Top positive review
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Fabulous from Start to Finish
on 14 January 2010
The setting is the American Frontier during the French and Indian War, the year is 1763. Clare paints a harsh and forbidding backdrop where survival is paramount and the wilderness threatens to swallow both the hero and heroine whole.
Nicholas Kenleigh is tormented and broken and this is unsurprising as the prologue opens the novel with a rather graphic account of the torture he and two fellow soldiers suffer at the hands of the Native-American Wyandot tribe. Nicholas emerges alive but is chased by shadows. Forced by his memories to abandon his affluent family he has spent six years roaming and trying to escape his merciless past. An encounter with another Indian tribe brings him on the brink of death to Elspeth (Bethie) Stewart's door.
Alone and pregnant, Bethie is not without her own anguish. Recently widowed, her only hope is that her baby will be born in safety on the remote farmstead she and her husband shared. Bethie's perception of men is heart wrenching, moulded by abuse suffered at the hands of her step-brother and step-father and the perfunctory encounters with her late husband. So when a bleeding Nicholas shows up at her door, holding a gun to her temple she is understandably terrified. But Bethie's no doormat, her past has made her strong and fiercely protective of both her unborn baby and her own body. She nurses Nicholas back to health, but not before drugging him and tying him to the bed. Eventually they reach a truce and to repay her kindness Nicholas vows to protect her until the baby is born.
Following the birth of baby Isabelle, Nicholas and Bethie are forced from the farm by marauding Indians and adventure ensues. A race through the wilds of the frontier becomes necessary as the three must outrun enemies bent on reclaiming the land. Clare skilfully paints the landscape here and impresses on the reader a sense of urgency, danger and isolation. War rages around them as they reach the safety of Fort Pitt, a sanctuary that hides its own evils.
It was Nicholas' unyielding care for Bethie and the daughter that he viewed as his own that made me love him. He was ever gentle with Bethie, and took a selfless approach to winning her love. Clare's writing of their relationship was believable, emotional and thoroughly involving. But Bethie is not the only one with demons here and Nicholas not the only saviour. Their pasts mirror each other and as secrets are revealed and the novel develops it becomes apparent that one cannot exist without the other. Bethie helps Nicholas as much as he does her so there is never a sense of imbalalance in their relationship. Both heroine and hero come from different social backgrounds, he is an Oxford educated Englishman and she the illiterate daughter of Scots-Irish provincials. This causes some friction between the two but it is not expounded upon and Clare does not exploit it to drive the plot forward.
****This is not an era in history that I usually choose to read about so I read the novel without preconception or expectation. That being said it did not feel clichéd or formulaic, it felt fresh and exciting and I can't remember the last time that I was as satisfied by a Historical Romance. Not once did Ride the Fire read as my usual frivolously fluffy fare, it was extremely enjoyable but unapologetically emotional and dark in places. Reading Ride the Fire was an education in itself, and there's nothing better than learning wrapped up in a beautiful love story.****