Winter Fire
by Jo Beverley, historical (2003)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21065-4

To the four person out there that share my bewilderment as to why we cannot appreciate Jo Beverley's books when apparently everyone else out there can, I have good news: Winter Fire has the author presenting a heroine that is far, far smarter than the heroines of her last few books and the chemistry between Genova Smith and the Marquess of Ashart is potent. Winter Fire is good enough to almost make a devout convert out of me. The downside? I'm not sure how much this latest Malloren story stands alone and also, this book has way too many characters that distract from Ash and Genova.

One of the reason why I always wish that Lisa Kleypas will not write a sequel to Dreaming Of You is because I know she will have to put in that Derek Craven fellow and Derek will dominate the story. It's the same here. The author's infatuation with Rothgar is still lingering on and on and there are times when I wonder what happened to Ash and Genova when this book turns into a billboard advertisement for Rothgar. Hasn't Rothgar already gotten his story?

Our ex-seafaring bane-of-Barbary-pirates heroine is accompanying two elderly ladies to the Rothgar Abbey. These Trayce ladies come from the branch of family that has been feuding with Rothgar's family over the years, and now, they hope that they can help mend the rift between the two families a little. Along the way, however, Genova ends up with a baby that may or may not be the Marquess of Ashton's (it's a long story) and Ash happens to be the great-nephew of the Trayce ladies. Ash shows up at the inn where Genova and the ladies are, they have an argument over the baby (he suspects her in cahoots with his enemy, she thinks he's a cad), and they end up getting compromised when they succumb to the sexual attraction between them. Looks like there may be a wedding at Rothgar Abbey this Christmas.

I'm doing a very poor job of summarizing the story, but that's because the story starts in a way that I feel as if I am dropped right in the middle of a party. There is quite an amount of backstory needed to fill the gaps for the new reader, and I'm still not certain if Ms Beverley succeeded in this. I can go along with the story pretty okay because I dimly recall some parts of Devilish (I haven't followed the author's Malloren series faithfully). Still, I will be more comfortable with this book if the author has then spent time fleshing out the backstory somewhere in the story. But no, once Rothgar and his clan show up, the story all but pushes the relationship between Ash and Genova to the sidelines. I want to know more about Ash, no, I need to know more about Ash, so imagine my reaction when the author has the Trayce ladies tell Geneva of Rothgar's sad, sad past instead. Hello? Rothgar already has a book. If I want to kiss Rothgar's bum, I'd read that book. Anybody remember Ash? The hero of this story? Anybody?

Genova is a really good heroine. Like most of this author's heroines, Genova often wants to save the world, but this time around, Genova has the brains to go about doing it if she puts her mind to it. A woman with realistic emotions, brainpower, and an equal to Ash in wit and passion, she is a wonderful heroine. Ash is appropriately roguish and mildly tortured - he's such a charming cad, really. These two flirt, banter, and even snap at each other with finesse. I really enjoy reading about these two. Since I am far from enamored of the Rothgar myth, I am not at all happy when Rothgar and Clan take over the story, leaving very little room for Ash and Genova to be anything but extensions of the ridiculously overworshipped Rothgar.

Who cares about Rothgar anyway? The joke's on Rothgar: Ash, his rival, gets the story that should have been the mighty Rottie's. No wonder Ms Beverley seems reluctant to let Genova and Ash shine in what is supposed to be their story - if she does, there is a chance that "Waiting For Rothgar!" will become "Rottie Who?".

I'm giving this book my recommendation - with reservations regarding its ability to stand alone and the fact that the book demands the reader to buy into the Rothgar myth - if only because Genova and Ash are one of the best couples I've come across in a book. The writing is also better: the fragmented sentences are noticeably down in count this time around and the heroine is too smart to indulge in What to do? This or that? Where to go? Up or down? Lies or truth? Lies! LIES! hysterics. I suspect that Jo Beverley fans - especially those Rottie groupies - will really like this one. I like it myself. I would have liked it more if there just isn't too darned much Rottie in this story.

Rating: 85

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