by Helen Kirkman, historical (2004)
HQN, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-77017-0
I strongly suggest that folks read the previously related book, Forbidden, before they tackle Embers. This is because the plot of this story is a spillover from the events that took place in the previous book. Even better, I suggest that readers do something more enjoyable, like tasting various different brands of insecticide or shaving one's armpit hair with a blender, because Embers is a grotesque showcase of a heroine who is simply insane in her need to martyr herself.
To keep things simple, let's just say that Events of Terrible Tragedy in the past forced Alina, a Pictish princess, and Athelbrand, the Prince of Bernicia, to be separated despite the fact that their two loins and hearts all beat together as one. This being 716 AD and their people at war, love was never supposed to be easy. When the story opens, Alina is hiding from the man she is supposed to marry when Brand finds her. What does she do? Instead of being relieved, she of course leads him to believe that she wants to marry her unpleasant intended husband. When Brand reveals that the man is dead, Alina begins coming up with many, many ways to drive Brand away because slashing your wrists is no longer in fashion and she decides to keep being stupid until either she gets her stigmata or I start bleeding from every orifice in my head.
This story could be an interesting type of campy action medieval adventure as there are many political intrigues at play here. It is never short of action. But Alina drives me absolutely nuts. She blames herself for everything that goes wrong here, and I do mean everything. Perhaps I would be more sympathetic if her reason to blame herself doesn't invariably boils down to the fact that if she doesn't exist, things would be better. True, if she doesn't exist, this story would be a thousand times better, but of course, Alina won't wise up and jump off a cliff to end her blighted existence because that would mean doing something. Ms Kirkman tries to sell me the fact that Brand and Alina are two people in similar circumstances, but I don't buy that. Brand is trying very hard to change things for the better for his people. Alina, on the other hand, blames herself for everything and the moon, but she doesn't do anything else other than to run away or behave stupid. Seriously, when Brand tells her to stay put, she'll be the one running straight into danger. Naturally, when things go wrong thanks to her continuous pathetic existence, she'll happily blame herself some more. It's a vicious cycle at work here.
Let's just wrap this up simply so as to not hurt the delicate feelings of people who get offended easily: when Alina wishes that she has never been born, the author should have done both herself and the reader a favor by having a meteor crash onto Alina there and then and smashing her into tiny little pieces of useless flesh. Embers is in big trouble when the best thing that could happen to it is a spectacularly gory death to befall the supremely irritating heroine.
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