Heart of Fire, by Linda Howard

>> Friday, July 09, 2004

I have enjoyed many of Linda Howard's books, which is why I don't understand why I never felt the need to read Heart of Fire before. Unlike some of her books, which I don't think I'll ever read, like All That Glitters or Sarah's Child, people seem to like it, and what I'dheard of it sounded tempting. And yet, I never did grab it until last weekend.

A fabulous lost Amazon city once inhabited by women warriors and containing a rare red diamond: it sounded like myth, but archeologist Jillian Sherwood believed it was real, and she was willing to put up with anything to find it -- even Ben Lewis. Ruffian, knock-about, and number one river guide in Brazil, Ben was all man -- over six feet of rock-hard muscles that rippled under his khakis, with lazy blue eyes that taunted her from his tanned face. Jillian watched him come to a fast boil when she refused to reveal their exact destination upriver in the uncharted rain forests -- and resolved to stand her ground. Neither of them could foresee what the days ahead promised: an odyssey into the fiery heart of passion and betrayal, and a danger that would force them to cast their fates together, immersed in the eternal, unsolved mysteries of love....
It was a wonderful read, which kept me riveted to my seat for the hours it took me to read it. An A-.

I'm not usually crazy about jungle adventure books, but in this one, even the adventure side of it caught my fancy. I was fascinated by the archeological side of the thing, and thought Howard managed the pacing of the book (usually too fast for my taste in adventure romance) really well. The best thing, though, and what made the book so good, were the protagonists and their relationship.

Ben. Oh, Ben! *sigh* I'm not an alpha kind of girl, but Linda Howard can create some that are absolutely yummy. Some of her heroes cross the line into alpha jerks, but Ben is firmly on the right side of that line. When he got possessive and protective, I didn't get irritated, I melted. The difference was that he explicitly recognized that Jillian was more than able to take care of herself and respected and admired her for this.

LH is a master at creating sexual tension between her characters, and I actually enjoyed Ben's continuous and almost obssessive mental lusting. And when they finally got in the sack, wow! I needed a glass of ice water to cool down. Most important of all, by the time the book was over, I was firmly convinced that Ben and Jillian were in love and that they would deal very well with each other in the future.

Jillian was great, too. She didn't let herself be intimidated by Ben and could more than handle him sexually. They were so much fun together. She also wasn't at all a damsel in distress and was more than ready for what their expedition required of her in regards to physical strenght and mental preparedness.

As a South American myself, and having visited Brazil a few times (if not the Amazon) I was especially interested in how true the setting rang. The verdict: pretty good. There were some whoppers right at the beginning, though, which scared me a little, like Jillian "smuggling in" birth control pills into Brazil. Huh? What the hell does LH think we Latin Americans do for birth control? Pretty much the same they do in the rest of the world. And, I forgot, it's not that the issue is that she couldn't bring in medications into Brazil, which could be possible, because she disguised the pills as antihistamines to bring them in. That really baffled me.

So, there are things like that, but then she has, for instance, a character named Bolivar, which makes it obvious that there was some research there, because no way she could have made that up, or the final scene, in which Ben is watching a football game on TV, and it's the "soccer" kind of football, and he's watching the Brazilian National Team.

On a different note, and this is something that, while inspired by something in the book, isn't about it, I got thinking about the double standards so common in romance novels and got a bit frustrated. There's a character named Therese at the beginning of the book who is a waitress with whom Ben has occasional sex. Now, LH's portrayal of her is quite positive, actually. She's someone who likes to have a lot of sex and isn't too discriminating about who she has it with, but LH doesn't really portray her as a slut, or pit her against Jillian to emphasize that Jillian is more innocent and thus, more worthy of Ben. Also, at one point Ben even gets offended when someone labels her a slut, because, as he thinks, she's not a slut, she's just a fun-loving woman who likes sex.

The thing is, what got me angry was thinking that Ben was very much like Theresa, both in his past and his attitude towards sex and yet, while Ben can be a romance hero and no one will bat an eyelid, there's no way a woman like Theresa could be accepted as a viable romance heroine in today's market. Just depressing.


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