I bought a copy of Radclyffe’s Passion’s Bright Fury after the IASPR conference, because it was mentioned during the “Queering the Heroine” panel, which included presentations on the history of lesbians in romance or romantic fiction, the undomesticated or alpha heroine, and the queer heroine* in paranormal romance. PBF was one of the books mentioned by Ruth Sternglantz in her presentation, “Where the Wild Things Are: Contemporary Lesbian Romance and the Undomesticated Queer Hero”, in which she asked if in lesbian romance a dangerous woman is tamed? Or is she analogous to the dangerous man in het romance? Sternglantz gave some examples medieval, Elizabethan, and 19th century heroines and their negotiation of or for power within matrimony (or how they were deprived of power), and then talked about how in modern lesbian romance, there are books in which loving an undomesticated queer heroine leads the other heroine to be more herself, another alpha, undomesticated. (Of course, I could have misunderstood the entire presentation; any error in what I’ve written above or in my conference summary is my own and should not be blamed on Sternglantz.)
Saxon Sinclair, the broodingly secretive Chief of Trauma at a busy Manhattan hospital is less than pleased to learn that her new resident is going to be the subject of a documentary film. The arrival of Jude Castle, a fiery independent filmmaker, soon sets sparks flying as the two driven women clash both personally and professionally. Both have secrets they have spent a lifetime guarding, and both have chosen careers over love. Forced together on the battleground between life and death, passion strikes without warning, and they find themselves struggling with both desire and destiny.
Now that I’ve read it, I would agree that PBF fits perfectly into Sternglantz’s description of the liberation of the heroine to alphaness or undomestication that is more possible and seems more likely than in straight romance. Both heroines are independent, achievers in their fields, and uber-alpha; the difference being that Castle as a documentary filmmaker seems more able to subdue herself in order to get what she wants or needs for her film, while Sinclair is more like a bulldozer (not in a bad way, just extremely focused and in charge). When they are coupled and HEA’d at the end of the book, it is clear that Sinclair has not been in any way domesticated or softened by their romance, and Castle seems to have been liberated even moreso than she was at the outset, in terms of her worldview and willingness to reach out for what she wants.
PBF works for me as a medical drama, like a narrative edition of e.r. (back when Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross were still on the show). The medical bits are interesting, and felt right — although I wouldn’t know wrong from right, the author is or was a surgeon, so… The pacing is good, nothing drags. But still, I didn’t love this book as a romance, primarily because it lacks an external plot and tension. The internal plot is the two of them negotiating their professional interaction as Castle wants everything on film while Sinclair resists because she is a very private person who is hiding a Big Secret** in her past. Eventually, after a disaster, they succumb to their attraction and pair up, with revelations and explanations to follow. In a lot of ways, this book is like a category romance in its story arc, which is fine…just not what I was expecting.
Still, I would be willing to pick up other books by Radclyffe. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have at least one other in the TBR, purchased at RWA a couple of years ago. Time to dig it out of the pile maybe.
(c) 2006, Bold Strokes Books
* ‘Hero’ and ‘heroine’ were both used as the noun for the lesbian protagonist in modern lesbian romance fiction. I’m accustomed to heroine for the female without regard to sexual orientation, so will use it primarily and apologize for any offense or misuse.
** Eh, really not so big IMO.