Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The Flame and the Flower, by Kathleen Woodiwiss
If you were remotely interested in the reason I love reading romance novels, this book is it.
Heather Simmons, a beautiful English orphan raised by her aunt and uncle in a poor, Cinderella-type existence, is tricked into accompanying her aunt’s brother to London in the hope of escaping her life, finding gainful employment and a possible marriage.
What she finds is Captain Brandon Birmingham, an American from South Carolina. While romance novels typically have scenes of slow seduction and at least some modicum of attraction between the antagonists, this book starts off with something a bit more sinister. It makes this story all the more poignant to realize that Heather and Brandon start out as true adversaries. They have reason enough to hate each other, Heather probably a bit more than Brandon. Heather has truly escaped her meager existence only to feel real fear. Not only does she think she has killed her aunt’s brother, but she finds herself pregnant, with a reluctant sea captain from another country as her only savior.
The book is so descriptive and so rich in imagery that it takes nearly half of it to get the two of them together on a ship to South Carolina, where Heather is forced to start her new life. And Brandon chafes at the shackles that have been imposed on him because of another, very pressing obligation at home.
And so begins our love story.
If you are looking for a book with the usual amount of love scenes, this would not be it, but the sexual tension runs so long and so high you don’t even miss the real thing. When these two do get together, they do it in spectacular fashion. It is so worth the wait.
A story line that brings Heather’s past to America to haunt her in her new home threatens their new found passion, but all comes right in the end, as it should.
This book is rich in supporting characters. My favorites are Hatti, Brandon’s housekeeper (she is a slave in actuality), and Jeff, Brandon’s brother, who befriends and defends Heather when she is most in need of it. He also takes great pride in unmercifully teasing his older brother. I have to admit that Jeff was my first true love.
I still have my original copy of The Flame and the Flower. It must be close to 35 years old. It’s dog-eared, missing pages and almost unreadable, but I love it like an old friend. This book remains the standard by which I judge every romance novel I’ve ever read.