|Ride the Fire is an epic romance that is full of rich detail, stunning depictions of life in 1760 America and a balanced view of the war going on between Indians and the early Midwestern settlers. There was little I could see that didn't work and the images Clare painted stayed with me for days after reading this tale. Years ago, there were a wealth of stories written about Colonial America but there have not been many recently. This one was worth the wait.
Nicholas Kenleigh is a Virginia landowner by birth. The eldest of the Kenleigh family, he joined the military and found himself captured by the Wyandot Indians. As the story opens, he and his friends are tortured and just before he is sure they will kill them all, he is spared. The daughter of the chieftain is impressed with his bravery and decides she wants him to sire her sons. After more horrors, Nicholas escapes and returns to Virginia, only to find himself tortured by nightmares and emotionally dead. He leaves for the wilderness.
Elspeth Stewart has not had an easy life. Raised in Scotland, and brought over with a group of immigrants, she is raised by her parents until her father's death. Her mother remarries, as do most women in the Pennsylvania wilderness. This time, it is to a cruel man with a cruel son. Elspeth is accused by her step-father of luring her son into sin, when in reality, the son, Richard, tried to rape Elspeth. She is hurried off to marry an older man, who immediately takes her into the Ohio Valley to homestead. When he dies, Elspeth is left with little money, a few chickens, a few horses, the land…and a baby she is expecting.
Nicholas comes to Elspeth's land when he is wounded in a fight with marauding Indians. He forces her to help him and they form an uncertain truce. Elspeth, or Bethie as she is nicknamed, nurses Nicholas back to health for his help and protection. When he has to help deliver her baby, their bond of uneasy trust is forged. They both have secrets they are certain would be horrible to the other. Nicholas has many things to be ashamed of from his days of captivity, which are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. Elspeth is certain that any man will find her tainted after being used by her "brother." As they are forced to spend time together their relationship develops. Their growing love for little Isabelle also helps to tighten their bond.
The story covers their journey from the Ohio Valley to Fort Pitt during the height of the Indian wars. And then they go to Philadelphia as they seek safety and relief from the harshness of the frontier.
Nicholas and Bethie are well written, multi-faceted characters who face what life throws at them with all the emotions one would expect – anger, sorrow, remorse, anticipation, love, and courage. Secondary characters also are written with depth. These are not just typical caricatures. Characters are shown as having good and bad characteristics. This balance is welcome, yet is done with the right mix so that it is subtle and authentic.
I found myself engaged and absorbed. Days after reading the story, my memory would generate thoughts of one scene or another. I felt like I just touched the surface of the story and that I can read this tale again, and find more that I missed.
The R rating is for the brutality and reality of the action as well as the sexual activity. There are scenes of lovemaking which are more on a PG-13 level. But there is rape and humiliation that ups the ante.
If there were a downside to the story, it would be how neatly the ending was wrapped up. But this can be forgiven when the entire story is so rich a treat. I highly recommend Ride the Fire and look forward to other stories that may be written about this time period and this family by this author.