Controversial and Sometimes Polarizing, but the Genesis of the Modern Romance Novel
FINAL DECISION: One of the first romances I read as a teenager, THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER is sweeping with a crazy plot where everything bad happens that one could imagine. So much of the modern romance novel begins here. Despite its shortcomings in a modern context, I love how big and bold it is.
THE STORY: Heather Simmons is an innocent young woman who is treated worse than a servant by her aunt. Believing that she has the possibility for a better life, she agrees to go to London with her aunt’s brother only to end up fleeing his house. In a case of mistaken identity, she is believed to be a prostitute and is taken to an American sea captain who is looking for a woman for the night. Captain Brandon Birmingham finds himself intrigued by the innocent Heather and thinks of keeping her. Heather escapes Brandon but the two seem fated to encounter one another again.
OPINION: I read this book as a teenager when I liberated it from my mom’s stash. I had read a couple of other romance books before but I remember the scope and drama of this story. The plot is crazy. Rape, attempted rapes, kidnapping, blackmail, exotic travels. While the book begins with Brandon having all the power, Heather becomes powerful in their relationship as Brandon falls in love with her.
The book is controversial and often polarizing among romance readers because the relationship between Heather and Brandon begins with rape and Brandon never atones for his actions (although in the sequel about their son, Brandon does acknowledge his actions). For me, however, I cannot take this book out of the time I first read it. The book was groundbreaking and big and crazy and created the template for modern historical romances. For that reason alone it is worth reading even with all its flaws.
WORTH MENTIONING: The relationship between the hero and the heroine begins with the hero raping the heroine. Rape was not uncommon as part of romance of the era (early 1970s). Some modern readers may find this offensive.
CONNECTED BOOKS: THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER is the first book in the Birmingham series.
STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.