by Susan Wiggs, historical (2001)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-801-7
The Firebrand closes the trilogy that started with The Hostage and The Mistress. If I read the series from first (The Hostage) to last (The Firebrand), it becomes evident that the author is suffering from increasingly acute Formulae adherencegitis.
Not that, of course, there's anything wrong with conforming with marketing pressures to keep food on the table. But this author is clearly capable of tweaking the usual same-old stuff a little to give her stories new life. In The Firebrand, some brilliant dialogues aside, she doesn't even seem to bother.
Lucy Hathaway gets her turn in the limelight in TF. A suffragette, she asks the very handsome - and unfortunately, as she soon learns, very married - Randolph Higgins to be the first to show her the True Meaning of The Big O. He turns her down - while they may have fun debating about female rights (she pro, he against), he doesn't do that sort of thing.
Then comes the 1871 Great Fire of Chicago, and in the confusion, Rand loses his baby daughter. Lucy finds the daughter and takes her in.
Believing that his baby has died in the fire, Rand goes into the macho version of depression, divorces his no-good wife, and lives a life of grouchy typicality. Meanwhile, Lucy opens a bookstore, The Firebrand, and since this is a romance novel, defends dime novels of love and passion as feminist tracts. (I can see them feminists rolling in apoplexy now, heh heh heh!) She has also grown to love the little girl she took in. It has been five years after the fire when Lucy walks into the bank for a loan and - guess who is sitting at the other side of the table.
The author is generous in dishing out extra-large helpings of predictability. Rand's anti-women-voting-and-all stance is because - yup, his mother left him long ago when he was a boy. Heartless bitch. Wait, did she really leave him like that? Of course not. His father - oops, almost gave that away, although whether that plot twist is a best kept secret no one could guess is another thing altogether. Rand's wife? Oh, that nasty, nasty, nasty unfeminine (or is it too beautiful and too feminine?) woman! Not like Lucy, who, despite all her allegations that women have no rights after marriage and she will never ever ever do it, finds happiness in having lil' babies and a warm fire in the hearth. Plus, she's not pretty, or so she thinks.
So we have the usual MIRA staple - single mommyhood, evil parents screwing up our hero, and all the kiddie antics Pampers can sponsor. While the author writes well, the sole reaction I get while reading The Firebrand is nostalgia. I am reminded of the grand stories this author has written in the past, stories that actually touch me instead of just making me go through the motions of reading. In fact, The Firebrand lacks fire. It just sputters on to the predictable ending via a predictable path peopled by predictable characters with predictable psychology and redemption.
It's quite sad, really.
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