The Flame And The Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It was nice to finally read this signature romance by a historical romance great. I quite enjoyed it. Initially, I was a bit worried, because Brandon came off as an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk. However, he really redeemed himself, showing a profound selflessness and dedication for his young wife. Yes, he did rape her. If you don't like rape in a romance, then you won't like this book, and I would not judge you. We all have our personal tastes and comfort zones. Rape is a plot device I can tolerate, depending on the execution. My issues with Brandon were due to his blase' reaction to raping a young woman. He was willing to gloss over his action, and to keep her as his mistress since the stallion had already gotten into the barn, so to speak. He didn't apologize to her. But, we come to see that over the course of this story, Brandon does acknowledge his wrongdoing to Heather, and takes measures to do better by her in the future. He's not perfect, but he was a good man and he really did show his love for Heather as this story progressed. In fact, some of his gentleness towards Heather reminded me of a Julie Garwood hero, particularly in the scene when Heather's water has broken and he's trying to get her changed. He was exasperated with her reasoning about him turning his back while she changed, and cleaning up the water from the floor, but he remained gentle and kind with her. So, yes he did redeem himself. He showed her a lot of patience and understanding about the 'big secret' she was hiding.
Brandon is in some ways a stalkerific hero. He's very possessive, obsessed with, and jealous about Heather. He doesn't want any man near her, and was about to go crazy when the men were fawning over her at the ball they held. I found it interesting that he didn't really get too angry at his brother Jeff, even though Jeff was flirting really heavily with Heather. But, I think his love for his brother made it clear to him that this was no real threat.
The things I loved about this story:
*The love bond that grows between Heather and Brandon becomes very profound and beautiful. They showed their love physically in many scenes, and most of them are non-sexual. With gentle touches and caresses, and how thoughtful they were to each other's wellbeing and needs. I loved that most of this book doesn't involve love scenes, because we get to see the relationship between Heather and Brandon develop in a good way, and to reset the tone of their first meeting in this story. I would recommend this book to a reader who wants a good romance book showing a couple who is married. When the love scenes occur later on in the book, they are the more vague, pretty language type, if that's not your thing.
*The beautifully descriptive and atmospheric writing. Ms. Woodiwiss was a very talented writer. Her writing is gorgeous and elegant. It invokes a period feel that I really immersed myself in. I felt like I was there during many of the scenes due to her vivid writing.
*The familial and friendly interactions between the characters. Jeff is quite the character. He is funny and insightful. I liked the humor in this story.
*Very good adventure moments and a decent mystery. The murders that occur in this book were surprisingly dark, although they all occur off-screen.
*Heather is a great character. She was such a sweet, kind, gentle, innocent heroine. But she isn't one of those heroines who made my eyes roll or got on my nerves. She is timid, but strong in some ways. Nowadays, it seems as though romance fans have made authors afraid to write heroines like her. But I quite enjoyed her. She reminds me of some of Julie Garwood's loveable heroines, although she doesn't show the sustained bizarre logic that they show ( which cracks me up). This girl was a real sweetie for me.
Things I wasn't Crazy About:
*Slavery is a huge issue for this reader. I respect that some readers aren't particularly bothered by romance novels set in slavery times, but I don't care for them. I hate the idea of slavery, even if it is true that some slave-owners were kind to, and often thought of their slaves as family-members. I think Ms. Woodiwiss wanted to have a story set in the American South, but wasn't too comfortable with the connotations of slavery. She seemed to shy away from showing the ugly aspects of slavery in the interactions of Brandon with his slaves. She never even called them slaves, referring to them as servants. I won't presume to tell an author how to write, but I didn't really care for the soft-shoeing here. I'd rather she called a spade a spade, and showed Brandon as a more kindly slaveowner. That would have been more realistic for me. The Disneyland depiction of the slave plantation is a bit insulting for me as a reader. As I said, this is my personal issue. I don't judge other readers who have no quarrel with it. Having said that, this was a book set in the slavery times that didn't bother me as much as some did (soft-shoeing may have served a role in this).
*I wasn't sure if I liked the almost caricature-like depiction of some of the Black characters. I almost felt as though Ms. Woodiwiss watched Gone With the Wind, and wrote Hatti based on Mammy from Gone With the Wind. The other Black characters had almost no personality. They were shadow-figures who fetched, cleaned, and carried. It made me wince, more than a few times.
*Physical beauty=good, External ugliness=bad. I didn't really like that underlying theme here. The villain was a very ugly man, and his heart was ugly. He could have easily been really gorgeous and evil. Louisa, Brandon's scheming ex-fiance was showed as a lacking contrast to Heather, not just in poor character, but because she was large-framed, and in her thirties, and not sexually innocent like Heather. Young and firm-fleshed isn't necessarily always better than mature and buxom. A woman's value isn't necessarily in her virginity or lack of sexual experience. Louisa was very promiscuous, and she wasn't a nice person, and I didn't like her, but I don't think she should have been rejected based on her getting older. Not that Woodiwiss was saying this, but there were contrasts drawn between the two that relied heavily on physical appearance. It made me uncomfortable.
I can honestly say that I really liked this story. It took forever to read (small print, and length), but it was very readable. I loved Brandon and Heather as a couple, despite their inauspicious start. If you would like to read classic, well-done, old-School romance, this is a good place to start. Recommended if you don't mind slavery in your romances.
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