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.
Ha. I stayed up until 12:30
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.”
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.