Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13240-3
Historical Romance, 2002
Touched by Fire, Kathleen O’Reilly’s debut historical romance, is fascinating. It’s fascinating as an example of a grand story that, due to authorial inexperience, never actually delivers its promises. It has really large flaws, but in the end, I’m still liking this one more than the cranky devil in me would’ve liked.
Colin Wescott, the Earl of Haverwood, believes in stories of knights in shining armor. He wants to be one, but he dares not open himself to more volatile feelings. When Colin was just nine, his father took him to witness the hanging of his real sire, an infamous highwayman who raped Colin’s mother, and spent the rest of the time making sure that Colin would fear the “bad” side of himself that he gets from his real father. Today, Colin is a block of stone when it comes to feelings.
By sheer coincidence (the first of many in this ill-plotted story), his name gets entangled with Sarah Banks, daughter of an infamous owner of a gambling den that she now runs with a friend. When Colin needs a wife, surely he wouldn’t choose her! But not if Giles, his butler/valet/confidante has his way.
Oh, and since all Regency heroes must be a part-time spy of some sort, the author puts in a spy subplot. More character assassination of the Frenchies for your pleasure.
I really like the idea of a hero who wants to be a knight in shining armor, I really do. This, coupled with the paradoxical nature of Colin’s reluctance to feel, all adds up to a noble, gallant Sir Galahad of a hero waiting to sweep the world off its feet. I like Colin to a point that I find myself making excuses to like that fellow despite Ms O’Reilly’s spectacular job of tearing apart Colin’s characterization into all directions.
I mean, okay, Colin is tortured. But is he? The author keeps playing around with Colin’s personality, to the point that Colin veers from noble martyr to selfish rake to gallant knight to noble martyr to just plain idiot to and fro that it seems poor Colin is suffering from severe schizophrenia. It is as if the author is trying to second guess her readers. Do they want a rake? Let’s make Colin a rake at this chapter. Wait, maybe they want a martyr who drives the heroine away from her own good! No, no, how about a socially inept and shy lad who just wants to be a better man? That’s sweet, but maybe, rake is better, so let’s make him a rake again! How can a rake be a socially inept guy who believes in tales of gallantry anyway? Oh forget it, let’s make him a superspy!
Sarah… oh Sarah. She alludes to having some dreams that make her hold her heart and her precious virtue out for a man with sherry eyes, but the author doesn’t actually spent any time on this vision of Sarah. Therefore the heroine’s immediate and instantaneous attraction and belief that she is too good for him, she has lost (lost what, I never know), et cetera makes me go “Huh?” The same with Giles’s and Iris’s insistence that Sarah is the right man for Colin.
Here’s the thing. The reader knows that Colin and Sarah are going to be together and that Colin is actually a good man. It’s a foregone thing since we are reading a romance novel, after all. But how does Giles know that Sarah is the one? She is, mind you, the daughter of a gambler and with a reputation as pristine as a pair of soiled knickers floating around the Thames. So how does Giles freaking know? His blatant manipulation of those two youngsters, therefore, doesn’t make sense, and it smacks of pure authorial machination. Likewise, Iris, Sarah’s obligatory maid/buddy listens to Giles rhapsodize about this earl she doesn’t know firsthand and immediately agrees to help him with his matchmaking plans. Apparently, this vague promise that the earl will make Sarah happy is enough.
It’s not enough. I need to see Colin’s and Sarah’s character development. When everyone in this story bends over backwards to reiterate Colin’s virtue or Sarah’s goodness, when I don’t even see why they are so excited over those two, it gets irritating because nothing makes sense.
And Sarah, poor girl, has no character development at all. Seriously, she is besotted from get go and besotted to the end. Why is she besotted? Must be in her dreams that I never get to read, I guess, because for too long, the author makes Sarah and Colin dance around each other, never interacting enough. So I don’t understand how she can see so much goodness in Colin, unless she has some really acute sixth sense that the author forgot to mention.
See? So many problems. But I finish this book with high feelings. I guess it’s all in the premise, I guess. Did I mention how I like the hero’s promising characterization (promising, but never delivered)? Or maybe I’m high because Ms O’Reilly’s story has so many faults that are technical in nature. Touched by Fire is a flawed read, but I like it a lot despite my reservations. There you go – make of that what you will.