Blaze of Glory
A really good military romance is hard to find. Unfortunately, Blaze of Glory doesn’t bring my search for one to an end.
Bobby “Postal” Ruznik is an Air Force Special Ops pilot. Dr. Grace Marie “Flipper” Lanier is a profiler for the police who also serves in the Army Reserves. They made it through three dates while serving in Iraq before they called it quits. Or rather, when Gracie called it quits, as her more organized (“uptight”) and analytical personality couldn’t handle Bobby’s turbulent one.
But nine months later, a special operation puts them in each other’s circle again in the fictional spot of Cantou, Asia. Neither has forgotten the sparks they struck before, and this time they’re both inclined to explore it a little further, as they navigate the mission and intrigues that have brought them there.
Both Bobby and Gracie are compelling characters with interesting backstories, and they generate strong chemistry together. Beneath their tough exteriors, both are vulnerable after surviving complicated childhoods with parents who were not there for them in their time of need. Their attraction is built on how their different personalities tend to clash, and their scenes together were the highlight of the book. I thought the author had their relationship set up nicely, and it was unfortunate that the action and suspense aspect of the plot ended up detracting from it.
I realize a suspension of disbelief was necessary, but I never bought a single aspect of the messy miltary storyline. Instead of cohesivness regarding the mission, numerous subplots started and sputtered to an end throughout the book and none of the developments felt compelling or ever truly threatening to the protagonists.
For example, Gracie’s secret purpose for being in Cantou is to help extract her nuclear scientist father from the lab where he’s working. He has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and has not contacted her in some time, so she’s afraid he’s off his medicine. Lo and behold, the author shows early on that he is not suffering a relapse, so for much of the book, the reader is aware that Gracie’s fears are absolutely groundless. The mission – such as it is – is truthfully just not as interesting as the relationship between the main couple, with whom I wish we could’ve spent more time.
The two other relationships depicted between side characters are also more distracting than interesting, particularly the one involving Gracie’s father and the mysterious woman who’s intent on getting close to him. Ultimately, it just means less time with the main couple.
The author, whose husband is an aviator, uses a number of ways to demonstrate the realism of the military setting. All the characters have call signs that have too clever stories behind them. Military acronyms are thrown around like candy. However, I thought the dialogue tended to get a bit sloppy. I found it strange that Gracie, a doctor, would say “ohmigod” so many times, and other characters would utter words that seemed similarly out of place.
Finally, one of the author’s minor characters bothered me personally a great deal. Jiang Lee is a local graduate student who is presumably Asian (the author is vague about her specific ethnicity, as the story is set in “Cantou, Asia”), and ends up entangled in the intrigue surrounding Gracie’s father. It’s emphasized that Jiang is “biddable” and naively devoted to her lover. She’s willing to “do anything” that her lover asks in bed and a great deal outside of it. Such characteristics would have disgusted me regardless of the character’s actual ethnicity, but the story invokes a disturbing stereotype of slavishly obedient, over-sexualized Asian women. Only a handful of pages are devoted to Jiang, but her ridiculously “biddable” and sacrificial nature left a lasting negative impression on me.
All in all, this book felt crowded. It had potential, but the pacing of the plot was disruptive to the romance, and there was not enough room for it to develop in a really satisfying manner.