Pandora's Box

Heart of the Flame

Tina St John
2005, Medieval Romance (1270s England)
Ivy, $6.99, 366 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345459954
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Tina St. John's latest book, Heart of the Flame, follows Heart of the Hunter as the middle book of a trilogy (it will precede Heart of the Dove). A Medieval Paranormal Romance, HOTF tells the story of scholarly Templar Knight Kenrick of Clairmont, who seeks a powerful treasure called the Dragon Chalice. Kenrick returns home from captivity to find his closest friend Rand slain, along with Rand's wife and child. Kenrick vows to avenge his friend's death. As he searches the property, he finds an incoherent, wounded woman. Thinking that she may have some information about his friend's death, he takes her back with him to his castle. When she gains consciousness, she confirms that her name is Haven, but she knows very little about her past or what she was doing in the castle. Kenrick keeps her in his home as she heals and regains her memory, and she becomes friendly with him and his sister. As Kenrick and Haven fall in love, they must deal with dark forces who also seek the treasure. Additional secrets between them that threaten their fledgling relationship.

Blythe:   Linda, Tina St. John's been writing for years, and her first three books were DIK'd by AAR. In a way, it's kind of surprising that I'd never read her before, but Heart of the Flame is the first of hers that I've tried. I think part of the reason is that I'm not the biggest Medieval fan around. I like them now and then as a break from the much-more-common Regency-set historicals, but I don't read too many. So I'd just never gotten around to trying St. John. Anyway, for the most part I liked this book.

What did you think?

Linda:  Even though I'm not a big Medieval reader, I also liked it. My problem with them was neatly avoided by St. John: I don't like the way women were treated in Medieval times and the more authentic the treatment of women, the worse I hate the book. <g> But, by having Haven be a woman gifted with special powers, it was immediately obvious that she was not going to be the perfect Medieval Lady. I've read St. John before and find her work compelling. I like her writing style.

Blythe:   Had you read Heart of the Hunter, the book that precedes this one? We actually walked right into the middle of this series.

Linda:   No, it is sitting on my tbr pile just waiting for me. I've read Lady of Valor and Lord of Vengeance (both of which earned DIK status at AAR). After finishing this one, I am shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that Heart of the Hunter languished in my humongous tbr pile this long, but I intend to read it soon. Even though HOTF is definitely a continuation of one long story arc, I didn't feel lost for not having read the first one. I thought there was just enough exposition to catch me up with the story.

Blythe:   I felt a little lost...not so much with the story, but with the world building. I don't know if I would go so far as to label this book an out and out Paranormal, but it has strong paranormal elements. It includes an alternate world connected to Medieval England by portals, and there are beings called Shifters who can change shape, usually into animal form. I wasn't quite sure how that all worked until close to the end of the book. I was also a little foggy on the background details of the quest for the Dragon Chalice. Kenrick (and others) are searching for a series of cups that make up the Dragon Chalice, an object of great power and beauty (it kind of sounded like "the one ring to rule them all"). But I wasn't quite sure why all the pieces were in England in the first place...maybe I just missed it?

Linda:   I think it was mentioned early in the book that the Chalice had been stolen from Anavrin and that it meant life or death to the people of that world. I think this book was definitely a Paranormal, but also well grounded in the world of the Medieval time.

Blythe:   That kind of makes sense. But I think this is all probably more detailed in the first book, which featured Kenrick's sister Ariana and Braedon, who is now his brother-in-law. They both figure prominently in this story as well. I found the story to be fairly well grounded in Medieval times, but still somewhat Medieval-lite. It has some good details, and most of the language feels right, but it lacks the "you are there" quality of, say, a Medieval by Madeline Hunter or Elizabeth Chadwick. That's not necessarily bad, though - sometimes a little more gloss and a little less grit is appealing.

Linda:   Yes, like these people took baths--regularly! I think I prefer Medieval-lite and I definitely prefer women who are bolder then perhaps the times would have permitted. Although since I come from a long line of assertive women, I find it hard to believe that my Medieval-ancestresses were quiet and biddable ladies. LOL.

What kept me turning the pages of HOTF was the compelling nature of St. John's writing plus some of the choices that she made for the characters. I'm glad that Haven and Kenrick's separation was of short duration and that although he was torn about Haven's past, he trusted her when he needed to. And I really liked Haven a lot, although I had figured out her "gift" early in the book and wasn't surprised when it was revealed. I really enjoyed the intermixing of sub-genres and look forward to the last book in this trilogy.

Blythe:   I think the strong paranormal element made Haven's boldness more appropriate - although I did bat an eye when she appeared to just hop into bed with Kenrick without giving it much real thought. I tend to prefer any heroine living in a time before sexual liberation and birth control to give some thought to the consequences before she sleeps with the hero. That said, the bolder behavior made more sense in light of the paranormal aspects.

Like you, though, I guessed Haven's gift, although I missed one of the most obvious clues.

Linda:   Yes, the clues were there to find. I tend to willingly suspend disbelief about sex in historical settings. In those times a woman risked ruin, pregnancy and disease. I just concede the fact that the readers want sex and the authors are obliging even if it is not historically accurate for gently bred ladies to leap so vigorously and passionately into bed with the hero. And I often chuckle over the "sound of tearing tinfoil" and then the magically disappearing condoms after sex in contemporaries.

Blythe:   Good point. Contemporaries can be just as unreal in their own way. Even name-dropping ones never mention the condom brand; it's always the "little foil packet." But I guess no one wants to read that the hero "rolled on a Trojan" anymore than we want our Medieval heroine to say, "Look buddy, it's been ingrained in me since childhood that fornication is wicked! So shove off!" <g> It's not that I don't want them to do it, I just want to see them think about it first.

But I liked Haven anyway, although I think I liked Kenrick even more. One of the reasons I don't read as many Medievals is that most of them feature warrior heroes, and those aren't necessarily my favorite type of hero. Kenrick is a warrior, but he has a studious, scholarly aspect that I found appealing.

Linda:   Yes, Kenrick and his brother-in-law Braedon reminded me of some of my favorite Julie Garwood Medieval heroes - I absolutely adore alpha males who are not just warriors, but treat all of those around them with respect. Even though Kenrick is a well-trained knight, he has a more scholarly nature and his quest for the Dragon's Chalice has kept him in his room studying manuscripts for clues to the point that the entire manor thinks him a bit mad. I also liked Ariana and Braedon a lot and am looking forward to digging into their book soon.

Blythe:   They did kind of have a Garwood vibe, now that you mention it. I am, however, bothered by names that seem terribly unrealistic for the time period, and this one had a couple of examples of names I think of as "nursery school names" - meaning they are popular right now, though no one would have thought of them back then. Haven and Braedon, for example.

But I liked both Ariana and Braedon, mostly because they gave Kenrick (and the reader) a front row seat into a happy, new marriage. There are some funny scenes when Braedon watches Kenrick struggle with his feelings for Haven, and he can hardly contain his laughter. It's pretty cute.

Linda:   Yes, both of these men were likable, and I appreciated their friendship, as well as Ariana's befriending of Haven. I like characters who are grounded in their worlds and am amazed how often authors will write characters who have no friends or family - I mean what is wrong with these people that no one likes them enough to be their friend? How can they be so lovable to the hero or heroine, when obviously no one else wants them? LOL

Blythe:   Especially the brooding heroes. Some of them really wallow in their friendlessness. Well, it seems like we both liked this one...I think we're on a roll lately.

Linda:   We may be on a roll with PB, but on my own time I'm reading The Spare by Carolyn Jewel, and I absolutely despise the hero. For the life of me, I can't figure out why the heroine is in love with him. He is a completely humorless jerk and I hate him more and more as the book progresses. But the story and the writing are so good, and since this is a romance I have hopes for his redemption. I'm intent on sticking with it even though I much prefer heroes who have both intelligence and humor. They don't even have to be drop dead good looking, a scarred beastly hero can be a complete joy.

Blythe:   I confess that my current read has a drop dead gorgeous and brilliant hero - I'm sneaking a peek at the next J.D. Robb, due out in August. One of the privileges of the job. Oh, and I have to say that I appreciated another aspect of Kenrick - he was blond. We don't get nearly enough of these blond heroes, IMHO.

What's up for next month?

Linda:   Next month we will have a real change of pace with a humorous contemporary, He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan. Donovan has gotten lots of good word of mouth on-line and I am looking forward to reading another new-to-me author.

Blythe:   She's new to me as well, but I know Ellen really likes her (and Ellen usually has good taste.) Sandi, our PB editor, has also enjoyed several of Donovan's books. The plot sounds really fun, so I'm looking forward to it.

Linda:   Yes, this one has a sort of reality TV type vibe and I know I really enjoyed the last one we read set in the reality show world (Leslie Kelly's Killing Time), but this one sounds like more of a lively romp - my kind of book. Happy reading.

Blythe:   Happy reading. Have a great month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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