25 January 2016

The Flame and the Flower (Birmingham Family, Book 1)



Synopsis from back cover: Fearing for her innocence, doomed to a life of unending toil, Heather Simmons commits a shocking and desperate act. Now she must flee – and seek refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

Captain Brandon Birmingham is a lusty adventurer married to the sea. Though courting scorn and peril through his actions, he abducts the beautiful fugitive from the tumultuous London dockside. For it is destiny that has brought Heather to Brandon's side, and no power on Earth will force him to relinquish his exquisite prize. Only she can unlock the tenderness in his heart; and Brandon vows she will be his – to love, to cherish, to desire, and to carry off to uncharted realms of sensuous passion.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Avon Books, 2003

How acquired: Bought.

First line: Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet.

My thoughts: This book got off to a slow start, as we meet the orphaned Heather, living in servitude to her horrible aunt and meek, brow beaten uncle. She is literally a slave, wearing her aunt's cast off dresses that are like twenty-three sizes too large, working from sunup to sundown, with no hope of any kind of future.

Then her aunt's brother comes along, and whisks her off to London, where he's claimed he can get her a job at a nice school. Of course his real intentions are completely unhonorable, and when Heather stabs him with a fruit knife in a desperate attempt to get him off her, she sets herself on a new path, fleeing his home and terrified of being caught and hung for murder.

Then she finds herself aboard Brandon Birmingham's ship, and I won't go into how she ends up there. But this part of the book was discussed a bit in a Facebook group I'm part of, due to our hero devirginizing our heroine by brute force. It's not romanticized - it's rape and it's never called anything else. In fact, much later, after they've professed their love for each other and are having a wonderful life together, Heather reminds Brandon that he once raped her. Laughingly, because she's gotten over it. But at least neither of them pretend it didn't happen.

And regarding the rape...the whole situation of how she came to be in his cabin on the ship was a little ridiculous. I know she was in shock and she's young and innocent of the ways of the world, but still. Rape, in and of itself, does not always bother me in a book. In the world of romance novels, rape can even be a little subjective at times. Brandon didn't intentionally rape her out of malice. The first time, anyway. It was due to a Big Misunderstanding. Bit having realized he'd just deflowered the girl, taking her again, and again against her will, was a bit much. At this point in the book I was disgusted with him, and thought he was going to have to really work hard and grovel to redeem himself. It would've all been a little more palatable if, say, he'd had too much to drink and wasn't in total control of his faculties. Still wrong, still disgusting, but easier for him to come back from and convince Heather that he's not a monster.

So now their lives are intertwined, and I'm not completely taken by the story, or the characters, just yet. Fortunately Brandon vows to himself that he will never take her by force again, and he keeps that vow. And Heather vows that she will never submit to him, and then in the same breath tells herself that since he's now her husband she will have no choice but to submit to him if he so demands. And from this point on for many months (the length of a pregnancy and then some) they both run hot and cold, lusting after each other, yet both believing the other has no desire to share a bed, having little tender moments amid exasperated all out yelling at each other moments. All very will they or won't they.

And at some point during all this, I became very engrossed. Knowing that deep down inside Brandon was head over heels about his “young wife” as she was often referred to, I could realize that a lot of his cruel jibes and frosty behavior was a defense mechanism. He wanted her, he would not rape her again, and he'd be damned if he begged her, or for that matter even asked her politely, to make love with him, so all that frustration was poured out on her in mean words and slammed doors. Heather, being only seventeen and having lived a sheltered life, is too young and naive to realize the power she holds over him.

An interesting aspect to the story that I really liked was Louisa, who was engaged to Brandon before he sailed off to London and debauched Heather. Her first meeting with Heather set the tone for that relationship – Louisa was rude, condescending and cruel to Heather, and shamelessly tried to win Brandon's favors back to herself. I was looking forward to more meetings between the two women, expecting some outrageous scenes to occur, and while they did have a few run ins, Louisa was not around nearly as much as I had hoped.

In the end of course love conquers all. I teetered between giving this book three or four stars on Goodreads. It took awhile for me to get past the slow, undignified beginning, yet towards the end I was eager to crawl into bed at night and lose myself in the pages, not wanting to set the book down and go to sleep. Brandon managed to charm Heather and make her fall in love with him, and I fell right along with her. 

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