Title: Seize the Fire
Author: Laura Kinsale
Genre: Regency (sort of).
Grade: C (for c-sick after reading about so many ships)
How Hot is it?: three hot chili peppers
...A good scoundrel should get what he deserves.
This book is...panoramic. The heroine is a princess of some little Alpine country and has been educated in England to be a revolutionary idealist. The "hero" (I use this word loosely) is basically a sea-captain version of Flashman, that is, if Flashman were conscience-driven enough to--barely--NOT throw the girl out of the troika to the wolves as he saves his own ass, but to even fixate (sometimes) on protecting her (as long as it doesn't threaten him, of course). Throughout this book, which is set variously in England, Portugal, the Falkland Islands, and the Ottoman Empire (!), the heroine is stupid and idealistic, and the hero periodically betrays her and then comes crawling back with his tail between his legs. Pathetic. By the end they have figured out to be a LITTLE smarter and a LITTLE more reliable, but I wouldn't bet on it lasting. Again, the conflict in this romance seems to be built on a self-reinforcing cycle of negative behavior that isn't convincingly resolved into something that promises a generally happy ending.
Kinsale is considered one of the greats of historical romance and she's written some well-above-average stuff (Flowers from the Storm and Midsummer Moon are two of my favorite romances, after all) and I can't fault her here as a prose stylist. But it's pretty hard for a romance to overcome characters this flawed (in the case of the hero) and annoying (in the case of the heroine). The sympathy is lacking. On the other hand, it's a difficult book to put down because Kinsale write so well you almost miss the dysfunctional dynamics.