Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Series or Standalone: Old West #1
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
CW: Slavery; racism; racial slurs; gun violence; death; reference to suicide, rape, war
Forbidden was my first Beverly Jenkins book, but it won’t be my last! I adored Jenkins’ writing style and how all her characters and settings are imbued with such life and personality that they jump off the page.
Forbidden is also my first adult Western romance, a subgenre I am now fully exploring with my reading as I’m fascinated by it, and it’s nice to escape from the ballrooms of Regency England for a change. However, Westerners can be very fraught given the legacy of slavery in this country. I know that not everyone is comfortable reading stories set in that era for that reason.
Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed up, and it all depends on his ability to pass for White. But, when Eddy Carmichael, a young woman he rescues from the desert, enters his life, he’s tempted to give up everything to be with her. Eddy, an outspoken, defiant and determined young woman, is determined not to lose her heart to Rhine. She plans on staying long enough to gather enough money to move to California, where she can open her own restaurant. However, the chemistry between them is hard to ignore and giving in to having dinner with him may lead to something more.
This book really shines when it comes to the characters. Both Rhine and Eddy, as well as the secondary characters we meet in Virginia City, are richly complicated and complex with their own personalities. I truly loved everyone we met in this little town in Nevada.
Rhine was a fascinating character to explore as his whole life and identity are wrapped up in his ability to pass as White. Race is a very complicated issue for Rhine, and something that I thought was explored in a really interesting way in this book. Rhine was born into slavery as his father owned the plantation where his mother was enslaved. After the Civil War, he took his destiny into his own hands. Because of the color of his skin, he was able to make a new name and life for himself out West in Nevada. He uses his ability to pass to gain power and help those in the Black community, but he has to keep himself separate from them or risk losing everything. He’s a bit of a charmer and scoundrel, but there was a sense of earnestness about him that I appreciated. He keeps a lot of his feelings and emotions close to his chest, as very few people know the truth about his identity. And then Eddy shows up and throws a wrench in everything he planned.
I loved Eddy so much. If you looked up the word “determined” in the dictionary, you would see her face. This woman gets knocked down so many times but gets right back up again and will do anything to chase her dream of opening her own restaurant. Seriously, she has a ROUGH go of it as she’s left for dead in the middle of a desert and nearly dies if not for Rhine. I loved her passion for cooking and what she does. She’s a genuinely nice, caring woman who sees the good in people, even in a bad situation.
I was very curious how Jenkins was going to pull off the romance in Forbidden, because, as the title implies, Rhine is pretty much off-limits to Eddy for a host of reasons. One, he’s engaged (that was a shocker to me at the start!). Two, everyone thinks he’s a White man and interracial relationships and marriage were illegal until 1967. There are a lot of obstacles in their way to getting a happily ever after, and it leads this book to have a good, slow burn. I truly love Eddy and Rhine’s journey as there is nothing more romantic than him literally giving up everything he’s known to be with the woman he loves.
The romance is very dependent on Rhine and Eddy having good chemistry as they cannot be together in a romantic sense for a large portion of the book. Luckily, I thought their chemistry was amazing. When the two of them were in a room together, they could not help but be drawn to each other. There is an electric pull between them that they cannot deny as much as they try to. And the banter in this book was so good! While Rhine is definitely more experienced in relationships, Eddy doesn’t back down from his challenges and verbal back and forths. This book is very light on the steam though. We get some great kissing and non-penetrative sex scenes, but no full-blown banging.
There were some fun twists and turns to the plot, and the ending was WILD. The ending of this book gave me a lot of old-school romance vibes as we get a full-on villainous monologue and some high-stakes dramatics. This book fully delivered on the DRAMA in the last act, and I loved it.
I really enjoyed Forbidden as it was an engaging romantic read. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Beverly Jenkins’ books, as her writing was incredible. Rhine apparently was a popular side character from some of her earlier romances, so I will definitely be checking those out!