Mary Jo Putney
1993, European Historical Romance (Regency England and Wales)
Topaz, $4.99, 380 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451403673 Part of a series
Unlike many romance fans, Iím not a chronic re-reader. There are so many books that need to be reviewed in the here and now that I rarely feel like I can take the time to indulge myself with an old favorite. I also canít help wondering if it really was that good. I first read Thunder and Roses in the mid-nineties, when I was new to romance and wonderful reads seemed to be everywhere. I knew Iíd loved it when I read it a decade ago, but would it really hold up after so many years (and so many books)? It was a needless worry; not only did I enjoy reading it the second time around, but it was better than I remembered.
Thunder and Roses is the first of Mary Joís Putneyís Fallen Angels series. If itís not the best romance series ever written, itís at least in the top five. It begins with a devilís bargain. Clare Morgan, a Welsh school mistress who is concerned about the continued deterioration of her community, approaches Nicholas Davies, Earl of Aberdare, and asks for his help. Nicholas is disillusioned with life in general and completely uninterested in his earldom in particular. All he can think when he sees Clare is that he would like for her to go away. So he offers her a completely unthinkable proposition: He will help her and the town if she will sacrifice her reputation by living with him for three months. He assumes that sheíll give him the proper set-down he richly deserves and head for the door Ė but she surprises both of them by accepting his outrageous proposition. They hammer out the details (she isnít required to sleep with him, but he gets one kiss per day, and in return he will do his best to help her) and she returns home briefly to tell her friends about her unusual situation.
As the daughter of a Methodist minister, Clare has a lot to lose with this bargain. She has always been respected in the community, and she hopes that her friends will understand. She is also confident in her ability to withstand Nicholasís advances. Surprisingly, Clare finds herself immediately attracted to Nicholas, and very tempted by his advances. Itís not just that heís handsome; something about him calls to her. She begins acting as a housekeeper of sorts, and as he listens to her ideas about improving the community, she helps him fix up his home. Clare learns early on that Nicholas has secrets in his past. Many people believe that he slept with his grandfatherís young wife and subsequently drove his own wife to her death. He also had a difficult transition as a child. Raised by his Gypsy mother, he was sold to his grandfather when he was a young boy. He continued to live part of each summer with Gypsy caravans, but he doesnít really fit properly into either world.
When Clare and Nicholas go to London, he finds himself in a duel with Lord Michael Kenyon, formerly one of his closest friends. Michael also owns the Penreith mine, where the desperate working conditions motivated Clare to seek Nicholasís help in the first place. Clare becomes embroiled in their argument, growing closer to Nicholas. The mine and its workings are important to the plot, and the details about Welsh mining in the nineteenth century are well-researched.
As I was reading this book a second time, I couldnít help but be very impressed. In nearly every way, it stands head and shoulders above the average European Historical romance Ė especially those published in the last few years. The plot is thoughtful, the historical detail is rich, and Nicholas and Clare are people to whom you can relate. It even manages to be part of a series without beating the reader over the head with its concept.
Nicholas is a complex hero who manages to be a persistent seducer without being a total jerk. When the book begins, he has every intention of bedding Clare, and absolutely no intention of marrying her or anyone else. Generally, that type of behavior in a hero sets my teeth on edge, and Iím still not entirely sure how Putney manages to make Nicholas so sympathetic. Somehow he comes off as delicious and fun rather than arrogant.
As impressive as Nicholas is, Clare is the character who makes the book for me. Sheís one of the most self-aware, contemplative, and interesting heroines in romance. Her Methodist background shapes the way she thinks and colors the decisions she makes. Sheís one of the few characters I have seen who actually treats premarital sex as a moral dilemma. The conflict between her feelings for Nicholas and her beliefs and expectations for herself is not only compelling; it sets up a realistic and believable sexual tension.
The rich historical detail provides the icing on the cake. Putney did her homework about Gypsy life, Welsh mining, and even billiard tables. This type of stuff makes the historian in me rub my hands in glee Ė and itís exactly the detail you almost never see in romances today.
If youíve never read Thunder and Roses, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Itís a treat in every sense of the word, and will remind you why you started reading romances in the first place. And if youíve already read it, itís well worth reading a second (and third, and fourth) time. Youíll be glad you did.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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