2008, European Historical Romance (1840s [Victorian] England)
MIRA, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778324524 Part of a series
It’s always hard to write a review like this one: there were definitely aspects that I enjoyed in Heart of Fire, but, sadly, in the end, they weren’t enough to lift this book into "enjoyable." Instead, it fell short – certainly in no way bad, but never reaching the height of good either.
Coralee is a viscount’s daughter, one of the most fashionable young women in London, vivacious, pretty, and perfectly placed to write the society column in Heart to Heart, a ladies’ gazette. But when her sister dies in the Avon River clutching her infant son, Coralee’s world shifts. She refuses to accept the official verdict of suicide, and instead takes it upon herself to investigate. Someone seduced her sister and got her pregnant out of wedlock. Chances are that someone also murdered her.
Coralee’s investigation leads her to the country, and the estate of Gray, the Earl of Tremaine, notorious for his affairs, his knowledge of the art of love, and a widower whose first wife drowned – in the Avon River. Coralee enters the house in the guise of a poor relation, Letty, and quickly starts her investigation. However, the more she looks into the life of the Earl, the more she starts to fall for him, and the more her investigation turns to proving his innocence instead of his guilt.
This is the second novel in Martin’s Heart series and it fell into the trap of a lot of linked books – mainly too much emphasis on the previous book, with the expectation that readers would already be familiar with the world. This didn’t come out in lack of detail – things were adequately explained – but instead in the revisitation of previous relationships and plots. Readers of the previous Heart of Honor no doubt will enjoy a taste of the bliss of that story's main couple, but as a reader unfamiliar with the previous book, it was just a random man and woman showing up every now and again to look at each other with deep affection and refer obliquely to their courtship.
I liked the Earl of Tremaine. He was raw and honest and legitimately grumpy, and Martin did a very good job with characterization here. Coralee, however, was the main narrator of the story and failed to engage my affections. We are told that she is vivacious and bright and bubbly, but are instead treated to her acting very foolishly, making rash decisions, and basically getting herself into trouble with no real thought of consequences for herself and others. While much can be explained away as a by-product of her grief, as a basis for the whole plot it required a too large a degree of suspension of disbelief. Finally, there was a certain heavy-handedness to the novel. For example, we, along with the earl, learn that Coralee is kind-hearted as she saves an injured dog from certain death by donating strips of her petticoat. We also know exactly who the hero and heroine of the next novel are thanks to frequent references to how they can’t stand each other.
There is a lot to like about this novel. Besides the earl there’s a nice social commentary as well with baby farms that is handled skillfully, without descending into melodramatics. The revelation of who Coralee really is works as an example of Coralee having to accept responsibility for her actions.
Unfortunately, however, the good is always tempered by the not-so-good, leaving Heart of Fire an only average read.
-- Kate Cuthbert
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