Review: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

harlotReviewed by Janell

From the Victoria Dahl books I’ve read, and from following the author on Twitter, I know that Dahl is the most opposite of a slut-shamer there can be. She’s very sex positive, and very positive that women should enjoy sex without the guilt. That’s easy to show in a contemporary book, but what about a historical set in the Old West? Of course, she nails it.

Jessica and Caleb grew up in the same small town. Her father was a banker, so she had high social standing and a relatively luxurious lifestyle. Caleb worshipped her from afar, and as they grew older, they were sweet on each other. But Caleb had that olde tyme male affliction of needing to prove himself to her (funny how that affliction still exists today!), so he set off for California to earn his fortune.

The story opens on the day Caleb returns to town. He’s ready to make an honest woman out of Jessica, to worship her forever. But he’s told that she’s now a whore. Disbelieving, he goes to the old house where Jessica now lives, and confronts her. He doesn’t so much ask her what happened as he accuses her and waits for her to throw herself at his feet, weeping and asking for forgiveness. Instead, she just looks at him with her slutty eyes and tells him to get lost.

So begins their character arcs. Caleb has to stop being judgmental, and he also has to learn to see Jessica as a real person — not as an untouchable virginal prize, but not as a used, defiled, harlot either.

In my opinion, Jessica doesn’t have to learn anything. She’s a survivor. She lives on her own, has a nice couple working the farm with her, and she’s determined to live. She won’t let anyone take that from her. But what’s even better is that Jessica learns not to move forward so much as she learns that she’s not worthless after all. Jessica believes what everyone says about her: that she’s beneath contempt, nasty, degraded, and that she deserves every insult hurled at her, every turned head, every shunning. She had sex for money. She had foul, grotesque sex, actually. But her friend Melisande points out that she’s still alive.

A whore was a worthless piece of nothing. Used up. Ruined. It was worse than being dead, because no one even mourned for you and you had to go on. Keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep pretending to be alive. But everyone knew you were a dirty, empty shell.

“A prick ain’t filled with poison,” Melisande muttered. “It’s just spunk. Men walk around full of it, and look how pleased they are with themselves.”

In my opinion, this book is worth it just for Jessica’s epiphany about hypocrisy and double standards. I won’t quote it because it’s too delicious to read out of context, but when Jessica finally understands how men and women are treated differently after sex, and how men justify it, it will blow your mind with truth. You will cheer at her rage and fist bump her for not backing down. Jessica doesn’t need forgiveness, because she’s done nothing wrong.

Anyway, two thumbs up for angst, romance, heartbreak, sex, all that good stuff.

Rating: A-

*ARC provided by author

Click to purchase: Amazon

Harlot
by Victoria Dahl
Release Date: October 26, 2015

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