Review: Thorns of Eden

Thorns of Eden audiobook cover. A dark haired man in an open white shirt kisses a woman with long dark-blonde hair in a ravishing red dress. Thorns of Eden by Diana Ballew.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 9 hrs 43 mins.
đŸ”„Steamy ScenesđŸ”„

Thorns of Eden by Diana Ballew is a sultry, Southern, 'enemies to lovers' romance set against the backdrop of the bloody Civil War.

Audible Summary: Major Rayce Hampton is the Confederacy’s final hope to turn the tide of war. Haunted by heartache of generations past, love is the last thing he has on his mind when he meets Eden Blair. The emerald-eyed beauty is as headstrong as she is tempting, but Rayce must keep his wits - and his secrets - as he executes his dangerous undercover mission to save the South. 

Accomplished nurse Eden Blair has secrets, too, only she doesn’t know about them yet. Stung by her fiancĂ©’s betrayal, she has no reason to trust the scandalous Major Hampton. But as Yankee troops close in, Eden must take refuge in the major’s mysterious ancestral home, leading her into the shadowy corners of deceit and desire, where endless love lurks within every soft whisper.


I wasn't really sure what to expect of this audiobook as I have listened to very few stories from this period of American history. This book is set during the American Civil War, from the Confederate perspective; which was something I struggled with a bit at the beginning. At first I thought it was going to be harder to warm to the Military heroes given what they were fighting for. My knowledge of American history is limited and not particularly nuanced, but I do find it difficult to view that era with any sympathy for the slave owners and anti-abolitionists, and I was concerned that the contentious issues would be glossed over or romanticised.

Here in Britain we have our own uncomfortable history of benefitting from slavery, but it is very different from that of America, especially the Southern states. We are so removed from that sphere of experience, for the most part, that at first glance it is difficult to comprehend any nostalgia for those times. Upon further reflection, I think that it is perhaps most comparable to our rose-tinted view of the Victorian era despite its rampant colonialism. Some of my favourite series' are set during periods whose values contrast starkly against contemporary expectations, so I tried to keep an open mind. I am sure that many of the Confederate soldiers were simply young men who were fighting to defend their home, and while listening I decided to concentrate on that sentiment. It would have been difficult to wish for Issac's continued safety, or Jed and Rayce's success, if I believed them to be motivated by a desire to protect and expand the evils committed in the name of White supremacy.

I need not have worried so much at the start, however, as the author's position on this point was clarified near the beginning by Eden's brother, Isaac, who pointed out Eden's naive view of the war. The contrast between the way they had treated their valued farmhands and the abuses suffered by slaves on neighbouring farms helped Isaac to educate Eden in the Yankees' cause, and made him a much more sympathetic character. A clear line was drawn, with Isaac fighting for his land, his family, and his home state but not agreeing with all the reasons for the secession. Discovering that Rayce had freed his slaves and employed them honestly was also comforting, and quelled my unease.

It did feel a bit like it was Making A Point when each of the Confederate soldiers expressed very forward-thinking views for the time, and the Union soldiers were unilaterally more degenerate. This black-and-white theme was carried throughout the book, with each new person to whom we were introduced being either a Rebel Hero or a Yankee Villain. The one character whose attitude contained any shades of grey only redeemed himself when he switched sides. It would have been more interesting to have a little more light and shade to both factions rather than drawing such definite lines between 'the good guys' and 'the bad guys', and attempting to subvert contemporary expectations and opinions on which is which. Much as I was uncertain about a leading man having too many contentious allegiances, it didn't feel very realistic to flip history on its head quite so neatly. War is anything but tidy, with the moral issues often as mangled as the bodies of the men and women on the front line. However, I do appreciate that many in Southern states are incredibly proud of their Confederate history, and that this book aims to be a positive, nostalgic, chocolate-boxy interpretation of the time; where all the women were beautiful Belles, all the men were handsome heroes, and love conquered all far beyond the battlefield. It is not really a social or political commentary the way that Lars D. H. Hedbor's Tales From A Revolution series is for the War of Independence.

Once I had settled into the period and the characters, Thorns of Eden fit the historical romance template well. The sexual tension between Eden and Rayce was palpable from the beginning, and her feistiness was a good foil for his stubbornness. Though they clashed upon first meeting, it was inevitable that they would succumb to the attraction one way or another, and I was rooting for them to do just that.

This is, in many ways, a very traditional romance novel. The language is often very florid and over-the-top in a slightly Mills & Boon fashion but I believe that to be consistent with the regional culture. Both protagonists were achingly perfect; Eden's skin was always flawless ivory and her hair honeyed perfection, her greatest weakness being to always think of others before herself. Rayce's bearing was the height of masculine allure, his voice burning into her core like the finest brandy, and he cared more for his country than his own life. The romantic and intimate interactions suffer a little from the aforementioned lace-fan-wafting language, which sometimes feels rather dated (and not to the historical period), but it wasn't unpalatably saccharin because Rayce's gruffness helped take the edge off. In a similarly over-acted vein, several tragedies were marked out as being especially life-changing and traumatic because a loved one "died in the arms" of their heartbroken nearest and dearest. Death is seldom so convenient, especially more than once.

If you dislike stereotypes then this isn't the book for you, but if you've ever swooned at a technicolour Hollywood musical then - chances are - you'll like this, too.

I wasn't sure about the accuracy of some of the language and customs included in this book. The phrase "make love" is a pet hate of mine. It isn't accurate to the period but crops up a lot in historical bodice-rippers (and their cleaner counterparts) because it sounds romantic to the modern ear. Equally, large diamond engagement rings wouldn't have been common here at the time, either, but may have been more prevalent in the US. There are certainly diamond pieces available in antique jewellery of the period, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about historical trends beyond Europe to say whether or not Anne's engagement ring was exceptional. As diamonds did not become ubiquitous until De Beers' notorious campaign in the mid 1900s, it always stands out when diamond engagement rings are specified in earlier periods, but they certainly weren't unheard-of. Overall, anachronistic elements in American novels don't catch my attention the way they do with British period stories because I am so much less familiar with the historical context.

I did enjoy this audiobook, and would listen to others by Diana Ballew, especially if read by this narrator.

Reagan Boggs' performance was delightful. Her rich, smooth, Southern drawl was very evocative of the location and she remained entertaining and engaging throughout this audiobook. I would have liked Rayce's voice to be a little deeper and more masculine but it is almost always a trade-off in books like these with a single narrator. I think this book could have been perfect for dual-narration, with a male narrator joining for the masculine parts, but it wasn't really necessary as Boggs did a fine job. Hers is a name I will look out for now that I know how pleasant she is to listen to.

I would recommend Thorns of Eden to people who like sweet, sweeping love stories with a traditional feel, and to anyone with the US Romance Package - recently re-branded Audible Escape - in which this audiobook is included.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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