SPOILER ALERT ⚠
The Most Controversial Bodice Ripper, Ever?
So, after a couple of decades of reading romance, I finally got around to Stormfire by the late Christine Monson. Whew! They do not write them like this anymore. The ultimate in bodice-ripping, Stormfire, is a tale of two mentally unstable people and their violent, intense love. And it’s great!
The main attraction of Stormfire is its writing. If it were a poorly written book, no one would still be talking about it 20-plus years after it was published. The chapters each have titles such as “Silken Irons,” “Into Eden,” or “The Nadir.” When the heroine meets the hero, her first thoughts are of Milton’s poetry:
“His form had not yet lost
All his original brightness, nor appeared
Less than Archangel ruined…”PARADISE LOST, JOHN MILTON
The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize over Catherine’s enslavement. We feel the angry passion between the lovers. We grieve Catherine’s loss and suffer from Sean’s torture. How much misery can two people take? Then there is that intense love/hate. I wish writers of historical romances today wrote like this. Not necessarily the same plot, but profound and intense without delving into vulgarity.
To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of things in the book. Even so, Stormfire is enthralling. Even those who hate this book can’t say it’s boring.
His spirit, like the lonely, windswept sea, was ever-restless, ever-changing, sometimes howling down to savage the unyielding land, then caressing it with a lulling embrace, inevitably wearing away its resistance.STORMFIRE
Sean Culhane kidnaps Catherine, the daughter of a British lord, seeking vengeance for wrongs committed against his people. He keeps Catherine captive in his estate in Ireland where he doesn’t hesitate to rapes her before sending Catherine’s bloodied undergarments to her father.
While Catherine is an innocent pawn, she is not weak. She’s a fighter who will meet Sean’s cruelties with a will of iron. You will not believe what these two go through, what they do to each other, or what they do to others. It’s incredible, but as I said, it’s Monson’s compelling skill at writing is that makes this book so special.
Then again, maybe I’m a sicko because I like the plot. Yes, it’s epic and melodramatic. There’s everything but the kitchen sink, including: kidnapping, rape, starvation, forced slavery, multiple marriages, miscarriage, insanity, beatings, brothers fighting for the same woman, incest, castration, forcible sodomy, murder… So much happens here. Perhaps it’s a bit much in the last quarter, as Sean and Catherine needed some moments together introspecting rather than acting.
Final Analysis of Stormfire
There are many detractors of Stormfire, so in its defense, I’ll say this: this isn’t a sweet romance. It’s an old-school historical romance novel, a bodice ripper, and I use the term with great affection.
It’s a fantasy.
A dark one, definitely, but then some might say so are the vampire, werewolf, bestiality, BDSM, ménage fantasies of today. Books like Stormfire present a different kind of fantasy, where the most tremendous hate can transform into love. Would this relationship work in real life? Probably not. That’s why it’s make-believe.
Stormfire is entertaining, emotional, and unforgettable. It falters a bit towards the end, so it’s not perfect. It’s not the best romance novel ever written, but for me, it’s up there.