Fire Song by Catherine Archer
(Harl. Hist. #426, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29026-8
I would have liked this book much more had the author not asked me to accept several rather preposterous plot elements. As it is, Fire Song was interesting enough to keep me reading. I doubt I'll remember it in a week, but the journey was pleasant enough.

Meredyth Chalmers waits in the chapel of her family's ancestral home for the marriage of her younger sister, Celeste to Roland St. Sebastian, Baron of Kirkland. When Celeste fails to appear, Meredyth seeks her out only to find her sobbing in her chambers. Celeste refuses to marry Roland, She is in love with Giles, a knight in their father's household. Celeste begs Meredyth to marry Roland in her place. After thinking it over for a few minutes, Meredyth agrees.

Huh? Just like that, Meredyth is ready to tie herself to a man she doesn't even know? Readers are asked to accept that she will do anything to help her beautiful younger sister, but this seemed a bit much. Well, prepare yourself. Much of the action in this book revolves around Meredyth's slavish devotion to the nitwit Celeste.

Roland is astonished to find he's married the redheaded Meredyth, lovely though she may be. After a giant mental shrug (this was an arranged marriage anyway), he comes to the conclusion that one sister is as good as another. Since he has no intention of ever loving her, things will probably work out just fine. Roland takes Meredyth to his home and they attempt to settle in to a routine. When the sparks fly in bed, both need to do some re-evaluating of their marriage.

Roland is the last of his family, his older brother having been killed by the Saracens. His past is filled with family treachery, so his unwillingness to love Meredyth makes sense and feels logical. I also believed Meredyth's attraction to Roland. Their romance unfolded carefully, bit by bit, and I had no doubts that they were ideal for each other.

The historical detail in the book felt right, too. Catherine Archer's descriptions framed the story beautifully.

In fact, Roland and Meredyth would have been better off if they'd been left to carry the story alone and the secondary characters hadn't occupied so much space. Celeste was totally unsympathetic. Spoiled, self-absorbed, weak, she spends virtually every moment either stammering or sobbing. The "fragile beauty" bit was way overdone. I really wanted Meredyth, or anybody for that matter, to give her a good slap. Alas, 'tis not to be. Meredyth can't say no to her.

And the denouement was unbelievable. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that Roland would have to be a total idiot not to see what is in front of his nose. In fact, I had a suspicion at the beginning of the book where this might be heading, and I dismissed it as too obvious and preposterous. Guess the author felt differently.

Fire Song didn't quite hit all the high notes, but if you're in the mood for a summer medieval, it might please.

--Cathy Sova

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