns out they are sweetie pies with a pet pig named Dennis. If the book has a weakness, it’s that the male hero, Devon, is probably the least interesting character – far less interesting than the character of Cat, who gives Merry some tough but consistent platonic love. The scene in which Cat explains the facts of life to Merry and they fight about vocabulary is only topped by an earlier, poignant scene in which Merry begs her maiden aunt for intel only to discover that her aunt doesn’t know what happens between men and women either. This book is constantly juggling whimsy, horror (I no longer wish to be stranded on a deserted island, at least, not if it has crocodiles), sadness, humor, and sexuality, and it’s astonishing that it gets the balance just right. Of course mileage will vary, but this book consistently ends up on romance readers’ lists of favs because all the elements provide an incredibly immersive and emotional reading experience.
Merry and Devon fall madly in lust at once, of course, and in a twist in the rapey heroes of yore Devon does not rape Merry. He’s supposed to be a badass pirate lord so he threatens, but it quickly becomes obvious that if he harms Merry in any way the pirates will sic Dennis the Pig on him. Merry and Devon have a big misunderstanding, and she tries to escape a lot, and they make out constantly, and every now and then he leaves and whenever he returns she’s firing a cannon or keeping a pet octopus in a bucket or trying to escape in a leaky rowboat and bailing it out with her shoe. Merry is pretty cutesy but she’s also tough and resourceful, and she grows tremendously – it’s a joy to watch. Plus you really do have to root for someone who keeps an octopus as a pet, even if it’s only for a day.
Over at NPR, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great review in which she talks about the impact The Windflower has on readers.
The Windflower was out of print for years and romance readers who scored a copy protected it as though it was the crown jewels. It’s back in print, and yes, the cover is hideous:
But the point is, the covers are horrible but the book is DIVINE. And did I mention funny? Every time I read the book I find a new favorite line and I’m not going to spoil a single one because I want you to read it yourself, yes, YOU! If you have any vacation this year, make this book part of it.