Heart of Fire
Heart of Fire is a paranormal romance about a fictitious country dealing with real historical events. Josie Litton did something similar (in concept, not in execution) with her Dream Island series. Heart of Fire, like Dream Island, owes much to Regency-set Historicals, even though its setting is imaginary.
Lennox tossed aside the actual map of the world and created three new nations somewhere in Eastern Europe: Laurentia, Beaureve, and Jehanna. Napoleon invaded Russia without affecting any of these countries – I leave it to your imagination to figure out how – but Nicholas Rostov, the handsome and single king of Laurentia, is worried about what the French will do on their way back. On a diplomatic mission to Jehanna he is granted the use of Sera, a beautiful, virginal harem girl (the only thing we know about Jehanna is that it is vaguely “Eastern” and has harems). Nicholas is attracted to Sera but lets her sleep on the couch. When assassins attack in the middle of the night, Sera saves his life. In gratitude, he obtains her from the king of Jehanna. But although he is opposed to slavery, he does not free her.
Sera is from Arkadia, an isolated mountainous region between Laurentia and Beaureve, where, undisturbed for centuries, her people practice paranormal abilities and worship Greek gods. She left Arkadia on a mission to find a stolen ruby which apparently has some sort of mysterious powers of its own and is necessary for Arkadia’s survival. She was captured and enslaved, and wants nothing but to find the ruby and go home. But Nicholas will not let her go.
I enjoyed the world-building of this paranormal novel, not because it’s good – it isn’t – but because it’s so wacky. Don’t try too hard to envisage where Laurentia is: we know that it borders Russia, but other helpful landmarks (like, say, Poland or Ukraine) are completely absent as though they never existed at all. Entertainingly, while many of Laurentia’s citizens have Russian-sounding names like Rostov and Oblomov, just as many of them have English names like Holmes and Dawson and (my favorite) Lord Effenby, Viscount Berington.
Laurentia, Arkadia, and so on would have been far more convincing if they had been set in a completely imaginary universe, rather than shoe-horned into 19th century eastern Europe. This is especially true since the plot about Napoleon’s prospective invasion never comes to anything. Nevertheless, I found it all silly but entertaining. I also rather liked the origins of Arkadia, whose society is based upon the principles of Plato’s Republic but with magic. The whole thing is ridiculous but fun. Maybe I’m easily amused.
I was a little less taken with the storyline and the characters. Sera is Nicholas’ prisoner; she repeatedly attempts to escape but he always drags her back, purportedly for her own protection. (Annoyingly, there are several attempts on Sera’s life that lend credence to Nicholas’ claim to be her guardian against the dangers of freedom.) Although the writing is smooth and both characters are three-dimensional, nothing about this scenario says “romance” to me. Nicholas struck me as a scarily obsessed fanatic. The author attempts to make him more human by giving him a physical ailment, but in my opinion that explains some of his neurotic behavior without mitigating it. It’s not that I hated Nicholas – I would categorize him as one of those charismatic villains, who might make a great hero in the sequel, after he gets his richly-deserved comeuppance at the hands of this book’s actual hero. Alas, he is the actual hero, and I had a hard time accepting him as such. I liked Sera until I discovered that she had fallen in love with this obviously unstable person, rewarding his extremely bad behavior.
In the foreword to her mystery novel Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers apologizes for her “monstrous impertinence” in creating a fictional Oxford college and placing it on the Balliol cricket-field. Lennox’s impertinence is surely more monstrous than that, but I truly didn’t mind. The romance is of the slave/master kind, which is not my favorite scenario, but I’ve certainly read more irritating ones than this. If you like alpha heroes, a touch of magic, and are willing to leave your knowledge of geography at the door, you might well enjoy it.