Do not be misled by this dreadful cover, it is not a bodice ripping romance – although it’s not tops in the historical genre either. Fires of Winter continues the story Gellis began in A Tapestry of Dreams, and tells the story of Lady Audris’ illegitimate half brother Bruno. Despite his dubious parentage, Bruno uses his skills with swords and horses to make his way, eventually leading to service at the court of King Stephen (who has usurped the English crown from his cousin Matilda). Melusine of Ulle is from Cumbria in the North and when the last of her family dies fighting against King Stephen she is brought to court as a lady in waiting to Queen Maude. For who knows what reason (I never got it), Stephen decides to knight Bruno and marry him to Melusine, who is half mad with grief over the loss of her family and home, and when she recognizes her new husband as the man who took her from Ulle she attempts to kill him while he’s sleeping. Eventually the two manage to build a strong marriage and relationship amidst the backdrop of England’s Civil War between Stephen and Matilda.
I guess that sounds good enough of a basis for your usual historical romance and as much as I do enjoy reading Gellis this book has some problems. Told in the first person point of view of Bruno and Melusine in alternating chapters, the story tends to overlap and backtrack way too much. As for the romance, so much of Bruno’s service to Stephen keeps him on the battlefield and not sparring and making up with Melusine, so I suspect romance readers will be bored to tears. As for those who enjoy a bit more history (as I do) in their historical romances, the choice of such a complicated period in English history is not the best choice and came off to this reader as quite dry and not very interesting. I’d recommend Penman’s When Christ and His Saints Slept. The only real highlights of the book are the few times Bruno and Melusine are together, although they did get a bit corny and outdated at times, ROFL the constant references by Bruno to his “standing man” Sir Jehad (and no I’m not going to explain what that means, if I did I’d get censored). Three stars, only recommended for die-hard Gellis fans.