Winter Fire by Jo Beverley
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
It was great spending Christmas with the Mallorens and family. I loved the descriptions of English traditional Christmas celebrations. There is something very enthusiastic and dashing about Georgian England. It lacks the stifled air of the Regency period, often steeped in hypocrisy in that people in the ton did what they wanted, they just pretended they didn't. With the Georgian period, people were a lot more freewheeling. That's not to say there weren't boundaries that one didn't cross. And Ashart was rather good about that last part, a cultivated rake from a young age.
At first, I didn't care much for Ashart. He was arrogant and kind of rude. I could see why Genova thought he was attractive, because he was dashing and masculine. But, I wasn't sure about his suitability as a romantic hero. He didn't move me just yet. Somehow that started to change. Genova got to know Ash better during their impromptu engagement after being caught in a compromising position. I begin to see that Ash was rather sad. His grandmother had raised him and fed him on the milk of vitrol, aching to get her vengeance on the Mallorens for her daughter (the Marquess of Rothgar)'s sad demise. She poured most of the Trayce's funds and all her energies into doing so, and did her best to corrupt Ash. The good thing is, she didn't really succeed. Deep down, Ash was a good guy. He began to see that making peace with the Marquess of Rothgar was the right way to go. They were actually first cousins, and not all that different. In fact, Rothgar was to be admired.
As much as I liked the romance, I really enjoyed the dynamic between Ash and Rothgar. In fact, Rothgar almost stole the show from Ash. I have been reading this series out of order, you see. I've only read Something Wicked, Elf and Walgrave's story, and I got a tantalizing glimpse into Rothgar, more as a stern, dangerous to his enemies, and wickedly manipulative and cunning older brother to Elfred. In this story, he is more relaxed (newly married to Diana, Lady Arradale), at peace with himself, and it spurs him to settle an old feud that has some valid roots, depending on who's looking. But, the cost has been too high, and it's Christmas time. He wants his family reunited, with pax ruling throughout.
This story was short, but it has some depth to it. It's a suprisingly complex mix of romance, family interactions, and a very good Christmas story. Ash has to figure out why his ex-lover dumped a baby on him that she claims is his, but couldn't possibly be of his blood, and deal with his nearly life-long enemy in Rothgar, or sue for peace. And then there is the inconvenient attraction to a young woman who he can't have without marriage, and he needs to marry a substantial heiress (which Genova isn't). Genova is determined to make Ash accept responsibility for his offspring, reconcile her duties as companion to his quirky, elderly aunts, and enter the lion's den of the powerful Malloren family. On top of that is the compellingly intense feelings for Ash.
Jo Beverley has a way with words. She doesn't write romance quite like anyone else. Her books aren't for all tastes, but I love the feel of her books, like I'm there in the past. She captures the passion of the characters, in more ways than one. When Ash and Genova come together, you can see the sparks and feel the burning desire between them, and the way love wraps itself around their hearts and entwines them together.
This was a very very enjoyable reading experience, and it was almost five stars, but the ending was a bit abrupt for me, although I did like the resolution of Ash and Genova's issues.
Some of my favorite aspects:
*Rothgar, Ash, and Genova bonding over their fascination with clockworks. (I know it sounds boring but it wasn't)
*Genova's presepe, which is an Italian Nativity. I liked how Ms. Beverley used this as a metaphor to show Genova's longing for family and the stability of her own home. Her father was in the Navy, and she and her mother traveled all around the world with him. Setting up the presepe was a tradition every Christmas, and each year another animal was added. When her mother passed away, and her father remarried, his wife didn't want it in her house, calling it 'shabby'. It broke Genova's heart, and she knew she wasn't going to be a part of her father's new family. When she goes to stay with her friends, the Trayce aunts for Christmas, she takes the presepe with her, essentially wandering with all that is left of her family, hoping to find a new, safe home for herself. The part in which she sets up the presepe at the Malloren Christmas festivities (and everyone is delighted with it) brought a tear to my eye (I've already admitted to my sappy nature). We have our own Nativity at home, set up with pride in a place of honor on a table in our living room.
*All the kisses and sensual moments were well done. Very good chemistry.
*Fun Christmas festivities, with lively explanations of their roots. Just what I need to keep me in the Christmas spirit.
*Seeing the Mallorens again. Reminds me to get back into this series.
Definitely a fun read, and more than worthy of a rating of 4.5/5.0 stars.
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