Book Review

Blaze Wyndham by Bertrice Small

B+

Title: Blaze Wyndham
Author: Bertrice Small
Publication Info: Onyx/NAL Reprint 2003, Original 1988
ISBN: 9780451208651
Genre: Historical: European

Book Cover I have so many memories wrapped up in this book. There’s the time when I was 15, and it was one of two romance novels I took with me when I was an exchange student. And there’s that other time, a few years ago when I journeyed out to a booksigning hosted by the Dunes & Dreams Chapter of RWA (it’s on eastern Long Island. To get there, drive until you’re just about in Europe, then stop), and met Bertrice Small – who then, I am not even kidding, invited me into her home to see the original etchings for the cover of this book. Her office is amazing, with original cover art on the walls and sketches that went on to become book covers framed all over the place. Her reference book collection would make a historical romance author shiver.

I have so many recollections of reading this book that, after a few years of having experienced it, I was a little worried it wouldn’t stand up to a re-read, that it wouldn’t work for me anymore.

imageHa. I stayed up until 12:30

 

pm

 

am reading it, unable to put it down. Blaze Wyndham is old skool romance with sweeping plot and details that go beyond mere descriptions, and a cast of characters that grows but never becomes too big. It’s purple prose like fuchsia gone wild, and even though it is silly, screaming purple silly sometimes, I love it. This is one of my oldest favoritest romance novels, and I’m so glad I bought another copy – with the original cover I remember from my youth! – so I can re-read it again sometime.

Blaze Wyndham is the oldest daughter of Sir Robert and Lady Rosemary Morgan, and she has a lot of sisters. I can remember all their names, too, even before the re-read: there’s Blaze, Bliss, Blythe, Delight, Larke, Linnette, Vanora, Gavin and Glenna. Lark and Linette, and Gavin and Glenna are twins – and poor Gavin is the only boy. Sir Robert, when the story opens, is despairing how he will ever dower all those girls when the estate and his family are beyond broke. They have nothing but poverty, and no connections to recommend them to advantageous marriages.

The book is off to a bleak start when – surprise! – in rides (ha) a suitor, Lord Edmund Wyndham, the Earl of Langford, who is 35, handsome, rich, a neighbor of the Morgans though they’d never met before, and a widower without a child to inherit. He has heard of the amazing fecundity of Lady Rosemary (no, really, with all those daughters, she’s apparently locally famous for her ability to carry healthy children to term) and he wants to make the Morgans an offer they cannot refuse: he will marry one of their daughters (doesn’t matter to him which one, so long as she doesn’t squint. No, really, that’s what he says) and accept her without a dowry. In return, he will offer dowries for all of his bride’s sisters, enabling them to make very successful matches of their own. Sir Robert and Lady Rosemary are completely struck dumb by this offer, but Lord Wyndham is serious: he wants a young healthy wife who can help him secure heirs for his estates, particularly since a run of terrible events has convinced his villagers and tenants that Langford is cursed. Edmund does have an heir in his nephew, Anthony, who is four years his junior, but he wants children of his own.

Of course the two poleaxed parents select their oldest daughter, Blaze, who is almost 15 at the start of the story. Yes, eeeep, though I am told that’s accurate for the time, and besides, Blaze acts much, much older than one would think a 15 year old would act. She’s not at all impressed with being married off as “a brood mare,” as she calls it, and initially says OH HELL NO to the entire deal, until she realizes how much her actions would provide for her sisters and her family. Blaze and her sisters are also, of course, uncommonly beautiful and could make very successful marriages without that pesky poverty thing.

This book is set during Henry VIII’s reign in England, and the story starts in 1521, ending in the epilogue in 1536. The initial story can be very slow going. Once Blaze marries Edmund and moves to his estate, there’s a lot of detail about running the house. The account of her first five years at RiversEdge, the Langford estate, is heavy with the detail involved in running the house, but even though there are pages and pages of description (Christmas alone is about six or seven pages) it never feels too heavy, even though I am generally instantly alerted to too much infodumpery. Because the detail is so rich and intricate, and because the characters are the ones acting out the holiday rituals, what could be boring and overly informative remained fascinating to me.

Inside all that house running detail and stories of food, decorations and wardrobe (OH MY GOD THE DRESS DESCRIPTIONS – *le swoon*) is the story of Edmund and Blaze’s courtship. She’s not pleased at all about being married and expected to produce an heir, and she tells Edmund that, while she is happy to be married, he has stolen her courtship from her, and she would have it before he has her. He agrees – even though Anthony mocks him for it – and they (and the reader) enjoy a slow, sweet courtship until they are hot and bothered for one another. And then, it is on, like purple Donkey Kong.

There is some hot, descriptive old skool sex up in here, up in here. Nether lips, cherry nipples, mauve eyelids, manhoods, and phrases like, “For a moment Blaze believed that she was to be torn asunder, so fierce was his passionate assault…. she felt the bigness of him, within her passage throbbing his message of love.”

Oh, yeeeeeeaaaaaah.

If you’ve read this book, you know the story doesn’t stop with Edmund and Blaze’s happy throbbing, and when I first read this book and got to The Big Event in the Middle, I was so shocked and upset, I nearly threw the book across the bus, except that it would have hit someone in the head. (Spoiler: highlight to read)

Blaze’s happiness with Edmund comes to an end when he is killed in a riding accident while hunting with his nephew Tony. Tony, the reader has learned, is also in love with Blaze, and for that reason isn’t interested in any of the eligible women he is introduced to, including Blaze’s sister Delight, who has it baaaad for Tony. When Tony inherits the Earldom, as Blaze has only had one daughter at that time, Blaze leaves to visit her family. From there, she journeys to court with her now-married sister, Bliss, who lives in the court of King Henry VIII, since her husband is one of Henry’s closest friends. Blaze catches the eye of King Henry, and becomes his mistress. Yup, the king’s mistress, and a whole lot of other political detail, opulence, drama and purple prose. The King is a randy, randy man, who calls his schlong his “big boy.” No lie. If you’ve been to the Tower of London and seen Henry VIII’s suit of armor and its codpiece, you know the big boy of which he speaks.

The story’s journey from RiversEdge to the court of Henry VIII and back to Rivers Edge is part of what held my attention even when I was seriously tired and ready to sleep. Once that part of the novel gets started, it is just impossible for me to put it down. The story and the plot overshadow Blaze herself, who tends to be exceptionally perfect in the way that only an old-skool heroine can be. She’s wise, to the point where other characters remark upon her wisdom as unexpected for her age, and while she’s stubborn and sometimes foolish, her intelligence and sense of political savvy certainly saves her many times over as she’s swept unwillingly into court intrigue and machinations. Her fictional role in the history of Henry VIII’s early reign gives readers a very, very close look at the court, and I can’t say enough about the level of detail and explanation that never once veers too far into infodump territory. That vividness and richness is one of the reasons I love this book. That and the characters who, even as they grow in number, remain for the most part distinct from one another.

This was a perfect book to kick off my examination of my old-skool favorites, because it has everything I loved about old-skool romance, without so much of the rapey alpha heroes. One review listed at Amazon calls this book “an unpretentious romp.” That’s a perfect description. It can be slow in parts, but skipping the descriptions means the story itself can be more difficult to picture. This isn’t a typical romance, since Blaze does have more than one love in her life, and more than one purple prose partner, but even though the plot is often the dominant alpha, casting the romance and courtships into a secondary role, it’s more than satisfying, and still without question among my favorite books.


Blaze Wyndham is available in paper format only (no digital editions that I’ve found) at Amazon.com, but is very expensive at $23.00. Most bookstores listed it as “out of print” or “no longer available.” There are many used copies available, though, and I’ve seen it at my local bookstore in a new edition.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Katherineb says:

    Oh lordy, WHY did my first romances have to be Johanna Lindsay? Except they were all the ones my best friend Rose had at the time, and who thrust them upon me to further my education.
    I would’ve loved some historical detail! (Not messy ones when I was young, but sure, the dresses!)

    Lucky I found the Wolf and the Dove…phew. Olde Schoole indeed.

    Keep up the re-visits! Entertaining!

  2. 2
    Noelinya says:

    I enjoy great historical details like ways of life and dresses in a good story, but I’m afraid 6 pages for each would seem a little too much.

    I’d have tried this one to make an opinion by myself but you killed my desire for this book with your spoiler (and thanks God you did give a spoiler, because I’d have been so pissed if I’ve read it !! I don’t want this kind of plot any longer)

  3. 3
    Sarah W says:

    Don’t forget to ask your local library if they might have a copy tucked away somewhere—-or can get one through Interlibrary Loan.

    Our library has two copies.  One is falling apart, but I can’t bring myself to decommission it, yet, since patrons are still checking it out and it would be difficult to replace.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    Hey @SarahW, I’d be pleased to buy a used paperback copy on Alibris and donate it to your library. Email me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom and I’ll hook you up with hot hot Wyndham madness. I Love that this book is still being checked out!

  5. 5

    Lovely when things that wowed us in our youth stand the test of time! Some even get better, as we become smarter and can pick up on the subtleties—Lord of the Flies comes to mind for me, and just about anything by Orwell. Things I read for school but didn’t fully appreciate in my teens.

    Some things don’t fare so well…such as the original Tron. I tried to recapture that OTT magic from my youth last year and blergh. Must have been a trick of the blacklight.

  6. 6
    darlynne says:

    Katherineb, I heart The Wolf and the Dove.

  7. 7
    darlynne says:

    This topic has reminded me of how much I loved Shirlee Busbee’s books: Deceive Not My Heart, Love a Dark Rider, The Spanish Rose.

    OT: My walk through Amazon’s aisles, however, also reminded me why some foreign translations of romance titles don’t always convey the same feelings. No way should any romance novel be called “Mitternachtsspitzen.” I’m sure it ‘s a perfectly lovely German word, but my ear hears “midnight spit,” which doesn’t belong in a romance, except, of course, when it does.

  8. 8
    Hydecat says:

    Is it just me, or is it weird to have a book named after the heroine that follows her epic story with a cover where the hero is front and center?

  9. 9
    joanne says:

    Katherineb, I heart The Wolf and the Dove

    Darlynne, me three! I’m actually afraid to re-read it because if it doesn’t hold up I’d be devastated.

  10. 10
    Susan Reader says:

    The original cover is better, with Blaze sprawled front and center, and hints about the book in the positions of the other characters.

    There’s at least an essay, if not a dissertation, in the semiotics of romance covers, including the switch from focusing on the female to focusing on the male.

  11. 11
    Colleen says:

    I was thisclose to buying it (even with the sketchy age difference) until I read the spoiler. HOLYHELL! That is a terrible twist. I would have been so pissed if I had bought it.

  12. 12
    Barbara W. says:

    Oh Colleen, I’m so with you.  That spoiler did it for me, I can’t read it.  When …no…not even Tony..not even?

    Henry VIII was vile.  Mistress?  Sarah, your recs are so perfect for me usually, but she must have worked a miracle on this one considering the cold details.

  13. 13
    Hannah says:

    Is it just me, or is it weird to have a book named after the heroine that follows her epic story with a cover where the hero is front and center?

    Definitely—in fact I though *he* was Blaze Wyndham. And now for some odd reason I have the theme song for “Bang Gunleigh, U.S. Marshall Field” running through my head.

  14. 14
    Anony Miss says:

    I was going to finish this review (I’m researching middle 1500’s England right now, so this would have been candy) and scurry off to Amazon to buy this for Kindle… And you tell me it isn’t digitized!!

    WAH! WAH!

    So – who wants to type it up for me? ;)

  15. 15
    robinjn says:

    Wait, wait! I cannot believe no one is commenting about the throbbing message of love!

    All I could think of was morse code…

  16. 16
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I agree with everyone who was put off by the info in the spoiler; it was sounding so good, too, but now I won’t read it. I like to cling to the illusion of love lasting into old age.

  17. 17

    You can’t pay me to read another Bertrice Small.

    Well, maybe.  But it would have to be a handsome payment indeed (take that as you will). 

    But this doesn’t sound as awful as the various and sundry harem books.  I am, however, intrigued by The Wolf and the Dove.

  18. 18
    Maria says:

    I’ve discovered, after much trial and error, that purple prose is not for me. An occasional light tint of lavender I may let slide. But if the entire novel is written in the same way as “throbbing message of love” let’s just say there are enough dents in the wall across from my couch.

    Although it’s really hard to chuck an ebook, being as my laptop is probably one of my most prized possessions.

  19. 19
    DM says:

    I don’t miss the purple prose or the martyr heroines of the old skools, but I do miss the plotting. Sometimes these books felt like story soup, with so many twists and characters and locales that they blended together until you couldn’t quite figure out what was going on (Wicked Loving lies, a recent HABO, was like that for me). But when they work (and for me, Blaze does), they make some of the current historicals feel very thin by comparison. I still wonder why we don’t get more “new skools” like Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows—books which marry active heroines and solid prose to old skool high stakes plots.

  20. 20
    Pamelia says:

    OOHH!  It wasn’t the spoiler that made me hesitant about this book—- rather the pricey-priceyness of it!  I shall keep an eye open at the used book stores.  I love some old school B. Small! 
    “The Kadin” is my favorite by her and like this one has lots of historical detail (about the Ottoman Empire) and more than one love with tragedy and big political upheavals and harem intrigue and on and on.  Like this one it’s not your typical romance with one HEA, but it keeps me riveted even on re-reads and even with a romance-free midsection of several hundred pages. 
    As for The Wolf and the Dove ( a Kathleen Woodiwiss classic) I love that too!
    Thanks for the review.  I love when you guys highlight the oldies but goodies (and the oldies but baddies!)

  21. 21
    Pamelia says:

    Alert!  Although the paperback is $23 on Amazon, the hardcovers are super cheap (around $4).

  22. 22
    Tricky says:

    If this cover was to appear on a book today, I’d think it was a threesome book.

    Also? He looks very nice in that skirt he’s wearing. It accents his legs.

  23. 23
    redcrow says:

    Is it just me, or is it weird to have a book named after the heroine that follows her epic story with a cover where the hero is front and center?

    Absolutely not just you.
    I find it confusing and… probably not exactly infuriating, but definitely irritating.

  24. 24
    Katherineb says:

    Wolf and Dove…well, when I first read it, I was all o_O with the sexy bits. ‘Cuz, you know. Young and stupid. Plus, I liked the general historical atmosphere.
    I re-read it when I was more angsty, and got furious with the alpha-maleness being thrown down. SO Johanna Lindsay Viking story!! But still finished it.
    The third time, (years years later) I enjoyed it in another way – I liked the dueling between the lovers more. Wulfgar never really cows Aislinn, despite his chest pounding. By the third time, I also knew enough history to say, “Well, of course, when this was WRITTEN, they hadn’t thoroughly researched sanitation blah blah in post-Hastings England…” but that was only me being priggish.

    It’s olde school! So it will tweak modern sensibilities a bit! But hey, at least she doesn’t have purple eyes.

  25. 25
    Cerulean says:

    Darlynne, thanks for the flashback to Shirlee Busbee’s The Spanish Rose. Definitely Old Skool one I loved as a teen. I don’t think I could get through it today, though.

  26. 26
    Jess Granger says:

    I learned long ago, never get too attached to a Bertrice Small hero.  Just sayin’.

    I didn’t read this one.  If I ever get an old skool itch, it sounds like it might be fun.

  27. 27
    Susan says:

    Hmm.  Re the cover, it occurs to me that Blaze is sort of an androgynous name…as in crossdressing?  But this is an Old Skool book, and there’s nothing of that sort in it. I think.

  28. 28
    Emily says:

    One of the first romances I ever read was a Danielle Steele where the herione fell in love three times, and I liked it well enough. I also really liked Gone With the Wind. The spoiler therefore doesn’t bother me, although the price does (a little). (I am going to library soon though)It’s strange I don’t mind if someone dies (particularly in a historical) but I would hate a romance where the hero and heroine got divorced. the only example is really a nonromance, The Sweetheart Season by Karen Joy Fowler. I guess I believe in “Til Death Do You Part.”

  29. 29
    Jessica says:

    Used copies are going for $4-5 through Better World Books.

  30. 30
    Madd says:

    I HATE it when a book/movie/tv show makes me care about a characters happiness and then kills them. I HATE it! I don’t read Beatrice Smalls for that very reason. I read another book of hers, not sure of the name just now except that it takes place in the highlands, the first hero kidnaps and woo’s her, marries her and then dies. Then she is forced by circumstance to marry another fellow who starts out being a douche. She’s got insta-hots for him even though he’s a jerk and so does the hate you/want you hate sex thing. Then there was the buttsecks. Heroine’s bff tells her that any man who loves you will want to do you in the butt, but hubby number one never did her like that! I couldn’t warm up to hubby number two, he completely got off on the wrong foot with me and I just couldn’t like him. That one was a DNF for me and pretty well put me off Smalls.

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