Historical Romance Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

Fires of Winter, Roberta Gellis, Jove Books, 1987, Pino cover art

“I had a long row to hoe before I could plunge my spade into Mellusine’s earth and plant a seed there.”


3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Told through alternating first-person perspectives, Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter starts with a bang.

The Plot

In the first chapter, we experience young hero Bruno of Jernaeve’s life as his castle gets invaded. As an illegitimate child, he is overlooked and left uncared for. He and his sister must hide from the marauders. Later on, it switches to heroine Mellusine of Ulle’s more placid point of view as a child. Although I enjoyed the different perspectives, I found Bruno’s side more interesting than Mellusine’s.

As Bruno matures, he becomes a master in the arts of war. His success earns him Melusine, as a “spoil of war,” for Bruno to wed. Despite their differences, Mellusine and Bruno forge a strong relationship built on sexual attraction, companionship, and trust.

I loved the authentic earthiness Gellis imbued her works with. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where the heroine has to take a dump before. Here Melusine squats away without a care in front of the hero.

The love scenes between Bruno and Melusine had Gellis’ trademark frankness. There’s a scene where a third party in their relationship makes an appearance. 

“I do not pretend that I do not desire you, Melusine…But you need not fear I will force you either. I am the master of Monsieur Jehan de la Tete Rouge–” I tapped the redhead that had pushed its way through the foreskin so she could not mistake of what I spoke, “–not he of me.’

That had me in giggles.

At 60% through the book, our romance is firmly cemented, and, alas, the adventures become strictly political. At a certain point Fires of Winter ceased to be historical romantic fiction and became strictly historical. Bruno spends much of his time away fighting for his king, while Mellusine tends to courtly and domestic affairs.

Lady Mellusine and Queen Matilda rally an army to rescue their husbands. They succeed, displaying the fact, that if need be, powerful medieval women were up to the task of warfare just as their men were.

The tale concludes happily with Mellusine and Bruno making babies and farming their lands.

Final Analysis of Fires of Winter

Fires of Winter is heavy on intricate history. Gellis is a master storyteller, at least when she remembers to tell the story instead of reciting history. However, I felt a tad underwhelmed, despite the fine quality of the writing. A great start fizzled out to a merely satisfactory read.

I would have preferred more lines like:

“I had a long row to hoe before I could plunge my spade into Mellusine’s earth and plant a seed there,”

…Than the endless parade of dates of conquests and battles.

I’ve enjoyed several of Roberta Gellis’s works, knowing that she is heavy on history and it was never a negative aspect. During the first half of Fires of Winter, there was a wonderful romance. Yet Gellis forgot about the love story on the back end.

I would recommend this piece of historical fiction for lovers of medieval romances that emphasize the medieval aspect, not necessarily the romance.

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