Review: Bound in Flame by Katherine Kayne (2019)

The Hawaiian Ladies’ Riding Society, Book #1

Heat Factor: She’s on fire. The sex is not (and it’s not meant to be, really).

Character Chemistry: Yes.

Plot: I can’t even begin…

Overall: Try a little something different on for size.

Historical romance is great, but it’s so hard to find historical romance that’s not 19th century British. There are also the various popular American settings: Wild West, Gilded Age, Reconstruction. So when I found this Hawaiian historical romance I jumped right on it. Also my in-laws have been living in Hawaii, so we’ve had a Hawaiian culture inundation the past couple years. Basically I had no choice. 

This book is set in a very early 20th century (1909) Hawaii, in a fictional, mystical world, where Americans did take over Hawaii, but Lili’uokalani was succeeded by Kehokulani, a suffragist princess born with mystical powers. There is all kinds of stuff going on in this book: 

  1. Mystical Gates are ushering the world from its past to its future, led by Princess Kehokulani.
  2. Letty’s family has money trouble. 
  3. Letty is part of an equestrian society of Hawaiian suffragists.
  4. Timothy has family/plantation issues.
  5. Letty was sent to school in California where she decided to become a veterinarian. 
  6. There is a psychopath who hates Letty because Timothy fired him.

Some of these things are more relevant than others, but be prepared for a lot of moving parts. Kayne also dates all the chapters, which was too much. As far as I could tell, the narrative moves in a chronologically forward progression, so the dates really just made me feel like I was missing something, because I paid attention to them not at all.

It’s going to be really hard for me to be succinct, but I’ll try. Because we at The Smut Report talk romance, I’m going to leave some of our plot points outlined above alone in favor of the romance between Timothy and Letty.

Letty Lang just can’t seem to control herself sometimes. It’s the reason she’s sent to boarding school in California. The reason she can’t control herself? She is a Gate, one of nine women who will “open new ways for our people.” (It’s a period of change, the early 20th century. There are cars, for starters.) Her power is healing and it manifests as flames. (Get it?)

It is because she can’t control her power that she throws herself off a ship after a horse as the book opens and then curses the horse’s owner, Timothy Rowley, when she and her equine friend arrive safely on shore. Timothy is a very good friend of the aforementioned Princess K, who also happens to be Letty’s godmother, so Letty and Timothy are thrown together over and over as the story progresses. They live on different islands, though. Letty starts out on the big island because she’s visiting Princess K, but most of the time she lives with her parents on Oahu, while Timothy’s plantation is next to the Princess’s on the big island. Distance makes the heart grow fonder? I honestly didn’t know if this was actually going to be a romance or if we were going to do some more series, Stephanie Plum nonsense because first there is a very slow burn and then it turns out that Gates kill romantic interests with their powers. (?) (???) I got to a point where if Letty broke up with Timothy without telling him to his face what the issue was one more time, I was going to throw the book. Teenagers.

Letty and Timothy train horses together and are generally quite proper. They write each other. The visit politely when they’re in the same space. But they are insta-attracted to each other, so it’s a subtle romance. Also there’s the issue that Letty is half Hawaiian, so Timothy, as not only a white man but as an English aristocrat, would face a degree of social ostracism if he were with her. Going home to England in glory to stick it to his father goes up in smoke and all that. The romance, therefore, is one that I really wanted to happen, but it was on-again-off-again, sometimes even seeming non-existent before swinging back to burning and yearning. 

Much of the story isn’t really centered on the romance anyway. Timothy ties directly into Letty’s journey of self discovery, but Letty learning she’s a Gate and subsequently learning how to accept and harness her powers is a lot of the narrative. Given the lack of an external conflict to drive the plot, the story lives or dies based on the quality of the narrative and the writing. The narrative is definitely engaging. It took me a little while to warm up, but by the end I did become totally absorbed in all the different goings on Kayne had whipped up. 

So how’s the writing? It’s good, or I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book at all. But… The first, and honestly very minor, thing is that the story is written in 3rd person omniscient and in the past tense (as most books are). So when the author says (emphasis mine), “That is, of course, until one crafty mama decided to make a break for it….” 

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s super jarring. The other aspect of the writing I feel compelled to flag is the pacing. As I said, there’s a lot going on, so there was a lot of story to tell, but I probably shouldn’t have wondered if we were ever going to resolve the central Gate/Relationship conflict in this book, especially if it’s marketed as romance. There were a few points along various plotlines that geared up to high drama and then… resolved? Just like that?

Some of these things matter more than others, but holy wow did that ending feel packed in, like, “Let’s not make this book too long!” Hi, I just read a 500 page romance novel (Like, why? Different issue…)–this book is not too long. Or if it is, cut down on some of the story lines. Don’t fail to flesh out all the drama that’s been created in all the other carefully crafted pages! 

TL;DR – I liked this book, and I really liked that its setting both physically and temporally were different than most of what I read. Is it my new fave? Nah. But that’s okay, too.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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