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Do you ever wonder what Navy SEALs do in their time off? Romance readers don’t have to wonder because romance authors are more than happy to illustrate all of the many useful roles Navy SEALs can fill stateside. For example, sometimes villains infiltrate the Department of Homeland Security to go after a well-meaning young scientist. Luckily, there’s a good chance that scientist is married to a Navy SEAL, and the rest is history. Or in this case, the rest is Bane.  

Type: Category romance. This is a new type for Restricted Reading, so let me explain a little. Simply put, category romances are shorter and churned out more quickly; Harlequin in particular publishes several of them a month. These are the multiple book sets that might have come to your mother or grandmother in the mail when you were a kid. The publisher dictates a rigid format for the plot and style of the category, and these romances are often also part of a series. For example, Bane is book number 31(!) in author Brenda Jackson’s Westmoreland series, and its category is Harlequin’s Desire line, books which “feature heroes who have it all: wealth, status, incredible good looks…everything but the right woman.” In other words, don’t be surprised when the characters in Bane are able to find exactly the right well-connected friends, secret cabins, or private planes to suit their needs and the plot.  

The couple: The titular Bane Westmoreland has been in love with Crystal Newsome since she was a teenager and he was in his early twenties. Her family was afraid she’d drop out of school because of how much time and energy Bane took up, and his family was seemingly pretty busy falling in love in prior romance novels, so no one was super supportive of the relationship. Bane and Crystal ran away and got secretly married on her 18th birthday, but then Bane decided that they should stay apart to become the best versions of themselves. Which, while probably true since no one is the best version of themselves at 18 years old, seems like a decision they should have made together. Anyway, five years after their marriage at the beginning of this book, Bane is a Navy SEAL and Crystal is a PhD student.

Tropes: Second chance romance, secret marriage, and a damsel in distress being protected by a Navy SEAL. Plus, Bane takes the “large family of attractive single people = romance novel series” to a whole new level. Nearly three dozen books requires a LOT of Westmoreland cousins.  

The story: After five years of separation and secret marriage, Bane, who is on leave after a particularly difficult mission, decides that it’s time to “claim his wife,” and goes to find Crystal. The minor problem is that he hasn’t seen or spoken to her in five years. The major problem is where this story takes a turn towards AMAZING in the way that only romance novels can. It turns out that bad guys are hunting Crystal because she is working on secret technology to make things invisible. Let me reiterate in case you missed that: 23-year-old PhD student Crystal, who almost dropped out of high school, is the chief researcher working on “obscured reality.” Which is making things invisible. And she is the only person who knows all of the making-things-invisible secrets, so some nefarious people (who I guess want invisible things) are after her. Luckily, her Navy SEAL husband arrives just in time to protect her and her genius brain from the bad guys.

Quick public service announcement: if five years of celibacy can turn someone from a would-be high school dropout to a genius who can make things invisible, our middle schools are teaching sex education all wrong.

How’s the sex? Jackson loses a few points for describing Crystal’s breasts as “twin globes” twice in a two-chapter span. That description is so awkward that it even stands out in a romance novel. But generally she does a nice job of capturing the relationship between two people who have a history but who have also been apart for long enough that there’s still some uncertainty and timidity related to their physical relationship.

Is this book for you? Bane is very much of the category it claims. It’s of its series, too, but it can be read independently of all of the other Westmoreland books. In fact, in some ways, the length and style of the category type pairs well with the extensive history of the characters; Jackson doesn’t have time to go into a lot of detail about the additional siblings and cousins and so she doesn’t. That said, as a favor to all of the readers who have stuck with the series, she does give a passing mention to enough different siblings and cousins and the spouses they courted in previous books that at times Bane feels a it feels a little like the Bible’s Book of Chronicles. I spent a lot of time in Catholic school, so you can trust me on that reference.

Regardless of the extensive genealogy, Bane is an entertaining, feather-light read. That’s not a coincidence: Brenda Jackson has been a best-selling force in the romance world for several years, and she knows her craft. If the length and style of category romance is for you, there’s a good chance Bane is as well.

Conclusion: There isn’t a lot of depth to Bane, but there isn’t supposed to be. Jackson tells her story within the confines of the series and the type of book she’s writing. By next month at this time, I probably won’t be able to remember many of Bane’s details, but it won’t matter. By then, there will be a half a dozen new Harlequin Desire books I could read, probably one of which will feature the newly discovered Alaskan Westmoreland cousins.

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