For readers who miss the days of historical romance laced with lavender prose and stormy melodrama, Fiery Surrender is a throwback. Set during the American Revolution, Linda Morelli's debut romance from small press Port Town Publishing has noblemen, pirates, a high-spirited heroine, a dashing hero, and an appropriately slimy villain. Approach it as a trip back to the early days of romance, and it may well please.
Monique von Strade, daughter of a Prussian count, is traveling to Paris with her parents when highwaymen attack their coach. Monique manages to escape, but is chased by the leader of the gang. Pierre Latier, a French marquis working as a spy for King Louis XVI, saves her. Pierre rescues Monique's parents and takes all three to his nearby estate.
Monique recovers from her concussion, and she is enthralled by the handsome Pierre, just as Pierre is attracted to her beauty. But she is eighteen, and he is thirty-five. She's too young. Besides, he doesn't believe in love and will never marry. Monique and her parents travel on to Paris and the French court, where he father is an ambassador. Suitors flock to Monique, but she can't forget Pierre. He can't put Monique from his mind, either, and soon turns up at court. Then Monique's father, in a plot twist that goes against all character, engages Monique against her will to a loathsome French comte.
Pierre knows what sort of man the comte is, and invites Monique to meet him alone to discuss it. Common sense goes by the wayside and Monique loses her prized virginity to him. Now Pierre is in a quandary. He leaves immediately for England on a mission, with no word to Monique, knowing full well he'll have to marry her when he returns. Monique, of course, thinks he cares nothing for her and has abandoned her.
With Pierre gone, the von Strades must find a suitable husband for their now-pregnant daughter. Von Strabe discovers that Pierre is the son of a bastard. When Pierre returns and offers to marry Monique, she first insists she'd rather raise a bastard child than marry him, but acquiesces when Pierre informs her that he's wealthy and has transferred an estate into her name. Perhaps he loves her, after all.
But Pierre must still travel to the Colonies, and he takes Monique with him. On the way, they are attacked, separated, and Pierre is given up for dead. Will they ever be reunited?
How does one approach a book like this using 2002 standards? It's a throwback romance, all right. Monique is intended as high-spirited and strong-willed, but comes across as young, shrieking, and foolish. Pierre, thirty-five and knowing the consequences, still can't keep his breeches buttoned at the crucial moment. The misunderstandings are convenient, as is the big separation. Neither of these characters came alive; their actions were melodramatic at best and approached cartoonish at worst. The climax, in which Pierre believes Monique now loves another man, finds him acting about sixteen himself, refusing to listen, sure he's right. Monique decides she hates him. Hates him! No, she loves him! Loves him! Enough, already.
Some of the historical details were interesting, particularly once the action moved to the Colonies. The Marquis de Lafayette plays a role here, and the French support of the revolutionary cause was nicely portrayed. And I enjoyed the action revolving around the Battle of Yorktown. The author took pains with this.
What this book needed, more than anything, was a good editor. The prose is not only purple and over-descriptive, at times it slips into clunkiness. Take this passage, in which Monique looks at a brooch given to her by her now-dead brother:
"Monique's eyes shined with tears as she stared at the filigreed pin, the center of which was graced by a small painting of her brother, Johann. He gave her the brooch two years ago, for her sixteenth birthday and, now, it was her most cherished gift."
I can forgive the misplaced commas, but "shined" is clunky compared to the more-elegant "shone", and "gave" would read better as "had given". As for the purple prose, sentences like
"Her words hit Pierre like an agonizing blast of fiery flames that pierced his heart."
will do little to impress readers of today's historical romance. I noticed that, while bound with a cover, my copy was supposedly an unedited proof, so perhaps these things will be dealt with before the book reaches final printing.
My advice is to pick up Fiery Surrender only if you want a glimpse of the historical romances of the 1970s and early 1980s. If they were never your cup of tea, give this one a miss. If you long for early Woodiwiss or Rogers, this might bring back fond memories.