Eden Burning is the revised re-issue of Elizabeth Lowell’s 1986 book Fires of Eden. Because I discovered Lowell after most of her categories were long gone from bookstores, I’ve looked forward to their return in longer format.
How disappointing to discover that Eden Burning has neither the compelling romance that I associate with her earlier books nor the tight storytelling of her more recent ones. What it does have is a lot of Hawaiian travel brochure copy and some highly mixed messages.
Chase Wilcox, a vulcanologist, has come to Hawaii because his married younger brother seems a little too interested in the sexy dancer giving his daughter hula lessons. Chase’s daughter, Lisa, is staying with Uncle Dane and his family for some stability following an ugly divorce and uglier custody battle. For some reason, Chase doesn’t just ask his brother why he’s messing around with a home wrecking “shimmy dancer.” Instead, he pretends that he’s there to see his daughter and conduct a study on the vegetation re-growth that follows volcanic eruptions.
Nicole Ballard, the “glorified stripper” in question is, by day, a mild-mannered illustrator whose superb nature studies hang in art galleries. By night, she is the fabulous Pele, Goddess of the Volcano, whose flashing hips dance everyone else into the ground at the private supper club where she performs.
Nicole hasn’t been in Hawaii all that long, but she is already an expert performer of the island dances that are an “erotic ritual where both partners displayed their physical lures to a potential mate.” Naturally, her dancing drives Chase into a frenzy of lust. Past experience with men has taught Nicole that she’s not a sensual person, though, so while she has a few male friends, she doesn’t date. Or anything.
When Dane tells him that Nicole doesn’t “or anything,” a skeptical Chase bets him that he can get her into bed inside a month. Apparently Chase Wilcox, Undercover Marriage Counselor, thinks that the kindest way to help his brother is to seduce the object of his fascination away from him. Actually this plays straight into Dane’s hands because, far from wanting Nicole himself, Dane thinks she’s the perfect woman to teach Chase that all women are not vicious witches like his ex. And oh, by the way, she’ll be illustrating the volcano study.
By an amazing coincidence, Chase is an expert drummer in addition to being a world-famous vulcanologist (where do these people find the time?). This means his first step in seducing Nicole is to play for her onstage where he turns out to be the only drummer in the islands who can match her for fire and endurance.
For the first half of the book, Chase staggers back and forth between his embittered certainty that Nicole is a gold-digging slut, and wanting to “bury every hard, aching inch of his erection deep inside her untamed body.” Nicole is profoundly confused by her own attraction to him, because, well, she’s not a sensual person, remember? And once Dane and Chase make their bet it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to see where that’s going to end up.
There’s also a lot of lush description of Hawaii, and some background about vulcanology, but with the relationship stalled so long in lust/hate/confusion, it felt too much like filler.
Chase spends the second half of the book trying to make up for being such a jerk, nobly sacrificing himself to help Nicole appreciate her passionate nature. There’s also a dramatic situation with an erupting volcano (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
Since I didn’t read the original, I don’t know what changes were made to the book, but I can tell you they weren’t enough. Mired in 15-year-old clichés and stereotypes, this book should probably have been left behind in the eighties where it belonged. Certainly, only Ms. Lowell’s most ardent and uncritical fans will pay hardcover price for it.