Monday, April 20, 2009

King Of The Wild Frontier

Dear KristieJ,

We share a number of books in common. You're one of my western homegirls yo. However, when it comes to books that you love and adore, we tend to run into some differences. Case in point, I slapped both Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas and Broken Wing by Judith James with C grades. Amazingly enough, you're still talking to me. You're also quite fond of shaking your head in disgust and nagging me ("Wendy, Wendy, Wendy") when you find out I've got some incredible book languishing in my TBR. So in an effort to disappoint you a little less when we see each other in July at RWA (squeee!), I promised you I would read Ride The Fire by Pamela Clare before then. I literally plowed through the last 100 pages on my lunch break today.

There was only one rule on the frontier—survival. So when 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 touch and burning gaze awoke longings she had never expected to feel.

Bethie had every reason in the world to distrust men; the cruelty she suffered at their hands had marked her soul, though her blonde beauty showed no sign of it. 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 scarred survivor could heal her wounded spirit, and together they would… Ride the Fire.
It's always interesting to read a book based on a blogger's recommendation, especially when it's a blogger you know personally. Reading this book, I immediately understood why you love the story so much. You've got a scarred, wounded hero, a wounded heroine, a wonderful sense of history, and long, languid kissing scenes. This book has KristieJ stamped all over it.

I think it's pretty well documented how much I abhor helpless heroines, and certainly Bethie is helpless. The difference here is that her helplessness is believable. She's a damaged, widowed, pregnant woman, living alone on the frontier in 1763. What I appreciated was that while she was alone and scared, she wasn't cowering in a corner waiting for someone to attack her. Oh no! Girlfriend knows how to use a rifle, and matches wits quite well with Nicholas when he shows up wounded on her doorstep.

I appreciate authors who can write a romance novel that bucks the conventions of what naysayers think of as a "bodice ripper." The next time some jackass tells me I read fluffy brain candy garbage, I'm ripping the prologue out of this book and telling them, "Hey, Jackass - this is a romance novel." Man, it's brutal. I liked the amount of factual history Clare weaved into this story, and I really liked the fact that she didn't pull her punches. This is not a sunshine happy puppy dog rainbow kind of book - but then the American frontier during the 1760s was not a happy sunshiney kind of place.

What I thought Clare did especially well in this story was writing the sheer scope of it without leaving the reader with abrupt transitions, and jarring head-hopping. There's a real saga-like quality to this story. I also am a sucker for damaged wounded characters learning to forgive themselves and love again - and both Nicholas and Bethie fit that mold.

I'll be honest, I did feel the prose bordered on turgid at times. It's not quite as purple as say some of those "bodice rippers" from the 1980s, but it's definitely more purple than what some other historical writers are putting out these days. The only time it really felt jarring to me was when Nicholas was having lusty thoughts about Bethie. I found myself thinking that no man, regardless of the time period, would think in such turgid terms - but since I'm not likely to be transported back to the 1760s, what do I really know?

All this being said, I'll be honest....this isn't a keeper for me. As you are no doubt aware, the magic of a "keeper" is often an elusive and mysterious thing. A lot depends on the time and place the reader is in when they pick up the book. I'm not sure what makes a book a keeper for me, what magic elements a book has to have, I just know it when I read it. And after finishing Ride The Fire, I don't have that burning, itching desire (is there an ointment for that?) to read it again. That's usually the benchmark for me. That the moment I finish the last page, I close the book and just "know" that I'll want to reread the story again someday. I didn't get that feeling here.

Doesn't mean I didn't like the book though, and it doesn't mean I won't recommend it to people. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the ending which really cooked for me. So I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying Final Grade = B+. Now dear KristieJ, we've got one less book for you to nag me about. Don't fret though. My TBR is so obscene I'm sure there are plenty of other nagging candidates languishing on my shelves. Which means I should probably get better at lying before July....


Tracy said...

I've heard such varying things on this book/series that I'm not sure what I'll feel about it when I get down to reading it...eventually.

Great review though - I loved it.

Phyl said...

I read this a few years ago based on the strength of Kristie's review. I loved it for many of the reasons you listed here. I'd read it again :-)

Pam's blog is worth reading sometimes because she clearly wants to get the history right (and she doesn't overwhelm you with posting).

Meghan said...

My friends and I were wandering through Barnes and Noble on day when I came across the employee recommendation section. I picked this book to show that even I, an avid romance reader, often chuckled at the titles slapped on the books.

We all had a good laugh at "Ride the Fire."

Then I read the back cover blurb and the book came home with me. It's now a keeper.

Silly title or no silly title, I loved this book.

azteclady said...

First: I love how you two ladies razz on each other.

Second: another title for the TBB list...

(which is already six pages long, gah!)

Kristie (J) said...

I started a letter back to you - but *g* it got too long for here so my reply is at my place.

Wendy said...

Tracy: I liked this one, and appreciated the fact that while part of a series, I was able to read it out of order with no problems. Save it for when you're craving a "grittier" read.

Phyl: The history was sooooo good in this story! A wonderful sense of place, yet the author never info-dumped and I never felt like I was getting a history lecture.

Meghan: And when you think about it, the title really fits the story. Fire is definitely a central "theme" - and touches both characters' lives.

AL: Wait until we both get going on the theme of "soul mates." LOL

Kristie: I saw it! Everyone else, here's the link. Kristie's Response

LoriK said...

Is this one that much more purple than her other historicals? I haven't read this series, but I did read the MacKinnon's Rangers books and don't remember them being "turgid".

Kristie (J) said...

AL: *laughing* I know when and where to do my Wendy's. As she said - I'd never do it to her with a 'soul mate' story.

And if I may reply to LoriK since I think this is her only historical you've read - no, this one isn't any more purple then her other historicals. While I love them all, RtF is my fave.

Wendy said...

LoriK: Kristie gave you her opinion - which is good, since I really can't answer the question. Ride The Fire is indeed the first Clare historical I've read.

I will say I wonder if the prose stood out for me more because I've been reading a TON of category/Harlequin romance lately. And with their shorter word counts, the prose tends to be more....stripped down....for lack of a better description. Authors can't devote pages to the hero's lusty thoughts because, well, there just isn't time. And in Ride The Fire, Nicholas has quite a few lusty thoughts *g*

Renee said...

Great review! I was thisclose to picking it up at the ubs last week--I'd probably seen Kristie mention it. (I put it back in favor of a Loretta Chase.)

Sounds like I'll need to go back and pick it up. Ooh, I like reading a hero's lusty thoughts!

I'm off to Kristie's place!

LoriK said...

If the prose isn't any more purple than the Ranger's books than I wouldn't have an issue with it. Of course, that may be at least partially because I was so excited to read historicals set in a time period that actually interests me that I wasn't as picky as might otherwise have been :).

I'm not especially proud of it, but I'll admit that desperation can skew my perceptions.

Anonymous said...

I might read this book because I adore historical romantic fiction. But I have to ask, does she really use a rifle? That is a serious historical error that would throw me right out of the story.

Wendy said...

LoriK: Yeah, 18th century American historicals don't exactly grow on trees these days.

Anon: Um, it is? Rifles existed in 18th century America. Certainly a woman living in a town or city probably wouldn't go around shooting on off - but women living on the frontier? Totally different kettle of fish.

I remember once I read a western where the heroine lived out in the middle of nowhere with her pre-teen brother and she fainted at the sight of blood and was afraid of guns. Didn't know how to shoot one, and refused to learn. All I could think of was that it was a miracle she was 1) still alive or 2) hadn't been raped and left for dead yet.