Heart of the Hunter

Lady of Valor

Lord of Vengeance

White Lion's Lady

Heart of the Flame
by Tina St. John
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-45995-4
In many respects, this book is a textbook example of the standard medieval romance. It’s got the standard language and the standard characters, and any gritty thirteenth century reality has been removed so as not to offend delicate modern sensibilities.

Kenrick of Clairmont is a former Templar who is searching for the Dragon Chalice, “a legendary treasure of mystical origins.” The Chalice comes from an alternate dimension called Anaravin. Kenrick’s in competition for it with beings from that dimension who want it back, and a couple of bad guys from this one who want it because it confers enormous wealth and immortality.

After six months of torture at the hands of Silas de Mortaine, “a wealthy man who dealt in dark magic and commanded a small army of mercenary beasts to assist him in his malevolent goals” (i.e. obtaining the Chalice), Kenrick managed to escape. After recovering from the torture, he visits what’s left of the home of his friend, Randwulf of Greycliff. Rand and his family were murdered by de Mortaine’s minions for the clue to the Chalice’s whereabouts hidden at Rand’s home.

While at Greycliff, Kenrick finds a beautiful red-headed woman, deathly ill from a stab wound. He realizes that she may be the only one who can tell him what happened during the attack, so he takes her to his estate where his sister, Ariana, can heal her. Or, at least bring her around long enough to tell him what happened.

The young woman, named Haven, does begin to recover – her health, at least. Her memory is gone.

As I mentioned, much of this book will be highly familiar to anyone who reads Medievals. The characters speak in the formal, highly articulate syntax that is the generally accepted romance convention for this period. The heroine is feisty and independent, although she shows it in ways that are not always terribly bright. The hero is a broody warrior with a sensitive heart under all the sword-wielding brawn. Everybody marries for love and bathes regularly. Yes, I understand that lots of people prefer this fantasy. If you’re one of them, this book should suit you just fine. If you’re not, consider yourself warned.

More original was the way the author incorporated the amnesia. The heroine’s memory loss was a crucial part of the plot – the story could not have unfolded as it did if Haven had full knowledge of who she was. It also enabled the author to keep a couple of surprises up her sleeve.

I was also quite happy with their romance. Thrown into reluctant proximity, Haven and Kenrick learn about each other as people, developing an honest emotional affinity as well as a physical attraction.

To the author’s credit, the story zips along, even though not much happens for quite a long time. We’re warned repeatedly that smoking disaster is imminent, because there are so many ruthless and heinous factions desperate to gain the power of the Chalice. But these have got to be the most inept hell-demons in the history of evil. It takes them forever to arrive, in spite of the fact that Kenrick and Haven are hanging out at his home, and the occasional villains who do show up are defeated with laughable ease (one is captured by a peasant armed with a pitchfork).

There are a lot of gaps in both information and logic. If it’s so dangerous, why doesn’t Kenrick just let the Anavrins take the Chalice back to their dimension? Why are the Anavrins taking orders from the human bad guys? Silas de Montaine is painted as the most evil villain of them all – so where was he? And it took the author forever to explain to me that the Dragon Chalice actually had four components (how did it get split up?), so I was confused about all the separate pieces of stuff they seemed to be searching for. This is the second book in a series; maybe the information was in the previous book.

It all added up to the fact that I was entertained and frustrated in almost equal measure – in many respects, the textbook example of a three-heart romance.

-- Judi McKee

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