This book is a crime against literature, against entertainment, against fiction, against history, and against joy.
Dangerous: Savannah’s Story, Jude Watson, 1995.
This is another one of those books that fall into the illustrious category of “The cover tells you exactly how bad it’s going to be.” And oh, it’s not wrong. It’s so terribly not wrong. I have nothing against a trashy romance novel, but this is barely even a romance novel. So instead of it being “young adult historical romance,” it’s like…barely romance, vaguely historical, and so I guess it’s “young adult.” Good. Already off to a good start, but it’s the kind of “good start” where the car you’re driving has already failed to start three or four times before you finally get it going and then you end up rolled over in a ditch hanging from your seatbelt and cursing violently.
I suppose I should have started with this book since it starts off the series, but frankly I don’t care that much, and also this book is so atrociously bad that I would have lost the will to live and therefore to continue my blog. The very first thing you need to know is that basically the first chapter or three is cribbed directly from Gone With The Wind—young, pretty, vivacious Southern belle of a large plantation, who’s been kicked out of several “ladies’ academies,” finds herself married almost against her will to a suitable match whom she hates. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Well, it should, because it’s barely original—in addition to being the first conflict in Gone with the Wind it’s the foundation of like, every single “Southern belle” romance on the planet.
Well, Savannah’s actual name is Shelby, and her cruel father marries her off to some guy, but Shelby is having none of that. To stave off Becoming His Wife (you know, in the Biblical sense), she takes some terrible poison, and spends the next three days sick in bed. She spots an ad looking “ladies of suitable background” to go to California and become miners’ brides, and thinks that this sounds like the perfect plan! I can detect one enormous flaw in it right from the start: she’s ALREADY FUCKING MARRIED, to begin with, and secondly if she hates being married so much I sincerely doubt that going to the other end of the country to get married AGAIN to someone else is going to be a much better plan! Proving that her reasoning skills are not the best, she pawns a ruby necklace given to her as a wedding gift and trots off on the train to New York, only to be surprised at the train station by her personal slave, Opal, who says she also wants to escape to New York to see her sister. Shelby is not as fazed by this as one would imagine, and off they go.
Things get off to a rocky start on the ship, where Shelby makes up a random new name—i.e., Savannah, and even the other girls are like “Wow, it’s convenient that a Southern girl would be given a nice Southern place name, you know?” and Opal tags along on the ship because why not. The only redeeming factor—and I mean it, the only one—of this series is that Opal is a total deadpan snarker whom I imagine spends the majority of her time giving people serious side-eye. Anyway, Eli Bullock, the organizer of the expedition, spends his time griping about how miserable he is having to chaperone a bunch of ladies to California (and again: if you hate it so much why are you doing it?) and is immediately convinced that Savannah is hiding secrets of some kind. Which she is—namely, that she is already married and fleeing under an assumed name. I feel like the narrative that focuses on “Savannah goes off to find adventure!” kind of glosses over that aspect.
Eden Moran, the girl the second book is about, immediately also locates Savannah as Someone To Watch, solely based on the fact that she saw two Southern men on the docks looking for a young woman. This is actually pretty flimsy evidence, but the book treats it like Biblical truth, so whatever, but Eden decides she’s going to take this little nugget as blackmail material. Uh, why? Eli spies on her and Savannah talking, and instantly decides they’re up to no good, but after chatting a bit he and Savannah end up making out on the deck and partially undressing. It’s….night….which I guess is supposed to make that better? This entire book series is full of stuff like that, where characters are like “No big deal that we just made out in public!” when I can’t come up with enough boldface type to explain how Not Done that was by a young woman brought up in a genteel Southern plantation home. But sure, whatever. So they make out for a bit, Eli feels guilty and stops it, and Savannah is like “What a gentleman! He stopped kissing me!” If he was a real gentleman of the 1850s he wouldn’t have done it in the first place, idiot.
When they arrive in Last Chance, the women are staying at the local brothel slash tavern slash saloon, which they are naturally horrified about, and they’re equally horrified to see that the miners are dirty and uncouth and drunkenly spit tobacco everywhere. To which I ask: what did they expect? Everyone in this book is a moron. Mrs. Bullock, Eli’s mother and the self-described lady of the town (here’s another question: it’s described as if Mrs. Bullock is the only decent woman in town, but she’s described as having sewing circles and socials and stuff. With who?) invites all the brides to tea and to an evening reception and dance, which is nice of her, but really she’s only doing it to pick out the best ones for her sons. Anyway, Eden is a disaster who gets the band to start playing polka music (???) and they all have a rip-roaring time. But while dancing, Eden learns about a high-stakes poker game she wants to enter, and asks Savannah for the money she got pawning that ruby necklace, and calls in her “blackmail.” Unfortunately, Eden isn’t as good as she thinks she is, loses all their money, and they’re well and truly stuck there.
In the meantime, the Bullock brothers have made about fifty thousand dollars somehow (mining, presumably, although that is glossed over as well) and need to take it to the bank in Sacramento. This will be important later. Anyway, Opal decides she’s had it with this terrible town (truth) and asks Savannah for some money to go to Sacramento herself, because she’s tired of taking favours from Willie Joe, the only coloured man in town, who’s been driving her around and generally being kind and thoughtful to her. Savannah says she has no money, which Opal absolutely does not believe, and then Opal stalks off all angrily. For someone who has no money, Savannah is pretty savvy about making it—she decides that she loves Eli Bullock after all and wants to win him over by showing she’s interested in the town, so she arranges a whole series of fundraisers to make some town-improvement money and bring a theatre troupe to town to entertain everyone. This is a terrible idea.
The theatre troupe they end up hiring is, of course, a terrible rag-tag bunch of swindlers, as I’m sure anyone who’s read one book before in their lives could tell. On the day of their first performance, Opal and Willie Joe head off to Sacramento to get married, even though Opal is Not Enthused about this plan. Savannah has the decency to feel guilty about this for about thirty seconds before tripping off to see the play, which is an execrable failure and ends up being pelted by tomatoes. When the gunshots start going off, the lead actor, Benedict, grabs Savannah (again: inexplicably) and takes her backstage, where it’s “safe.” He says she’ll make an amazing actress, and why not join their troupe and go off to San Francisco? It’ll be great! Savannah: this is LITERALLY how girls are suckered into prostitution by pimps when they run away to the Big City. There are at least five episodes of Law and Order with this exact plotline.
Eden goes with them, just for the ride, and Benedict is all “Let’s get rooms at the nicest hotel in the city! But don’t worry, I won’t try any funny business!” DON’T LISTEN TO HIM, SAVANNAH. She is too stupid to live, so she believes him, and meanwhile the Bullock brothers are baffled as to who could have stolen their $50,000. Wow, an acting troupe of low standards and ill repute comes to town and vanishes quickly on the very same day your money is gone? Where could it possibly have gone to? Truly, this is a mystery for the ages. Eli and Josiah think that it’s Savannah and Eden who have stolen the money, because they’re morons, and one of their assistants is like “We’ve got them! We rounded up a posse!” and brings back Opal and Willie Joe, because of course.
Then there’s a smash cut to San Francisco, where Savannah is all “Ooh I don’t know why this Benedict could possibly want to buy me new clothes! It’s a mystery!” and Eli has mysteriously appeared, looking for them. When the desk clerk tells Benedict there was a young man looking for them, Savannah panics and thinks it’s her husband and blurts out the whole story to Benedict (moron), who tells Savannah that he’ll hide her away somewhere. This “plan” is getting worse and worse. Eli manages to track down Eden, who is busy gambling in dirty saloons, and interrogate her about the gold she “stole” and is again, totally baffled when she doesn’t have it. Much to my dismay, she doesn’t point out that if she had $50,000 in gold lying around she wouldn’t be gambling in a disgusting bar, which to me is a much more salient point. Eden agrees to help Eli track down Savannah if he promises to say that he loves her (Savannah). Why. Why?
Savannah reads in the newspaper that the Bullocks have been robbed, and that Opal and Willie Joe were “arrested” in suspicion, and they they’re going to send Opal back to Georgia. She panics again and says they have to leave, and is totally surprised when Benedict turns out to be a complete bag of shit and is like “Eh, no.” She says she’s going anyway, and he points out that they’re living together and she’s ruined and tries to rape her, but during the struggle Savannah discovers the strongbox of gold and then the door flies open and Eli and Eden are standing there. Eden throws herself on Benedict and Savannah brains him with the strongbox while Eli just stands there like he’s waiting for a god-damned bus. Then, of all people, Savannah’s husband shows up, because they all have the world’s best sense of timing, or this is the deus ex machina to end all of them.
They all go back to Last Chance, where Savannah and her husband swear that Opal used to be their property but is now free, and Justus agrees that he and Savannah shouldn’t be married anyway and he’ll just grant her an annulment, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Then Savannah goes to Eli to tell him everything, and they agree that they both acted abominably, but it’s okay because they loved each other all along. (This is a terrible, terrible, terrible message, by the way, and I’m appalled that it is basically the premise of every one of these stupid books in this series.) They agree to get married, and presumably live happily ever after.
Rating: D-. Dear God in heaven, this is an atrocious book. On every conceivable level! For starters, basically everyone is incredibly dumb and makes leaps of logic that would put kangaroos to shame. Secondly, everyone in this book behaves like all the morals of the era are just….not present, and while I understand that life in a “mining town” is different, they completely bypass the fact that these women are supposed to be gently reared and would likely have a very difficult time adjusting to this life. The racists in this book are looked down on, which is of course as it should be, but would have basically never, ever, ever happened in the 1850s. Ever. There is nothing that makes Eli sound like a good prospect for marriage other than his wealth, because he acts like an ass for most of the book, but Savannah is almost too dumb to live, so maybe they’re a good match for each other. I don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care, and I am ashamed of the thirty minutes it took me to reread this book. In my defense, even as a teenager I could tell these books were complete trash, but now they have absolutely no redeeming factor. The only thing saving it from an F rating is that it was more or less coherently written and not blatantly racist. That’s ALL.