Heat Factor: I mean, it’s called Nights of Fire. The name checks out.
Character Chemistry: Physical chemistry – 5 stars. Emotional chemistry – 1 star.
Plot Development: Completely Bonkers
Overall: Mixed Feelings
So here’s the thing. There is a special place in my heart for extremely ridiculous historical romances written in the 80s and early 90s. The bodice rippers. When I read them with a contemporary eye, I can acknowledge how problematic these books are, especially in terms of consent. However, they can also be really fun, especially if I turn off my brain and read them with genre conventions in mind.
With that said, I was torn about this book. Patricia Pellican’s Nights of Fire is fun! The plot makes no sense, and the sex is super hot. I can get past the borderline rapiness because the Pellicane does allow her characters plenty of space to get to know each other and acknowledge that they have the hots for each other before Our Hero coerces the Lovely Heroine into bed. The setting is also unique – it’s got many of the conventions of a Western, but with a slightly different cultural milieu. However, there were some extremely problematic elements in terms of the development of the love story. Plus, all of the side characters pissed me off.
Ok, caveats taken care of. Let’s do this!
Emy Du Maurier is the eldest daughter in a family of landowners in Louisiana, sometime after the Civil War. However, the Du Maurier’s have fallen on hard times, so her incompetent father and brother decide that the best plan for getting enough money to pay back their bank loan is to: rob people. They are really, really bad at it. Emy does not approve, because she is very saintly (and robbery is bad, especially when you’re bad at it). So, she comes up with a plan. She will go on a gambling cruise, and then when she disembarks, she will describe a mark to her father and brother. However, she plans on just making up a description so they won’t actually be able to attack anyone. Note: all this happens in the first 20 pages or so.
Anyways, Emy’s on the boat, and that’s where she meets Cole, a US Marshall with a Very Sexy Mustache. He assumes he’s a hooker (classic mix-up!), and they do some necking, but she manages to elude him before we have an instance of the classic bodice ripper trope of “I raped you because I thought you were a whore, even though you’re actually a virgin.” When she gets back to her father and brother, she’s so befuddled by kisses that she describes Cole, lingering especially on his mustache, which is the best she’s ever seen.
Long story short: they attack Cole. He hits his head, so they bring him back to the farm to heal. Luckily he has amnesia, so he can fall for Emy, who prays and nurses him and takes care of her grandmother who has dementia (told you she was saintly), without that whole issue of him remembering her from the boat or realizing that she’s the reason he’s in this mess in the first place. Eventually, his memories come back, and he puts Emy’s father and brother in prison. She gets them out of jail, because family is important or something, and then Cole decides that the best way to deal with the fact that he is very very hot for a woman that he doesn’t trust is to marry her. True story. So they get married and move into a nice house in the city with the whole family. But then there’s some other crime happening, and Cole thinks that Emy is continuing to aid and abet her criminal family members, so they fight a lot, but eventually he finds the real bad guy who is also a pimp and then they live happily ever after.
The good: Pellicane writes sexual tension really well. And because of the ridiculous ins and outs of the plot, she is able to explore different ways a sexual relationship can play out. For example, when Cole ad Emy are on her family farm, they lust for each other, and have some really hot make out sessions, but keep things just on the right side of chaste, because Emy is a virtuous young woman. This presents a nice contrast to their first meeting, when Cole assumes that Emy is a prostitute, and just goes for it after getting her drunk (she manages to extricate herself from certain rape due to “misunderstanding” by an expedient fire). Later, Emy becomes a more active participant in their sexual relationship, and their scenes together are not just Cole pursuing and Emy demurring and then giving in. In one scene, shortly after their marriage, Emy “arrests” Cole for stealing her heart, which gives her an excellent excuse to have her way with him.
The bad: basically, their relationship is built on Lust and Mistrust (an excellent name for a romance novel, if I do say so myself). Cole spends the whole book not believing anything Emy tells him while also wanting to bone her at all times. He never really treats her well, except in bed. Emy is supposedly beautiful, virtuous, caring and smart – is a sexy sexy mustache and some rippling abs enough to attract her to this guy? When they’re not in the bedroom, they’re mostly fighting. Sometimes about serious things (Cole thinks she betrayed him and threatens to throw her family out of the house), but also about stupid stuff (who is more tired after doing chores). I think this is supposed to show us that Emy is feisty and not actually a perfect saint, but really it’s just grating. Why can’t they have a normal conversation?
What really dropped the overall score for me, however, were the side characters. Emy’s father and brother are failed farmers and failed criminals, but then they move to New Orleans and all of a sudden are super successful restaurateurs, making the best gumbo in town. (No, they didn’t do any cooking on the farm.)
Even worse is Emy’s sister Kitty. Kitty is a stupid, evil, and slutty. She tries to seduce every man she comes across, which, of course, means that she eventually becomes a prostitute. She feeds information to the villain without any thought to the consequences. The reader is supposed to hate her, because she does nothing but cause trouble for poor, saintly, Emy, and that is just lazy writing. It’s a classic Madonna / Whore scenario. Kitty has a high sex drive and wants to get laid any way she can (she is sixteen, mind you), and is therefore repeatedly punished and slut shamed by the narrative. Emy has a high sex drive, but only with Cole, and therefore she is a good woman, and the narrative eventually rewards her with true love and a baby.
Just skip to the sex scenes. Trust me on this one.
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