Monday, September 06, 2010

"Lord of Fire," by Gaelen Foley

The Chick: Alice Montague. When her sister-in-law abandons her sick child to attend a scandalous party, Alice is determined to drag her back to her maternal responsibilities - even if it means taking her from the jaws of the devil himself, Lucien Knight.
The Rub: Her plans go awry when Lucien allows her slutty sister-in-law to leave - but only if Alice stays with him.
Dream Casting: Bryce Dallas Howard.

The Dude: Lord Lucien Knight. After years of dangerous spywork for the Crown, he realizes love is only a pipe dream - but when, miracle of miracles, he finds the One, he can't just let her escape. Even if keeping her is not quite exactly legal.
The Rub: Even as he tries to win her over, he knows he has to keep his spywork a secret - even as an old enemy threatens to destroy all he holds dear.
Dream Casting: Rufus Sewell.

The Plot:

Lucien: Wow! Fake pagan cults and orgies are a great way to find spies!

Alice: Where is my sister in law?! What is this place?

Lucien: ... and a terrible way to pick up chicks. I guess kidnapping is the only option.

Alice: WTF. WHY?

Lucien: Because I'm so lonely. *sad puppy eyes*

Alice: Oh, okay then. Let's get married!

Lucien: No! First I must defeat my mortal enemy who's planning something heinous for London!

Alice: How DARE you choose to defeat a villain who's planning on murdering innocent women and children over me? I'm OUT!

Lucien: Um, I'm an alpha male with money, a dark past, and a sixpack. I'm not that worried.

Alice: Curses! You saw through my bluff! Okay, let's get back together.

Evil Villain: Not if I kill you first!

Lucien: *impales* I think not.

Alice: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Tortured Hero with a Dark Past (and Asthma)

1 Jerkface Twin Brother

1 Precocious Child

1 Big Fat Ho

Several Cave Orgies

1 Fake Pagan Cult

1 Evil Frenchman

The Word: This was an incredibly difficult book for me to grade, for if I had to describe it in one word, it would be rollercoaster. It's hard to believe that some scenes and aspects of this book were so awesomely, deliciously good - while others were so stupidly, wallbangingly bad.

The second novel in a series concerning a group of aristocratic half-siblings who are all of different fathers because their mother was a Free-Spirited Ho (the first of which, The Duke, I adored), our hero is Lucien Knight, legally the son of the deceased Duke of Hawkescliffe, biologically the son of the Marquess of Carnarthen, and identical twin brother to Damien Knight, a celebrated war hero.

However, Damien looks down on Lucien because he chose to drop out of the army to become a spy, a line of work considered dishonourable and degrading to proper military gentlemen. Despite being hurt deeply by his twin's snubs, Lucien still tries to help his bro out by seducing Damien's girlfriends, thereby "testing" their virtue.

When the woman Damien had planned on proposing marriage to, a Big Fat Ho named Caro, "fails" this test repeatedly with Lucien (and plans to fail even more), Damien finally gives Lucien his "Fuck Off" notice. Lucien is devastated, but he has fake pagan cult masses to prepare and orgies to throw, and now that Caro's FaceBook status has gone from "In A Relationship" to "Ass Got Dumped," he sends her an invite. Just because he engineered her downfall doesn't mean he can't get a little sumthin'-sumthin'.

Before you get any ideas, the fake pagan orgy sex cult parties he throws in his personal underground cave are all just a front to squeeze information (among other things) from pervy spies and visiting dignitaries. Yes. That's all it's for. I swear.

Meanwhile, back at Slutty Caro's estate, her sister-in-law Alice is worried and furious since Caro's three-year-old son Harry is ill and his mother is nowhere to be found. Alice practically raised Harry, since Caro was always too busy putting the ILF in MILF to remember what the M actually stands for. When Alice discovers that Caro's partying at the notorious Lord Lucien Knight's house, she decides enough is enough and drives off in a coach to find Caro and drag her by her hair to her son's sickbed.

Because Alice is Stubborn and Nosy, she finagles her way past Lucien's armed guards and sneaks down to his cave where he's throwing his Fake Pagan Orgy Sex Cult Party. She fails to locate Caro but succeeds in catching Lucien's attention. In an admittedly sweet and beautifully-written scene, Lucien falls for her at once, then realizes she's not on the guest list and suspects her of being an assassin and proceeds to search her for weapons, then discovers she's on the level and is back in love with her again.

But now Lucien's in a bind. Alice is The One for Him, but being caught fondling ladies at a Fake Pagan Orgy Sex Cult Party and nearly subjecting her to a cavity search have pretty much blown any chance he has at making a good first impression. There's really only one reasonable solution - hold Alice at his isolated country estate against her will, for her own good. Brilliant.

I mean, by reading this review, the "Bad" in this story is obvious:
  • Silly hero names with obvious Satanic connotation (Damien and Lucien - aka Demon and Lucifer)? Check!
  • Heroine who's adored by the hero mainly for her "innocence"? Check!
  • Redonkulous kidnapping storyline? Check!
But - but - but Lucien is so adorable! Yes, the story is balls-out insane, but the writing is lovely, with lines like "He wanted to be held like the last man on earth"... Yum. Gaelen Foley does a masterful job depicting Lucien's painful loneliness, his isolation from polite society and his soul-killing separation from his brother, Damien. After years of doing Britain's dirty work and getting nothing but bad press in return, he wants someone truly virtuous and clean and untainted, and that's Alice. From the very start, they share a great chemistry, and it's beautiful watching Alice slowly thaw towards Lucien once she's forced to look beyond the dark guise he has to put up in order to keep Britain free of foreign menaces.

And Alice (at least until the last quarter of the book) manages to keep herself free of the Cloying Innocent stereotype. Hell, even Caro the Ho gets some depth, revealing a deep-seated albeit repressed shame for her Ho-ness that expresses itself in jealousy of Alice's purity.

However, even as all this good romantic development occurs, the shortbus-worthy story keeps butting in. Even as Alice falls in love with Lucien, I kept thinking, "Wait - he never explained the orgies." Lucien never reveals anything about his spywork to Alice until much later, in order to protect her, so, in theory, Alice falls in love with Lucien while still believing he's the High Priest of a Fake Pagan Orgy Sex Cult.

I mean, she thinks, "Oh, this poor tortured soul - he likes poetry and long walks in the forest" and yet never, not once, thinks, "Um, seriously dude, what's up with those orgies? I mean, a couple of Pier 1 throwrugs and a vase or two could really class up that private cave of yours." By the end of her stay at Lucien's estate, she starts referring to his parties as if they're mild annoyances that involve drinking too much beer with a bunch of football buddies, instead of pretending to be the avatar of a sex god while hundreds of people knock boots at the same time.

Which reminds me - who's responsible for cleaning that cave? Ick!

And she's actually mollified when he promises to have no more Fake Pagan Orgy Sex Cult Parties - after this last one. Really, Alice? You'd be okay with your husband-to-be throwing one more Fake Pagan Orgy Sex Cult Party where naked women throw themselves at him, provided it's just this once?

And then we have the last quarter of the novel, where the romantic conflict and the narrative conflict combine into a truly wallbanging couple of chapters. Lucien discovers an old nemesis of his who tortured him for five weeks is actually alive and planning to wreak havoc in London, and he's determined to stop the bastard and make him pay. Alice, who by this point knows Lucien is a spy, nevertheless throws a self-righteous snitfit and gives a condescendingly naive lecture about the Wrongness of Revenge. When Lucien refuses to call off his search of the villain, she leaves him - and proceeds to tell everyone who will listen that he used her and abandoned her.

Um, what? You left him, after he decided saving the lives of innocent civilians was more important than making sure you got to Gretna Green on time. Seriously, if your man is a nation-saving superspy, you want him to care about his work. You can't go to Gretna Green if it's a smoking hole in the ground.

But even that badness doesn't last - no, then super-awesome-adorable Lucien gives one of the most beautifully written, empathetic "I am a worthless nothing and you are the only light in my pit of despair" speeches ever and completely wins me (and Alice!) back over.

So what am I supposed to do? On the one hand, it's beautifully written and our hero is a dark chocolate bad ass. On the other, the story is crazier than a box of frogs and the heroine is a bit on the "it's all about me" side.

I guess if you're wondering about whether to read this or not, consider what you like best about romances. If you're more character oriented and like beautiful writing, you'll like Lord of Fire. If you need a coherent story that makes even a basic amount of sense, you may want to set this novel on fire. The choice is yours.
B-

6 comments:

  1. I couldn't even finish this book. In fact I think I only ever finished and enjoyed The Duke.

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  2. Mwahhhaa and a guffaw - I was ambivalent about this book but I am so going to read this book now. Fantastic review!

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  3. I like crazy - heck I am a long time fan of Thea Devine (an autobuy for me) and noooo-one is more convoluted or completely irrational or skankier than than her h/h and story lines. Love me some crazy.

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  4. Unpopular opinion: I tried reading "The Duke", but I couldn't really get into it.

    I don't think I'll be trying this one, unless I finish the first one in the series, but you never know.

    Great review!

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  5. haha, hilariously awesome review, as usual. my feelings are an equally mixed bag about allll the Knight Misc. books, and the connected Spice Trilogy. i just ADORED so many of them, and then others were crazier than a "box of frogs" if you will. The first Gaelen Foley book i ever read was actually about Damien in Lord of Ice, it is by far my fave of hers, i hope you give it a try!

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  6. Vorkosigrrl11:46 AM

    "Despite being hurt deeply by his twin's snubs, Lucien still tries to help his bro out by seducing Damien's girlfriends, thereby "testing" their virtue."

    ICK ICK ICK. With that kind of "help" from his friends, who needs enemies? Aside from the spying stuff, Luke wonders why his bro don't like him anymore?

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