Desert Isle Keeper Review

Silver Flame

Susan Johnson
1993 reissue of 1988 release, Historical Romance (1890s American West, France)
Fanfare, $7.50, 433 pages, Amazon ASIN 055329959X
Part of a series

Grade: A
Sensuality: Hot

With one notable exception, I’ve been stuck lately with a review list of less than satisfactory historical romances. Not surprisingly, I found myself in desperate need of a palate-cleansing. Enter Silver Flame, a classic from Susan Johnson's when-she-was-brilliant days and one of my favorite romances of all time.

The story takes place primarily in the 1890s in an almost unheard of location these days, the American West – Montana, to be specific. The Braddock-Black family is one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the state and Trey, son of an Absarokee father and a wealthy socialite, lives a privileged life, much like any “spoiled prince of the realm”. Looking for amusement one evening, he finds himself at a brothel where several young Chinese women are to be auctioned. Though he views the proceedings with distaste, Trey remains long enough to see a young blonde woman take the block. Though only three weeks of her time are for sale, Trey is revolted when a family enemy – a man he believes to be a sadist – makes it clear he’s out to win her. Unable to stomach the thought of the young woman at his enemy’s mercy, Trey impulsively bids the astronomical sum of $50,000 and Empress Jordan is his.

Of course, since this is a romance novel, Empress is driven to take the drastic step of selling her virtue for a compelling reason: She must make enough money to feed her younger brothers and sisters through the long winter ahead. Trey’s largesse is far more than she could have possibly hoped for, and Empress is suitably grateful.

This book moves at a leisurely pace, something that is well reflected by the 20-plus pages the author devotes to Trey and Empress’ first night together. I truly do not want to spoil anyone’s pleasure by writing about it in detail here, but suffice it to say that their idyll is dramatically interrupted the next morning when Trey is shot by one of his family’s many enemies. Bleeding and possibly mortally wounded, Trey is transported by Empress and his bodyguards to the family’s ranch.

There, after the doctor has given up on saving the young man’s life, Empress startles Trey’s stricken family by revealing her knowledge of folk medicine. As Trey’s father puts it: “Whatever I have is yours if you save him.”

I know oh-so-well that these plot details sound clichéd. An herb basket heroine in a desperate situation? A jaded, debauched, wealthy beyond avarice young hero with a heart of gold? We've all been there and done that over and over again. But even though I wanted to provide these plot basics in order to give you a sense of the book, there is very much here that I can’t tell you since it would spoil the unfolding of this magnificent, multi-year saga. Rest assured that this is a love story in the truest sense of the word. The sex is unbelievably hot because Ms. Johnson skillfully uses her graphic love scenes to showcase the growth and development of Empress and Trey’s love. As a reader, I understood Trey’s growing tender feelings for Empress and the confusion they cause him. My heart broke for Empress when she is forced to make some truly desperate choices. And I rejoiced when finally – despite formidable obstacles – this oh-so-deserving couple finally get their HEA.

Adding to the book's pleasures, there is real character development here. Ms. Johnson doesn’t simply tell me that her hero is jaded as she is wont to do in her current Johnson-lites. She made me feel it. Understand the reasons behind it. And, most important of all, believe it when he finally gives himself up – with all the passion in his heart – to love.

A brief note regarding book sequence in the Braddock-Black series: Though it was published as the third entry, the events in Silver Flame chronologically precede those in Forbidden, the book that is nominally the second in the series. Confused? The series should be read in this order: Blaze, the story of Trey's mother and father; Silver Flame; and lastly Forbidden, an equally fantabulous novel featuring daughter Daisy and the haughty French duc who loves her. My advice is simple regarding Force of Nature, the “long-awaited” sequel published in 2003: Skip it. Seriously.

Silver Flame, along with the earlier books in the series, is still in print 20 years after its original publication way back in 1988. There is justice in that, surely. Somehow, someway, even in today’s crowded and formulaic historical romance marketplace, the good stuff manages to stick around for new readers to discover. And, oh, how I hope readers will continue to find this book in large enough numbers to keep it in print for years to come. It is undeniably one of romance's very, very best.

-- Sandy Coleman

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