If you’re a long-time Elizabeth Lowell fan, you’ve probably already read Fires of Eden, the 1986 Hawaii-set series romance on which this book, Eden Burning, was based. In the Author’s Note, Ms. Lowell indicates she has added pages, fleshed out scenes, added new ones, and had a chance to look again at the relationship between Nicole Ballard and Chase Wilcox. This New and Improved Eden will cost you though … 21 bucks, hardcover. Is it worth it? Not on your lavalava, haoli.
Beautiful Nicole Ballard has hip-length red hair. She is also nearly six-feet tall and feels like an indelicate Amazon. By moving to Maui, Nicole has escaped a marriage where her husband humiliated her into thinking she was frigid: a complete failure as a woman, especially in bed. Nightly, as “Pele, Goddess of Fire,” Nicole performs traditional Polynesian dances at the Kipuka Club; by day, she is a botanical illustrator. Nicole is lonely, Nicole is sad, Nicole is sexually frustrated.
Enter vulcanologist, Dr. Chase Wilcox. Chase is handsome. Chase is sexy. Chase is arrogant, self-involved, stupid, and cruel. Chase is not my idea of a hero and no amount of “I’m sorry, I was wrong!” could redeem him in my eyes. Chase is a jerk-and-a-half.
Chase has a brother, Dane, who is happily married. Yet, the minute Chase sees Nicole, he is certain, certain, absolutely certain, that Nicole is out to get Dane and break up his marriage. He dwells on it. He obsesses over it. Every word out of her mouth assures him he’s right. After all, Dane and Chase are rich and good-looking. A little slut like Pele could only be after one thing. So, to “save” his younger brother, Chase tells Dan he can seduce Pele into bed before month’s end, but he doesn’t tell him why. Oblivious Dane says, nope, she’ll never do it.
So, Chase makes a play for Pele and within three days’ times, has her in the sack where he literally takes five minutes out of his busy day and f***s her, leaves her unsatisfied, puts his clothes on, splits and goes to tell his brother he’s now safe from the conniving whore’s clutches. He calls her names, details how dispassionate she was, tells his brother he has just f****d the broad, and generally proves what a creep he is. Of course, Nicole accidentally overhears him and rushes to the bathroom where she is sick with humiliation.
Seeing her ill, Chase suddenly realizes how wrong he’s been! Wrong, yes wrong! Oh so very, very wrong! How could he have been so blind! Oh my God, he shudders. What has he done? Oh, but she’s so beautiful and sweet, and anybody can see just how shy she is …
Give me a break.
This epiphany hits Chase in the middle of the book. The rest of the story deals with Chase’s efforts to win Nicole back and satisfy her in bed and assure her there’s nothing wrong with her. (The only thing wrong with her was that she let him back into her life at all after the way he treated her.)
This book was originally written fifteen years ago, and it shows. Chase has a silky black mustache. Uh, not in 2002, thanks. There are many references to Chase’s work on Mt. Saint Helens after its recent eruption, but Mt. Saint Helens erupted over twenty years ago now, not so recent unless you’re talking geologic time. Nicole is an emotional mess and Chase is a jerk … much more typical of the romances of fifteen years ago.
In addition, there are many Hawaiian terms, none of which are defined and no indication is given as to how they are pronounced. When I came across the word aa (which was not even italicized), I neither was told what it meant nor how it was to be pronounced (ah-ah? A-ah? A-A? A? Eh.).
Another throwback to 1986 is the often turgid prose that this author is somewhat famous for:
The first vivid rush of their blossoms would stay wrapped within the living silence of the trees, until just the right moment for coming undone in the sun … the buds would throw off their concealing shroud and burn like lavender flames … tender petals were swelling inside their dark wrappings. This was what she wanted to capture in a sketch — the tender, terrifying moment when the virgin bud came apart and offered itself to the sun … she would pray that some of the jacaranda bud’s innocent, terrifying courage would become her own.
A “virgin” flower bud with innocent, terrifying courage? The whole book was like this. It was silly. And of course, Chase doesn’t call Nicole by her real name. It’s either Pele, or little one, or little butterfly. Groan. On the plus side, the story was hard to put down (if for no other reason than to watch Chase squirm). I was hoping his brother or somebody would deck him, but nobody ever did. Something Ms. Lowell does have on her side is her ability to pull the reader into the story, whether you like the hero or not. The one thing Chase did have going for him was his intense attraction to Nicole, and his ultimate devotion to her once he’d realized what an idiot he was. Nicole was a lovely heroine and she deserved her happily-every-after.
Despite Chase’s redemption, it wasn’t enough for me to forgive him. And he certainly wasn’t worth twenty-one of my hard-earned dollars. I’ve long been a fan of this authors’ work, and a few years ago even granted DIK status to another of her re-writes (To the Ends of the Earth), written even earlier in the 1980’s than this was. Have my own tastes changed or is this a far less compelling read? My sense is that Lowell either succeeds or fails because of her heroes; she did not succeed with Chase.