The Elusive Flame
The Elusive Flame is the long-awaited sequel to The Flame & the Flower, written 26 years ago. It has its moments, but as the title suggests, they are elusive. In order to find them, you have to slog through Woodiwiss’s heavy-handed, verbose, purple prose. It can be slow going.
This sequel has many similarities to the original. Brandon and Heather’s son Beau (born in The Flame and the Flower) is all grown up and captain of his own ship. Cerynise, a talented artist, is thrown out of her home in London after her guardian dies. Desperately, she looks for a way back to her native South Carolina. She is taken to Beau and faints at his feet. In order to protect Cerynise from her guardian’s evil nephew, Beau marries her. The marriage is supposed to be in name only, and they plan to get an annulment when they get to Charleston.
During the voyage, Beau and Cerynise can hardly stand to be around each other because their attraction is so great. Cerynise cares for Beau, but doesn’t want to sleep with him unless she gets a lasting commitment from him. At first, Beau doesn’t want to be tied down. But his strong attraction for Cerynise cannot be denied, and the marriage is consummated while Beau is sick and delirious. Because Beau was out of his mind at the time, he doesn’t realize that he has taken Cerynise’s virginity. When they arrive in South Carolina, they are on the verge of annulment until everyone realizes Cerynise is pregnant, and the couple comes together. They spend the rest of the book having the baby, escaping kidnapping attempts, and professing their undying love.
The first part of the book isn’t so bad. Sure, the fights between the hero and heroine are childish. But the sexual tension does build as we wonder when the couple will give into their desires. After they get together, it is all downhill. There is a lot of description, but little action. If you are looking for witty dialogue, you won’t find it here. They say the same things over and over. The most popular seems to be “What would I do without you if you were killed?” We also hear cloyingly sweet purple prose: “You convey me away to ecstasy with your kisses!”
What really sinks this book is that Cerynise and Beau don’t seem like real people. They never really do or say anything of interest. At least at the beginning, Beau is captaining his ship, but he gives that up once they land. Cerynise is perhaps the most flawed character. She is supposed to be a brilliant artist, but she never seems like one. I kept comparing her to other heroines who were artists, such as Maggie and Shannon in Nora Roberts’ Born in Fire and Born in Shame, or both the hero and heroine in Mary Jo Putney’s River of Fire. These are people who seemed like artists. Cerynise is never convincing, perhaps because it never seems to be a priority with her. You don’t get to be a great artist by keeping art as one of your little hobbies on the side.
Woodiwiss’s wordy style is also a real hurdle. She never uses one word if she can use ten. Entire paragraphs are unnecessary. We hear about the feelings of unimportant secondary characters that have nothing to do with the plot. Everything is described in minute detail. This might be okay for the sex scenes, but I could really have done without the scene where Cerynise lovingly empties Beau’s chamberpot when he’s ill. There are some things we really don’t need to know.
The final insult for me was the end chase scene between Cerynise and the evil nephew, which could have been lifted straight out of the screenplay for Home Alone. I am not making this up. While her baby sleeps in a locked closet, Cerynise cavorts through the house making booby traps, including one that looks like a ghost but is actually a swinging iron kettle which knocks one of the bad guys on the head. How lucky for Cerynise that the bad guys gave her enough time to make it.
Surprisingly, the best parts of the book are when Brandon and Heather, the original Flame and Flower couple, are present. They have both mellowed out in the intervening years, and Brandon even apologetically tells Beau about his rape of Heather. Although Brandon did a lot of snarling and Heather did a lot of trembling in the original, at least they had some faults. Beau and Cerynise are pretty much perfect, which makes them pretty uninteresting. If you loved The Flame and the Flower, you will enjoy the reappearance of the original couple.
If you didn’t love the original book, chances are you will not like this one either. With its fights straight from a junior high playground and treacly purple prose, The Elusive Flame doesn’t have much to offer.