Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

The year is 1763, and the Ohio Valley frontier is seething with the beginnings of the French and Indian War. Newly widowed and heavily pregnant, young Elspeth Stewart is alone on her homestead when a wounded stranger shows up on her doorstep. Nicholas Kenleigh has been through hell and back. Captured and tortured by Indians, he has survived his ordeal but now lives life without a sense of purpose.

This story has three distinct parts. In the first, we have Nicholas and Elspeth, or Bethie, alone in her cabin cautiously trying to figure out if they can trust one another. Nicholas is wounded and although Bethie nurses him back to health, she sees him as a dangerous man who is not to be trusted. They slowly start to rely upon one another. Bethie goes into labor and Nicholas helps her through the delivery. He teaches her how to read and write. Bonds of friendship and something more begin to form. It's obvious from early on that Bethie has been mistreated by the men in her life, and to Nicholas' credit he can sense this and never pushes her too far.

The second act begins when Nicholas and Bethie are forced to flee her home and make their way through the wild woods to the nearest English fort. Here they end up in the middle of a siege as the fort is quickly surrounded by Indians. Nicholas has leadership experience as well as knowledge of Indian fighting tactics, and he becomes integral to the fight. Bethie is assumed to be his wife, and they live together in order to shield her from the possible negative attentions of the soldiers. Although the situation is dire, it is during this period that Nicholas and Bethie truly begin to explore intimacy. Again, Nicholas is exceptionally tender and understanding and has the patience of a saint. He understands better than Bethie the ramifications of her abusive past and works very hard to awaken her to the possibility of pleasure between them. The fort siege comes to a end, and in the aftermath, Nicholas and Bethie make their way back east.

The third portion of the book begins to feel a bit like an ending gone on too long. Bethie returns to the home and the stepfather who terrified her as a child. She faces her fears and moves on with her life. She and Nicholas then go to Philadelphia where she finds out that the man she's fallen in love with is in fact a rich, titled landowner from Virginia. As the daughter of simple farmers (and Scots-Irish to boot), Bethie faces feelings of inferiority and her martyr complex kicks in. We get a few chapters in which she continues to refuse to marry Nicholas because she thinks he deserves better than her. Although I can understand the sentiment, I have very little patience for martyric heroines and this started to get on my nerves. Thankfully, it doesn't go on too long. After facing down yet another crisis situation with violence from warring frontiersmen, Bethie and Nicholas get their HEA.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. First of all, what a nice change to read a story that isn't set in Regency England. It's refreshing to visit another period of history and this time period lends itself well to romance because of the adventurous and uncertain nature of the era. If you've ever watched and loved Last of the Mohicans, you'll probably enjoy this book. I also really liked the characters of both Nicholas and Bethie. Nicholas was everything I want in a hero. He's strong and capable, yet tender and exceedingly nurturing with Bethie and her little baby. As for Bethie, she is strong enough to have survived some pretty awful things and doesn't spend a great deal of time feeling sorry for herself.

What brings the grade down for me is a combination of a few things. First of all, I felt the ending was a bit too drawn out, as I mentioned above. One too many climactic endings. Bethie's continued refusal to marry Nicholas 'for his own good' hit one of my personal hot buttons. Also, it must be said that the descriptions of torture were really quite graphic; much more than you would expect and in the very first chapter. I got the uncomfortable feeling throughout the book that the Native Americans were brutal savages without being given some context for why they might be doing the things they did. Having lived in a variety of cultures, I'm always sensitive to the idea that people have reasons for their rituals even if they aren't pretty. Describing elaborate scenes of ritualized torture without some kind of explanation gives one the impression that it's just senseless violence for the sake of violence, and I am somewhat doubtful that this was the case. So while I can understand the author being "true to history" (and yes, those were some violent times), I would have liked to have been given more background information to help me process what was going on. I did appreciate that the author tried to include some observations about the white settlers' actions which contributed to the situation, but overall I was left with a somewhat one-sided portrayal.

However, I still very much enjoyed reading this book, and I intend to read more by this author. Readers looking for a combination of action, adventure and satisfying romance should definitely give this one a look.

Grade: B

12 comments:

Katie(babs) said...

It has been awhile since I read this book but I did enjoy it.
The sex was hot also.
You must read Surrender!! That book is scorching hot with major fort loving and sexy Scottich burrs all arouns :)

Carrie Lofty said...

Ooooh, Dorchester does such awesome covers. I want a painted cover, dammit! *cries*

I have trees on mine. A naked man in the trees. Suppose I shouldn't complain too much :)

lisabea said...

See I look at the cover and I assume the book is 20 years old. I could have sworn I read it 20 years ago as well....

Kristie (J) said...

This one, as well as her other books are all being rereleased. If you check out the authors blog, she has the covers (well - just the cover, nothing else such as author/title ect.) They are very fine and much more in the style of today's covers - although I do admit a fondness for her older covers too - maybe since I've been reading her books from the beginning and it's a sentimental attachment *g*.
And I'm not sure you knew it or not, but this is the third book in a series. The first book is about Nicholas' father and the second about his uncle - both of whom show up at the end.
And Surrender - which Katie mentions -is also set in the same kind of time frame and is also quite Last of the Mohicans-like.
Although I've enjoyed all her books - Ride the Fire is my favourite.

Wendy said...

She and Nicholas then go to Philadelphia where she finds out that the man she's fallen in love with is in fact a rich, titled landowner from Virginia.

Gotta say, this is one of my least favorite plot devices - although not quite as annoying as the poor, destitute waif who suddenly finds out he's the heir to a Dukedom. At least this hero knew all along that he had money :-)

Clare is one of those authors I keep collecting, but not reading. I have vowed to read at least one of her historicals this year....

Zeek said...

I have this one to read too because of all the reccs on it I've seen. I *almost* picked it up last night, but caught up on my New Dr. Who dvds!

sula said...

katie, yes the sex was pretty yum. And Surrender is on my list. :)

carrie, what's this about naked men in trees? do tell! inquiring minds are inquiring. *g*

lisabea, I agree that the cover is a throwback to the old-school genre. But thankfully the insides are much more polished.

kristie, I kind of had a feeling that Alec and Jamie MUST have been featured in previous books. The way they came across made me feel that they were potential hero material. heh. So the titles of their books? Will have to keep an eye out.

wendy, I know what you mean. Those deux ex machina or whatever the hell you call it plot thingies really get on my nerves too. Thankfully with this one, it was only a surprise in that Nicholas hadn't told Bethie. He of course knew exactly who he was...he just didn't care to live that life. Hope you get a chance to read one of those Clare books in your TBR pile. It was a really nice change to the usual.

Tumperkin said...

I really want to read more non-British historicals so I'll make a note of this one. Nice review - as ever.

sula said...

hey zeek, which Dr. Who DVD? *drools* "what you need...is a doctor!" :)

hope you like the book when you get around to readin' it.

oh and one thing I forgot to mention...it was cool to have the heroine speaking with a Scottish accent in this story.

Carrie Lofty said...

Aw, but I LOVE the old skool covers. They're cheesy as all get out, but at least their painted and original--no chance of seeing recycled stock photos floating around.

Kristie (J) said...

Sula: The first one was Sweet Release and was about Alec. Jamie's story was Carnal Gift.

Zeek said...

Doctor Who season three up next! (I'm a tad behind.) (btw, it's the recent series, not the old Tom Bakker ones- although I do love those too!)

I still haven't gotten to RTF, but am planning on it soon!