The Devil’s Fire
by Sara Bell.
First Torquere Press Printing: January 2008
Review by Ida Vega-Landow
(This is another little goodie from Torquere Press that I left sitting on my hard drive since last year. You know you’re getting behind in your reviews when you finally get around to reading something almost a full year since it was released! Oh well, at least it’ll be fresh to both me and my readers.)
My first impression of this story is that the author, Sara Bell, must be as big a fan of historic romances as I am. It certainly has all the elements of a historic romance, set in an imaginary country during the Middle Ages; a handsome hero, a cursed prince, a villainous villain, noble kings and craven cowards, conspiracies, betrayals, true love and lust, everything except Rodents of Enormous Size. There are even lovely ladies in it, though they only play supporting roles.
After a promising beginning-a Prologue in which we meet the villain, Lord Denmar, and his betrothed Holden of Stiles (Yes, gay marriage is legal in this mythical realm; after all it is a fairy tale—oops, no pun intended!) and eavesdrop on their plans to ruin someone named Gareth, which Denmar concludes by going down on Holden after roughing him up (they both like it rough, as you’ll discover after further reading)—we meet Gareth of Lachlan on the first page of Chapter One. It seems he’s a noble fellow of birth and breeding, once happily married to Prince Kiel of Drystan, who died two years ago.
Gareth is still close to Kiel’s brother, King Tristam, who is worried because the wicked Lord Denmar has been raiding villages on Drystan’s border, along with that of other neighboring realms. Now Denmar intends to make a valuable marriage alliance with the House of Stiles by marrying the king’s son Holden, who also happens to be Gareth’s former betrothed. So Tristam has decided to make a valuable marriage alliance of his own; he tells his still grieving brother-in-law, the noble Gareth, that he has pledged his troth to the King of Kray’s son, Alric.
Naturally, Gareth is less than thrilled to hear he’s being married off to a perfect stranger for political reasons. Only his loyalty to his beloved Kiel’s brother, who is also his king, makes him reluctantly agree. He’s even less thrilled to receive an unexpected and unwelcome visit from his former betrothed at his castle of Lachlan Keep the following morning, where Holden gleefully informs him that his intended husband, Prince Alric, is known as the Devil of Kray and is rumored to have strange powers, as well as having murdered his stepmother. Our hero treats these rumors with scorn, along with their bearer, whom he soon throws out like the trash he is. But he still feels like a lamb going to slaughter during the long journey to the kingdom of Kray, expecting his intended to be some kind of monster.
The monster turns out to be tall, dark, and handsome, with a husky voice and a slightly crooked nose, a perfect contrast to Gareth’s own rugged blond good looks. Despite their meeting cute, bumping into each other in the dark castle garden on the night of Gareth’s arrival when sleeplessness drives him out for a walk, and the subsequent discovery that this handsome hunk who sets his blood burning is to be his husband, Gareth is still determined to remain faithful to the memory of his beloved Kiel.
The plot thickens as revelations are uncovered in every chapter, six degrees of separation style; it seems Denmar once courted Kiel, who rejected him to marry Gareth, which insult Denmar avenged by poisoning Kiel two years ago. Denmar was also briefly married to Alric, after having an affair with his youthful stepmother Adela, who told him about Alric’s strange power after seeing him light a fire in one of the castle’s fireplaces without flint and steel. Yes, Alric is a fire starter who can throw fire from his fingertips, hence the nickname Devil of Kray. Denmar threw Adela over for Alric because he wanted to use the prince’s power for his own evil purposes.
After their marriage, when Alric refused to demonstrate his power by burning out a group of homeless people from one of Denmar’s properties, Denmar beat and abused him, keeping him tied up in a wooden shed for months while he tried to force him to cooperate. By the time Alric’s father King Declan learned about the abuse and rescued his son, Alric was half dead and half mad from the torture he’d endured. The marriage was annulled, of course, but not publicized, because Declan feared that every evil doer in the realm would beat a path to his door once they learned about his son’s power to make fire. Which is why the king of Kray, whose health is feeble, was so willing to wed his son to a relative stranger; he wants Alric wed to a strong man who can protect him from Denmar.
The marriage starts out badly, with both parties reluctant to take another spouse, Gareth from loyalty to his late husband, Alric from the memory of the abuse he suffered at his ex-husband’s hands. Only King Declan’s threat of war against Drystan compels Gareth to go through with the marriage. Both parties exchange vows at the altar in as formal a manner as possible, not even bothering to kiss afterwards. They even skip the wedding feast so that they get an early start on their honeymoon trip to visit Alric’s sister Glenna, who is married to King Rowen of the neighboring kingdom of Hume. But when an ambush by armed warriors along the way forces Alric to use his powers to save their lives, Gareth learns a lot about his new husband during his subsequent convalescence from the injuries he suffers.
Though far from star-crossed lovers, Gareth and Alric gradually overcome their reluctance to be wed and soon grow comfortable in one another’s presence. This tolerance soon turns to genuine liking, which inevitably turns into love, just as Lord Denmar comes up with another evil plan to reclaim his former husband. Even “The Princess Bride” wasn’t as exciting as this fairy tale, which is sure to enchant you as much as it did me. Especially when Gareth and Alric finally consummate their marriage, in a scene as moving and tender as anything you’ve ever read between a man and a woman in a more conventional love story.
By all means, go to www.torquerepress.com and download “The Devil’s Fire” if you’re hungry for both sex and romance. Hey, Valentine’s Day will be here soon, you’ll need something to read to your sweetie at bedtime that’ll keep you both awake, regardless of your gender or sexual preference.