Fire And Lightning
by Victoria Darkwood, historical (1999)
New Concepts Publishing, $3.99, ISBN 1-891020-63-3

I have a ball reading this book. It has just the right mix of intrigue and danger, and the plot twists are just fine. It also has a rather wishy-washy heroine, some rather stilted supposedly-tender exchanges between the hero and heroine, and some awkward grammatical errors that are really distracting. Like Natalie Imbruglia would sing, when it comes to this book, I'm torn.

Arielle d'Ambois witnessed her cousin Dolpho's murder while fleeing from some snipers. Ari had been aiding Dolpho spy on his expatriate countrymen in London, and they had both been betrayed. Ari vowed to kill the spy and Dolpho's murderer Fox Grandquest (what a name!).

But the silly woman, now upon having Fox at gunpoint, proceed to blab like those really idiotic villains on bad TV shows, the type who reveal all their plans to the good guys (and audience) upon having them at their mercy. Needless to say she is disarmed and captured soon enough. She fakes amnesia, and Fox believes him. Ari is fast to believe that hey, maybe Fox isn't the bad guy - in a hastily concocted self-justification that sounds more like her hormones addling her brains than any rational explanation, if you ask me - and decides to do some covert villain-hunting on her own. Fox, having taken this beautiful woman under his protection, is also after the same bad guy.

The danger and adventures are there, and they are fine to read. Ms Darkwood clearly knows how to spin a high adventure of swashbuckling fun and intrigue - I'm actually on the edge of my seat and would have poked my nose at the computer screen if not for the big bowl of banana split I have before me. The adventures of Ari and Fox are grand capers in the tradition of the best spy adventure stories.

Hence it is most disappointing that the relationship aspect isn't as satisfying as the adventure. It's not that there isn't enough romance, but the fact that it is rather awkwardly executed, and in some really laughably, flowery prose as well. For a spy who has aided her cousin in his missions, this woman is rather incompetent - she could lie well, but she didn't even know she was watched most of the time. She was too quick in reversing her judgement in Fox, too emotional and expressive - all in all, a rather lousy spy. I wonder how on earth this woman could ever help her late cousin in his missions.

Fox is a better character, but then again, he's not that exciting as a romantic hero either. It doesn't help that the author has him sprouting some of the most awful and corny lines ever.

Yes, he tells Ari during foreplay, it can always be like this with the right person.

Then there's another classic: "I'm not so selfish as to wish it." He paused. "That's not true. I am. It would free me. We would be just a man and a woman. And not a man and the widow of the man I betrayed.

He sounds like a greeting card.

Ari gives him a run for the money, when she pushes him away, she declares most eloquently, "I want to trust you. I do think you might believe what you say. But that does not make it true. You see, I listened at that keyhole for a very long time. The guilt you carry over Peterson's death is unearned, to my way of thinking. Men! If the seasons change, then you think, being all powerful, you must be responsible. You did not murder the poor man. Had you kept your appointment, nothing says you would have prevented his death, and you may have been murdered, too - but that is not the point. You want me, and your conscience scolds you because of this man's death, so you imagine there are other, nobler feelings involved as well as your desire. But there cannot be, and for the very same reason."

If these two find themselves down in their luck, you can be assured there's always a vacancy for them at the jingles-writing department.

And let's not talk about the love scenes, shall we? It's that bad, the prose and all.

So it's high adventure and grand fun versus stilted conversations and rather bland characters. For me, well, since I was in a mood for fun when I read this, I guess it'd do.

Rating: 71

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