Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Stormfire by Christine Monson

Title: Stormfire
Author: Christine Monson

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: June 1, 1984
Publisher: Avon Books
ISBN: 038087668X
ISBN-13: 9780380676686

Abducted on her way to boarding school, a terrified Catherine Enderly was brought from England to the coast of Ireland, the prisoner of the angry and powerful young Sean Culhane—a man sworn to vengeance against her family.

Frightened but defiant, the young countess met her captor with a strength that belied her fragile loveliness. But even as Sean vowed to have his revenge on Catherine, with each encounter he became more attracted to her. Her fiery innocence was a seduction that lured the passions of long smoldering hostility into a blazing inferno of desire.

Locked in a love-hate duel, he did not suspect that the captivating beauty who fought him with such tenacity was struggling desperately against her own awakened desires, and that his touch had become the burning reminder that the fierce hatred she felt for him had become an all-consuming love.

My rating:

I was curious as to what all the hype was about, so I decided to read it. First-hand experience is the best when trying to create a personal opinion, don’t you think?

Well, I read it, keeping in mind the “romance fashion” of the day with bodice rippers being a-la mode and we all know what bodice rippers entail, don’t we? The first bodice ripper I read was The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss back in the day when I first started reading actual romance novels (I was more of an A. Christie and E. Wallace fan). TFATF didn’t shock me, but I did wonder as to the “romance fashion” of the 80s. For someone to willingly put rape and/or forced seduction into a book struck me as strange for someone who was but a baby when bodice rippers were the height of romance novel sophistication.

Anyway, Ms. Woodiwiss’s “bodice ripper” has nothing on Stormfire. Now, if someone asked me to list all the required elements of a true bodice ripper I’d merely suggest they read Ms. Monson’s “bodice-ripping masterpiece”. Like a Knorr mix, this book has everything one needs to become perfectly acquainted with all the necessary elements for a bodice ripper—there’s physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, rape, kidnapping, borderline pedophilia, torture, physical retribution (read: castration), murder, incest…and all other kind of mayhem you can think of. Oh, let’s not forget an extremely beautiful heroine that such a beauty can only come from the Devil, so she must be a witch, so everything that happens to her is justified. She’s the spawn of the Devil, she’s evil, she must be punished. And not only the men in this book think so, but also the women (but you know how we chicks are—she’s intruding on our turf, let’s be rid of her).

Seen like this, I guess it could be cringe-worthy, but lucky for us who decided to read this, there is some semblance of story thrown into the mix, a love/hate relationship that somehow, inexorably, between one type of abuse and torture and the next, blooms into a love-story. Maybe not so believable, given today’s standards in romance (and life in general), but a love-story nonetheless. And it sort of a “redemption” for everything that happens at the beginning of a book. A cleansing of soul and spirit so to speak.

That said, I couldn’t help but admire Ms. Monson’s style and writing. She succeeded in turning this 500+ page monstrosity with all the baggage that came with it into a rather enjoyable read. I wouldn’t say it was quick-paced, because it sure did drag its feet in some parts, but the time did fly during those flowing passages.

I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed any of the characters, I rather developed a love/hate connection to them. When Sean was at his worst I’d love nothing more but for him to be quartered alive, but he had those few, but precious moments of lucidity (if I could call it that) when he showed true romance-hero-coloring. Pity, they didn’t last that long.
My affinity to Catherine was the same. All that is female in me rebelled at her SS, falling in love with her abuser and captor, while on the other hand I couldn’t help but understand her. In those rare moments of lucidity, Sean was a prince (until the moment she betrayed him), and besides, he was the one constant in her three-year-long captivity. He was both her tormentor and savior, both angel and devil, something was bound to give…And, as the old adage states, there’s a fine line between love and hate. Which goes for both, Sean and Catherine.
So, while I didn’t particularly like them, I understood where they came from.

All in all, this is really a (really twisted) sort of redemption story. He needed to atone for his sins, she (don’t ask me why) needed to atone for the sins of her father, they both went through hell—multiple visits—but in the end love prevailed.
I wouldn’t have minded a more lengthy resolution—after so long a few more pages wouldn’t hurt—but what we got sure was better than nothing.

That said, having read this book with an open mind and taking in consideration the decade in which it was written, I cannot help but give this one an overall rating of 5 stars. Because it is a prime example of a bodice ripper, it is well-written, it does take you on an emotional rollercoaster (for me, feeling something for the characters, be it love, hate, disdain, sympathy… is better than feeling nothing), and it comes with a nice bow tied in the end.

P.S. Looking at it with the eyes and mind-frame of a 21st century woman, comparing it to the historicals of today, the rating is much, much lower. First, because of all the abuse and “forced seductions” and second (which for me is the most important), because I cannot stand my hero and/or heroine being intimate with anyone but each other after they meet. It’s a personal standard of mine and I’m pretty particular about it. All the “rutting” Sean does (including the threesome with his older mistress and the Indo-Chinese chit) and Catherine’s consummating her marriage to Raoul severely chafes.

80s mind frame—5 stars
21st century mind frame—2 stars (for the writing)


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