Lord of Fire is a story that, on the surface, seems to have a rather ridiculous premise, but one that ultimately makes sense. High-born bastard Lucien Knight is a master spy for the English crown in the year 1814. His beloved twin brother, Damien, is one of England’s decorated war heroes. Damien is planning to propose to widowed Caroline, Lady Glenwood. Lucien knows what sort of woman Caro is. To save Damien from making a terrible mistake, he ensures that Damien will never marry Caro by seducing her himself, knowing she’ll find it thrilling in a twisted sort of way.
This drives a wedge between the brothers, of course, and Lucien retreats to Revell Court, the manor bequeathed to him by his natural father. Here Lucien stages orgies to which any number of the nobility appear. It is during these Hellfire-Club-style sessions that Lucien and his small band of spies gather much of their information. Caro is only too happy to accompany Lucien. But neither of them expect to receive a surprise visitor in the form of Alice Montague, Caro’s sister-in-law. Alice has been caring for Caro’s small son while Caro flits around London. Now the child is ill, and Alice is determined to force Caro home to Glenwood and her maternal duties.
Alice, nicknamed “Goody-Two-Shoes” by Caro for her innocence and decency, connives her way into the underground grotto where the orgy is held, looking for Caro. Her astonishment turns to fear when she is seized by the notorious Lucien Knight himself and dragged into a small chamber to face him alone.
Lucien is shocked. Not only is Alice the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on, her obvious innocence and goodness stand in glowing relief against the tawdry spectacle he’s forced to host. Lucien falls like a man bewitched. For years he’s felt utterly alone, sealed away from anything fine or good, even forced to endure his beloved brother’s disapproval at his choice of work. Could Alice possibly be his salvation? There is only one way to find out. Lucien blackmails Alice into staying at Revell Court for a week. Caro will return to Glenwood and her son.
The romance is the standout here, as Lucien tries to get to know Alice and let her see his long-buried decency and genuine charm. He refuses to force her, refuses to seduce her, not wanting this to take on the overtones of his many other affairs. Instead, they become friends. Alice is drawn to him, but wary. Why won’t Lucien revel more about his past? And why is he hosting these sessions in the grotto?
Lucien and Alice show a great deal of perseverance in forging their romance, too. They hurt each other, but realize what they’ve done and refuse to walk away from this instant feeling of rightness and completeness. Even after Lucien hands Alice the means to leave Revell Court, she can’t force herself to abandon him. The prospect of knowing the real Lucien, and what makes him tick, is just too magnetic. Alice shows a great deal of common sense in her dealings with Lucien, too. Readers are spared any silly misunderstandings; when confronted with misleading appearances, Lucien and Alice talk it out. This holds true until the predicable separation near the end, which is brought about by Alice acting out of character. It felt forced.
The suspense part of the story was flatter, partly because it was pretty predictable. Turns out a former enemy spy, one who had Lucien tortured, isn’t dead after all. I suppose it was necessary to show Lucien doing some spy stuff in order to justify the grotto orgy scenes, but it felt more of a distraction than anything else.
Several anachronistic phrases jolted me, too. In 1814 England, I somehow doubted Lady Caro would tell Lucien she’s been down in the grotto “coming her brains out”, nor would Lucien toss his coat on a “couch”. There were others.
Damien’s story is coming next, in Lord of Ice. If he’s half as charismatic as Lucien, it bodes well for readers. Lord of Fire is definitely worth a read for the intelligent, absorbing romance alone. This wounded hero, knocked off his feet by a woman of integrity and honesty, will charm your socks off.