Feb 27 2012 9:30am

Rutabagas and Unicorns: The Windflower by Laura London

The Windflower by Laura LondonEvery lady of breeding knows. No one has a good time on a pirate ship. No one, that is, but the pirates. Yet there she was, Merry Wilding—kidnapped in error, taken from a ship bound from New York to England, spirited away in a barrel and swept aboard the infamous Black Joke....There she was, trembling with pleasure in the arms of her achingly handsome, sensationally sensual, golden-haired captor—Devon. From the storm-tossed Atlantic to the languid waters of the Gulf Stream, from a smuggler’s den to a gilded mansion, Merry struggled to escape the prison of her own reckless passions, the bondage of sweet, bold desire...

The Windflower by Laura London (aka Tom and Sharon Curtis) is one of those classics of the Romance genre perennially referenced as one of the best romance novels ever written. It’s unfortunately out of print, but used copies can be acquired.  Originally published in June 1984, it was reissued in 1995.

The story is an epic of the sort that’s rarely published these days: It’s longer than most modern romances, told from an omniscient point of view, and the language is more elaborate, the sort of prose often parodied as purple.  Occasionally, I did find the language so overblown it became confusing, but for the most part, the style really suited the epic sweep of the story.  The language was a major high point for me, because it surprised me. How? Because The Windflower is actually really, really funny.

I don’t mean “funny” in a mocking sense.  I mean that the novel is funny.  Note that the pirate ship is named Black Joke. Even aside from the ongoing clever banter of the hero and heroine, there are multiple funny characters who say funny things.

This morning, when she had chanced to make a remark praising the sparkling seascape, Cook had said prosaically, “I can’t see what you find to admire in the ocean. Jeez, what is it besides diluted fish piss? When you think of all those fish in all those centuries ...” And then encountering severely critical looks from Cat and Raven, he had added, “Oh. Sorry, Merry. Fish urine.”

Even funnier, to me, is the voice of the omniscient narrator.  The narrator is very much in on the joke that this is a romance novel, and that the seemingly feckless heroine, Merry, is going to end up with Devon, the dazzling older man who seems completely out of her reach.  It’s pretty clear to me that this joking is deliberate, almost a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” antidote to Merry’s dramatic adolescent emotional storms.  This novel is all about the sexual tension, and the language used emphasizes that throughout.

There are repeated metaphoric references to sexual awakening, beginning from the very first page, that are in sharp contrast to the actual sex scenes in the last quarter of the book.

Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn.

...The rutabagas weren’t coming out right. The front one had a hairy, trailing root that jutted upward at an awkwardly foreshortened angle. Though she had corrected the drawing several times, the result remained an unhappy one.

If there is a funnier vegetable than a rutabaga, please tell me what it is.  A phallic rutabaga!  I was immediately eager to read the rest of the novel and see where this narrator would take me.  And the unicorn, you ask?  We’re told that Merry has long dreamed of a unicorn.  It appears again in her dreams like a portent, just before the story begins.

…until last night. It had burst through the window in a frightening rush of energy, glass flying everywhere, and it had reared in the corner of the room, pawing and snorting, looking bigger than it had been before, its muscles white and glistening beneath its creamy hide, its chest broad and heaving, its horn poised and thick.

Its horn is thick.  I just thought I would repeat that, in case you missed it.  Ahem.

He wants me to ride him, she had thought…

Oh, yes, honey.  He does want you to ride him.  The connection is made more explicit (heh) when Merry first sees Devon.

…this man was beautiful, in a way uniquely masculine, as arrogant and tender as a Renaissance archangel sitting in liquid, unattainable splendor…as she stared at him Merry felt the hot embers of that same confusing blend of yearning and fear that had brushed into her soul when she had dreamed of the unicorn.

At numerous places within the novel, nature also conspires to inform us, metaphorically, exactly what is ahead for Merry if she continues in her relationship with Devon. 

The pool was fed by a warm underground spring…she leaned back luxuriantly into his arms as the warm, relaxing fluid lapped about her thighs. A mound of swollen scarlet flowers dripped from the limestone outcropping overlooking the pool, and the musky scent tickled at her nostrils…The sunlight…probed at her, awakening her…losing herself in the sudden penetrating sensation of hot, hard stone beneath her thighs…melted from the fabric [of her gown] and explored the inside of her thighs in an oddly dulcet manner.

There is a lot more going on in The Windflower than humorous sexual titillation, of course; there’s adventure, an intriguing relationship between hero and heroine, appealing secondary characters, and suspense.  But for me, the rutabaga and the unicorn were the hooks that dragged me into the story and kept me there.

By the way, Merry ate the rutabaga.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen; she has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform.” Follow her on Twitter:  @victoriajanssen or find out more at

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Heather Waters
1. hnwaters
I...can't believe I haven't read this! It sounds like I must. Humor, appealing characters, and unresolved sexual tension/UST are all right up my alley.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I have never read this either (and it is part of the Romance Canon, so I should've!) I really need to, thanks for the rutabaga love.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I don't know how I missed this one. I have several other regencies by these authors and I've always loved the tone of them. "The Bad Baron's Daughter" is a particular favorite. Blame lack of internet back then for my ignorance of this one. Since I became aware of it, I've have never found a copy that I could afford.
Darlene Marshall
6. DarleneMarshall
I read all of "Laura London's" novels back in the day, including the contemporaries, and my biggest regret as a reader and author is that I gave them all away...except for Windflower.

I knew from the first page it was a book I wanted to keep, and you can add me to the legion of fans who still hope for Cat's story to be told.
Jane Limback
8. jane321
This is my favorite, favorite, favorite romance. Sadly it is out of print and hard to find. (My copy is falling apart and I've been on the lookout.) I hope they will reissue it.
And yes.... I hold out hope for Cat's story as well.
Looks like my TBR pile just shifted... The Windflower is next in line to read yet again - falling apart or not.
marion bergner
9. ducky
I wish they would reissue this - used copies seem to be expensive.

This romance has really great, witty supporting characters - the pirate captain Morgan, Raven, and Cat!!! (Who I wanted for my bf back in the day.)
Lynda the Guppy
10. Lynda the Guppy
I LOVE this book. I'm lucky enough to have at least one copy (maybe 2?) of the original, and probably several of the reprint, too. This was one of the first romances I ever read, and it's been a staple in my library ever since. The scene where he proposes? And her response? ROFLMAO. LOVE.

I think it's time for a reread.
Victoria Janssen
11. VictoriaJanssen
@jane321 - DUCT TAPE!!! ok, so maybe that's a bit extreme for a book....

@ducky - I would totally read a Morgan, Raven, & Cat spinoff.

@Lynda - I really enjoyed the proposal scene.
Lynda the Guppy
12. JenM
Sigh... I gave my copy away years ago when I stopped reading romance. Now I'd give anything to have it back. I'm holding on to the hope that it will be re-issued in ebook format one of these years. Does anyone know whatever happened to Sharon and Tom Curtis?
Lynda the Guppy
13. Sherry Huang
That's a very great review indeed....!! I never think of such "connection" I mean.. till notice that "horn connection" LOL!

I'm really in need of reviews of The Windflower praising and loving Devon more! (since we have this sexy exotic Cat as well) hahahahaha.
Victoria Janssen
14. VictoriaJanssen
@Sherry Huang - Devon is so adorable. I would happily read a whole book just about the pirates.
ani gonzalez
15. acgonzalez111
I loved this book and I agree that it is one of the best romance novels in the canon. It is a one-of-a-kind novel. Cat and Raven were my favorite characters and I waited and waited for a Cat spinoff. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting. It's not too late for a Cat book, Ms. London!
Lynda the Guppy
16. jo bourne
I love Windflower. It's warm and funny and beautifully written.
Keira Soleore
17. KeiraSoleore
I bought the book on the recommendation of Victoria and others on Twitter, but have had cold feet since adding it to my TBR shelf. There's so much hype and so much love surrounding the book that I'm afraid to be disappointed. After reading this post, I'm feeling braver.
Victoria Janssen
18. VictoriaJanssen
@Jo Bourne, I especially appreciated the humor.

@Keira Soleore, I put it off for many years, but had a great time once I got started! Even if you don't like it, it's a great book for sparking discussions.
Lynda the Guppy
19. Samantha Kane
I love The Windflower so much. One of my first romances. My copy is falling apart from the re-reads, but I will never give it up. Favorite line: It must be love, Merry thought. I adore his feet.

And don't forget the scene where she sucks the sugarcane. :)

I would pay ridiculously large sums of money for Cat's book.
Lynda the Guppy
21. graciella
I just found this one in a box of old books from my teens, had forgotten about it, but reread it and love it all over again. I remember after reading this hunting down a bunch of her other books but I don't seem to have any of those anymore :(
Victoria Janssen
22. VictoriaJanssen
@graciela - Oh, wow, that was a lucky find! Maybe the others will turn up in another forgotten box?
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