First of all, I’d like to apologize to Historical and Paranormal Romance Author Beth Trissel for the ridiculous amount of time she’s had to wait for this review. She’s a lovely person with quite a respectable following and has written no less than 8 books that are available through The Wild Rose Press. I am not a huge fan of traditional romance novels – I prefer contemporary chick lit or historical romantic adventure novels like those of Diana Gabaldon – so I’m an admittedly tough critic in this instance, but I’ll share my thoughts with you and let you decide for yourself.
Through The Fire is an old-fashioned colonial frontier romance set in June 1758 in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Virginia. Its heroine is a feisty, stubborn and beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed English lady named Rebecca Elliot. Rebecca is an unusual woman for her time, and along with her younger sister Kate, they escape the clutches of their abusive, alcoholic father in England by traveling to the New World with Rebecca’s husband, Captain John Elliot, Lieutenant McClure and a group of British soldiers.
The story opens with them trekking through a forest near the Shenandoah Mountain in Western Virginia, en route to join Rebecca’s uncle, Henry McCutcheon, in the safety of a nearby fort before either the French or the Indians take them prisoner or worse. Rebecca is grieving the recent loss of her husband but before you know it (page 6), a tall, handsome, black-haired Indian warrior jumps right in front of her path and is so taken with her fair beauty that he’s driven to distraction. It doesn’t take long for Rebecca – who falls from her horse – to become separated from Kate, while a Shawnee clan who is allied with the French, take Rebecca and her escorts, prisoner.
Shoka, a half-Shawnee, half-French warrior, speaks perfect English. He was a guide for them and was taught many of their ways by the mysterious Father Andrew, who we come to know a bit better, along with the white wolf “Gabe” near the end of the story. While he’s a loin-stirring character, the relationship between Shoka and Rebecca develops so quickly that it’s a bit unbelievable. At first, Shoka’s plan is to sell Rebecca to the French for the cost of a new rifle, but after a few blood-boiling arguments stoked with sexual tension and many tears shed by Rebecca, she is falling into his arms, kissing him and declaring her love for him, all during what seems to be only a couple of days. Their entire relationship is carried out on their trek to the fort and there’s only one somewhat sizzling love scene between them in the entire book (to be fair it was quite good) while during the rest of the story they’re either fighting off a rival tribe of Catawba Indians, the French, their own English soldiers, or arguing amongst themselves.
“Shoka knew he shouldn’t be off by himself with Rebecca Elliot, let alone holding her. The last thing he wanted was to lose his head and already shredded heart to yet another beautiful woman…this one with blindingly blue eyes. So why was he sitting her cradling her? He knew that too. Even wrapped in a blanket, she was so soft and curved. Sweet perfume clung to her, but she’d given him a blistering taste of her fury. Not only that, she was English. Worse – a lady and totally unsuited to his way of life.” (pg. 19)
Rebecca’s character waffles between being outspoken and assertive and scared to death and ready to faint at any moment. Every man who comes into contact with her is seemingly unable to resist her beauty and if they don’t outright fall for her – letting her get away with scandalous behavior from a lady of that time – they want to steal her away from Shoka with brute force. Shoka nicknames her Peshewa (the devil cat) and by Chapter 2, Rebecca is already stirred by her emotions for him although he maintains that he must make her his wife before he can bed her.
Rattlesnakes, freezing cold streams, torrential downpours, soaked petticoats, and evil Catawba warriors are just some of the trials and tribulations faced by Rebecca and Shoka on their journey to the fort. We are led to believe that Rebecca’s strength in the face of adversity comes from her having endured cruel beatings by her drunken father who left her back covered in scars. Shoka is a more interesting character and I would have liked to have known more about his history. There are also a couple of secondary characters that are interesting including Meshewa, Shoka’s young cousin who succumbs to Rebecca’s spell, Capitane Marc Renault, a charismatic French soldier who wins the totally naïve Kate’s heart, and Tonkawa, a fierce Catawba warrior whose mission it is to kill Shoka and claim Rebecca for himself. We know none of their histories either. I can’t help but feel that the book needed to be considerably longer in order for Trissel to have the opportunity to fully realize these characters.
Through The Fire, for me, was tedious at times but Beth Trissel writes well (her descriptions of the scenery were vivid and visceral), if not cautiously and conservatively, and over all, the story isn’t bad, it’s just not great. There’s nothing unique or exciting about it that makes it memorable and the ending gets a little preachy for my liking. Traditional romance fans will probably appreciate this book more than I did.