I am an avid fan of Victoria Dahl. I love her style and her sass and so when she announced on Twitter that she was writing an erotic historical short novel, I marked the release date on my calendar and began avidly checking NetGalley in case it became available.
Praise be, y’all. It did.
Harlot is indeed historical – set in California during the Gold Rush – and is indeed erotic (holy hell on a stick, y’all. HOLY HELL.). As the tag line says, our hero thought he was coming home to an angel and found a sinner instead.
A few years prior to our story, Caleb and Jessica were moving glacially towards marriage when Caleb up and left to go work in the mines. Jessica, he thought, would wait for him. There was some miscommunication on this front, complicated by the fact that Caleb isn’t super comfortable with literacy, so they had to rely on middle men (namely Caleb’s mother and stepfather) to help them communicate.
In the meantime, unbeknownst to Caleb, Jessica’s father died and left her in a mountain of debt. A local gentleman offers to help her get out of that debt, and low and behold it will only cost her her virginity. What a bargain, eh?! Our sweet naive Jessica thought so and her whole life turned upside down. (There’s a wee trigger warning here, dears. As you probably guessed, Jessica was raped by this man and when she describes it to Caleb it gets graphic. Just be prepared.)
So at the opening of our tale, Caleb hears that Jessica is now a whore and wigs out a bit. Treats her like one for a while before he realizes that choices are made for varieties of reasons and if he loves this girl, she deserves his respect and trust and care, no matter how many other roosters have been in the hen house, so to speak.
I am on record as to not often loving novellas. They’re usually paced poorly, with limited character development. I feel writing them is a talent and I’m usually skeptical of a writer’s ability to transition from plotting full-length books to shorter ones. I stand correctly, chickens, because Ms. Dahl knocked this one out of the park.
The frank conversations about the limited choices women faced were refreshing. I loved Jessica’s journey out of her shame spiral and towards personal empowerment. I loved Caleb realizing that men and women have double standards in society. I loved their happily ever after.
If you’re interested in a quick, hot read that packs an emotional punch, pick up Harlot immediately. Read it with a glass of whiskey at the ready.
- California Gold Rush of 1949: There’s more to it than getting a name for a football team, chickens.
- Gold Rush era harlotry was certainly not uncommon
- “When Prostitution Wasn’t A Crime: The Fascinating History of Sex Work in America”
I got a copy of this one from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thanks y’all!