Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire is one of my most beloved historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end; even so, I adore it.
Lady of Fire takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonor of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many, and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.
Roger knows Eleonor is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonor doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But, knowing from the outset that they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.
For complete disclosure, let it be known that I love blond heroes. I married one in real life and adore them in fiction. Roger is one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving heroes I’ve ever read. His devotion to Eleonor is undeniable and he and Eleonor are meant to be. However… he is not the main reason that I’m crazy about this book.
The Charismatic, Wicked Villain
The villain Robert Talvas, Count of Bellesme, with his black hair, green eyes, and evil, evil disposition, positively steals the show. He is so hot that every scene with him singes the pages of this book. Robert is absolutely malevolent and beyond redemption. He coolly lies to priests and nuns, sleeps with his mother, rapes without remorse, and murders innocents. In the sequel Fire and Steel, Robert is so evil he tears a baby out of his own mother’s womb, killing both! Utterly irredeemable, Robert is the devil incarnate and is based on a medieval legend.
There is more to Robert, though, whose obsession with the lady Eleonor drives the plot. His unwavering love and reverence for her are spell-binding and captivating. In a bodice ripper written ten years earlier, Robert might have even been the hero. Disturbingly, despite the fact that he kidnaps and ravishes Eleonor, I found myself hoping, “I know you love Roger, but Eleonor, just once submit to Robert!”
That’s really sick, but that’s what Bellesme’s character made me feel. He was like a hypnotic vampire or incubus, a Lucifer fallen. However, she never gives in, and I think that is one reason why the dark Lord Robert adores Eleonor so much: for her purity and goodness.
I am so glad Anita Mills never redeemed him nor gave him a sequel to find love with another woman. In his heart, Robert was eternally faithful to Eleonore.
Robert does find a salvation of sorts in the sequel, Fire and Steel, which is an entertaining, if not as enjoyable, read.
Final Analysis of Lady of Fire
For a writer to allow the villain to overshadow the protagonists may be a source of frustration to some readers, but Anita Mills does it so skillfully that I fell for it from beginning to end.
Alas, to Robert’s great unfortunate downfall, Eleonor and Roger are destined for each other and that’s the way it should be.