I recently read a foreword by Philippa Gregory that discusses the difference between historical romance and historical fiction. In her opinion, good historical fiction explores how people were affected by the society in which they lived and reminds us that the past is another country; historical romance, on the other hand, uses the past only for its imagined glamour. At the time, I thought it was a rather harsh assessment. After all, Georgette Heyer wrote historical romance that is richly detailed and steeped in the past. But after reading "Northern Temptress," I'm inclined to think Ms. Gregory has a point.
This book is set during and after the Battle of Gettysburg, though it gives no real sense of the era. So little that at times, I felt the story was in some way desecrating Gettysburg. It doesn't help that there's almost no plot. I can't even say it follows the standard formula, because it never gets beyond boy-meets-girl. The Rebel meets the Yankee, they fall in instant love, and nothing really comes between them for the rest of the novel except circumstance and author contrivance (which drags out for an unpardonably long time at the end).
Almost as awkward as the lack of history was the way the author used the heroine's profession to further the romance. The heroine is supposedly a trained doctor (because there were so many female doctors running around America in 1863--especially named Alexa). The hero is wounded twice and the heroine treats him but in a bizarrely sexualized way. She's either leaning over him and pressing her breasts against his chest, or asking him to strip naked so she can listen to his lungs, or climbing into bed with him because she's tired and he's too heroic to let her sleep on the floor. It's probably a perfect illustration of why people back then thought medicine was an inappropriate career for women.
Compounding things, the book is sloppy. The word "soldier" is misspelled as "SOLIDER" six times. (I could understand once--anyone came miss a typo--but six times?) "Grammy" changes to "Granny" on several pages. Words are oddly separated or missing hyphens: "lady like manner" "battle field" "thunder storm." And the author occasionally descends into greengrocers' apostrophes: "ninny's" "zinnia's" "Heaven's."
Overall, I didn't hate the book--it had its moments--but I did object to the way it trivializes an important and devastating battle in service of a boring romance. The Gettysburg Campaign deserves better.