It's hard to review a Kathleen Woodiwiss book without letting nostalgia get in the way. Heck, a lot of us cut our romance teeth on The Flame and the Flower. Her newest release, The Elusive Flame, is a sequel to TFATF, in fact. So the two are somewhat tied together no matter how hard one tries to let The Elusive Flame stand on its own.
There is evidence, however, that this is not your mother's Flame. Oh, Woodiwiss' trademark lush prose is here in abundance, and Heather and Brandon make reappearances. The plot is pretty standard, and some of the elements may not bear up under a historian's scrutiny, either. The hero and heroine, though, are vastly different types of character than their predecessor.
Call this Woodiwiss for the 90s.
American orphan Cerynise Kendall is tossed out of her guardian's English home when the old woman dies unexpectedly and slimy great-nephew Alistair arrives to claim the manor. Cerynise, a talented artist, flees the house to avoid Alistair's advances. She can think only of getting home to her beloved Carolinas. Cerynise searches the docks for a ship, and in a stroke of luck, finds one captained by an old acquaintance, Beauregard Birmingham.
Beau is astonished when the rain-soaked Cerynise crumples at his feet, but he agrees to help her find a way home. Before they can depart, Cerynise is tracked down by Alistair, whose conniving and forgery the author makes no attempt to conceal. Since Cerynise is only 17, Alistair can legally insist that she return to the manor with him as her guardian. Beau has a solution. He suggest that he and Cerynise marry and then get an annulment once they reach Charleston.
Cerynise agrees, and all goes swimmingly at first. They enjoy each other's company, and both begin to feel the pull of mutual desire. Then Beau gets sick, Cerynise nurses him back to health, and while in his fevered state, they make love. When Beau recovers, he's not sure if it actually happened or not. Cerynise, fearing that he'll feel trapped, refuses to tell him. He thinks she wants to get rid of him. She thinks he's not interested in a real marriage. The chase is on.
The rest of the plot is predictable, but enjoyable. All the standard Woodiwiss characters are here. Scheming other woman, despicable relative, nasty henchmen, family nanny. A better title might have been Flame Redux.
What IS different this time around is the maturity of the characters. For all that Cerynise is only seventeen or so, she's quite level-headed and capable, and gives Beau as good as he dishes out when he does a turn as Unreasonable Male. Beau, for his part, is less arrogant and more down-to-earth than previous Woodiwiss heroes. In fact, he's practically a New Age kinda guy, which made me feel as though I were watching modern actors in a period movie, albeit an engrossing one.
Oh, heck, what's a reviewer to do? This is Woodiwiss, somewhat modernized, but Woodiwiss nonetheless. If you like her style, if you can take a stroll down the Memory Lane of Purple Prose and not squirm, if you're in the mood for a little nostalgia, this book is going to work just fine. I liked it. Here's an affectionate hug for the lady who probably did more than any single author to put romance where it is today. The Elusive Flame gets my recommendation. Have fun.