Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, I love that bitch like a fat kid loves cake
Second: next time someone recommends a book without telling me it’s the third in a trilogy, I’ll grab a leaf outta Little CJ’s book and start with the voodoo dolls and the pointy objects. (The good news: this one reads very much like a stand-alone until the last three or so chapters, so no one is getting hurt… this time. I seriously would advise you guys not to tempt fate, though, capisci?)
Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare
My confession: despite having one or (more likely) two other books by Ms Clare in the TBR mountain range, Ride the Fire is the first of hers I’ve read. Unbeknownst to me before I read it *glaring at Kristie(J) and Super Librarian Wendy* this is the third title in Ms Clare’s Blakewell/Kenleigh trilogy. As stated above, it can be read as a stand-alone title, but people like me *coughanalretentivecough* want know where it stands before reading it.
Set in the Ohio frontier during the tumultuous period after the French and Indian war, it follows Nicholas Kenleigh, firstborn son and heir to the Kenleigh Shipping empire in Virginia, and one Elspeth (Bethie) Stewart, the young widow of a humble settler.
I find I need to issue a warning: while this is definitely a romance, it includes some rather intense and graphic descriptions of violence-not for the faint of heart. Reader beware.
Here’s the (slightly over the top melodramatic) back cover blurb:
There was only one rule on the frontier-survival. So when a wounded, buckskin-clad stranger appeared at the door of her isolated cabin, Elspeth Stewart felt no qualms about disarming him and then tying him to her bed. Newly widowed and expecting her first child, she had to protect herself at all costs. And Nicholas Kenleigh threatened not only her safety, but her peace of mind. The terrible scars on his body spoke of a tortured past, but his gentle hands and burning gaze awoke longings she had never expected to feel. Bethie had good reason to distrust men, but little by little she found herself believing in Nicholas, in his honor, his strength. As he brought her baby into the world, then took both mother and daughter into his care, she realized this was the man who would teach her to…
Ride the Fire
This novel starts with some incredibly intense scenes: Nicholas and two young soldiers have been captured by a band of Wyandot Indians who, after feasting and entertaining them, proceed to torture them as prelude to killing them and eating their flesh**. Did I mention these are intense scenes? Nicholas’ life is spared midway through this process, for reasons beyond his understanding and control. Both the torture and his survival (while his comrades didn’t) inform the man he becomes afterwards-PTSD in a very real way.
Fast forward a number of years.
Nicholas lives-or perhaps exists is a better word-alone on the frontier. As necessary, he interacts equally with the whites as he does with different Indian tribes, but he belongs nowhere, and he definitely prefers it that way. However, after being gravely wounded in an ambush, he must ask for the help of the first person he comes across. Enter Bethie Stewart-widow of a few months and a few short weeks shy of delivering her first child.
Bethie is understandably wary of a stranger-even before her husband’s death their existence was precarious, living as they did isolated from civilization at a time and place where Indian raids were more the norm than the exception, and where white men didn’t, as a rule, have any more scruples about abusing a lone woman than the Indians would. Her fears seem to be well-founded when Nicholas resorts to threatening her with a pistol to get her to help him. Of course, with Nicholas having lost so much blood, the balance of power soon tips in the other direction, and he later wakes up to find himself tied to the bed, with all his guns hidden from him, and her in possession of the same pistol he had used to threaten her.
Things could have easily become antagonistic between them after this, but soon reason and necessity help them overcome such an inauspicious beginning. She will offer him shelter and care, he’ll offer his protection and not harm her until he’s fit to leave. Bethie’s labor further changes things between them. Nicholas reluctance to get involved-to care-is no match for her need of his help.
One of the many things I enjoyed in Ride the Fire: Bethie is believably helpless-and she’s not in denial about it. For once, helpless doesn’t equate to weak-allow me to take a few minutes here to cheer.
An often used trope in romances seems to be the innocent heroine who has been either outright raped or otherwise sexually traumatized, and the hero whose sexual overtures “cure” her. While using it, Ms Clare takes pains to portray Nicholas’ reactions to Bethie’s fears and his sensitivity towards her reasons for it, extremely believable. In fact, it is not until well past the midway point of the novel that there is anything more than kisses between them.
Bethie’s growing trust in Nicholas and in herself are what ultimately allow her to risk giving in to the physical desire she feels for him. No magic (and no mighty wang either (tm SmartBitches)) but the natural development of their relationship.
As for Nicholas, he has struggled with his memories, and with the decisions he made because of them, for years. His interaction with Bethie, his subconscious need to protect her and baby Isabelle, serve as catalysts for him to face his past, yet the process is neither sudden nor immediate. Just as she matures, slowly, step by step, so he comes to terms with himself.
Then there is the historical accuracy which, as far as I can tell, falls on the high end of the scale. The sheer scope of the story-it is about these two people, yes, but both the time and the place play a key rôle in it. Ms Clare doesn’t shy away from telling things as they were-from hunger to violence. The narrative evokes the feeling of a saga, since the scope of the background history is so big. There is a sense of time passing without bogging down the story, which makes the evolution of the relationship more solid, and all the more believable.
Lastly, and worth all sorts of kudos: the originality of the setting, time-period wise.
There were, of course, a few things that bugged me-mostly related to Bethie’s backstory. Both her stepbrother and stepfather were a tad too “stock villain” for my tastes, and little too close to being plot devices instead of characters. Even her mother, as more is revealed throughout the story, turns out to be a bit flat. She hates Bethie because a) she was born, b) she survived, and c) she was NOT a boy.
Finally, the last confrontation with the stepfather stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief-a tad too coincidental for me.
But once again I bow to Kristie(J)’s and Wendy’s wisdom: Ride the Fire gets a 9 out of 10, and my thanks for the recommendation.