Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Review: Christine Monson’s STORMFIRE – A Brutal Irish Bodice Ripper, but a Keeper of a Love Story that Left me Breathless!

Since this is the last day of bodice rippers before I move on to Mediveals, and one of my FB friends was asking about this book, I thought to post this review of a favorite keeper of mine.

Stormfire has been a controversial romance, not just because it’s a bodice ripper, but because of some of the harsh elements it contains. So, of course, I had to read it to discover the truth for myself. Some readers might categorize this an “80’s bodice ripper” and so it is, first published in 1984, but I never look at books that way. To me a story stands or falls on its own no matter the era it was written (some of my favorite keepers were written decades ago). If the story is absorbing and the characters compelling, if I can’t stop thinking about it and I find myself reading late into the night, then I know I have a keeper.

It begins in the late 18th century and continues into the early 19th, set in Ireland (mostly), England, Scotland and France. It’s the story of Sean Culhane, a bitter Irishman seeking revenge, and the spirited English beauty Catherine, daughter of John Enderly, Viscount Windemere. Hardened by the English atrocities he has witnessed, Sean weaves an intricate plan using his smuggling in art, spies and munitions to destroy the man responsible for decimating his family in Kenlo and consigning hundreds of Irish to their deaths. Abducting Enderly’s daughter is only the beginning.

Sean brutally rapes the innocent Catherine and then makes her his whore and puts her to work as a slave on his older brother’s estate of Shelan in Ireland. Catherine fights Sean with every ounce of her being, even trying to escape into the night, while earning the respect of Sean’s men. I couldn’t help but wonder how English atrocities could drive a good man to such cruelty and how an English girl raised in luxury might be affected by such treatment. Then, too, Sean’s initial brutality toward Catherine seemed at odds with the devotion shown him by his housekeeper, his mistress and his men, making me wonder what the real man was like under that hardened exterior. Eventually, as seems inevitable, Sean and Catherine soften toward each other. She comes to understand what motivates Sean’s desire for revenge, and he comes to admire her courage and tenacity.

This is a saga of nearly 600 pages and I cannot do it justice in a review, but let me say there are many twists and turns I did not anticipate in the relationship between Sean and Catherine—and Sean’s brother, Liam (“the more dangerous of the two”). It’s the story of a man who nearly destroys the woman he deeply loves, all for the sake of bitter revenge. And it’s the story of a woman who comes to love that man so that she would do anything to save him. But there is much more to this saga, as others would see them both destroyed.

Into a great story, Monson has woven the pain of Ireland’s history, a beautiful land sorely affected by the English. (It includes the Irish rebellion of 1798 and its aftermath.) The writing is so good, there were times I stopped and re-read a passage just to admire it.
Here is one of Catherine’s musings about Sean:

“His spirit, like the lonely, windswept sea, was ever-restless, ever-changing, sometimes howling down to savage the unyielding land, then caressing it with a lulling embrace, inevitably wearing away its resistance. He was asking her to become a part of him, without reservations, without ties that would inevitably be wrenched apart, leaving her battered on the rocks and him lonelier and wilder than before.”

Whatever you might say about this book, Monson’s writing is consistently brilliant and her story absorbing. She did an incredible job creating an impossible situation. When Sean falls in love with Catherine and her unwavering spirit, you want them to be together, yet you can’t see a way for it to happen—a powerful set up for the rest of the book and there were many obstacles yet to follow.

I highly recommend this romance for those readers unafraid of what are some raw scenes and more angst than other romances. It’s a well written, worthy tale, and it’s going on my Best Irish Historical Romances list as well as my Favorite Heroes and Heroines list.

You can see it on Amazon but even the used copies aren't cheap. So I'm posting the link to a site that has a link to a free download. When a book is out of print and too expensive for the average reader, I think that's fair. Here it is.

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