Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If I Were Fire by Heloise West

Title: If I Were Fire
Author: Heloise West
Purchase at Amazon
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: Historical
Length: 20k

In 18th century Siena, Count Salvesto Masello returns home to find the family villa and his father’s estate deeply in debt. In order to save it, he sells valuable heirlooms, but he is running out of silverware. Somewhere in the villa, his deceased father has hidden the art treasures that will pay the debt—but Salvesto can’t find them anywhere.

Amadeo Neruccio has been on the run from the vicious pimp, thief, and pawnbroker Guelfetto, whose toughs finally catch him and bring him to the cellar where Count Masello is selling off his silver. When the count learns what fate Guelfetto has in store for Amadeo, he intervenes, and trades the last of his mother’s dowry for the young man’s freedom.

Salvesto left home over ten years ago to live the life of adventure he craved and leave his broken heart behind. When he rescues Amadeo, he does not expect to find love again—or the start of his next adventure.

I love being taken away in time and being told a story that could only happen then, with characters who are very much of their time and place. This creates an issue for a lot of MM romances, because of the historical attitudes. Having to sneak around to avoid jail or execution adds tension.

Amadeo and Sylvesto are two characters who do this job for me. Their story is set in 1715 Sienna, Italy, a place I first discovered in my horse-crazy preteen years. The Palio, an insanely dangerous bareback horse race in the town center was an established tradition by the time Amadeo rides in it.
Amadeo’s in deep trouble because his race didn’t go as planned: his win wrecked the betting. He’s run afoul of a notorious criminal and is about to be sold into slavery to make up for his debts. His friends have abandoned him, and he doesn’t have much hope until Sylvesto, who has troubles of his own, manages to extricate him from his fate. This was cleverly done, and I had to chuckle about a side bet.

The author does a good job of setting the scene in the town and the surrounding countryside, and cluing us in to the politics of the time without it taking over the story. I could have wished for a little more here, because Sylvesto’s years away adventuring needed some context. It was clear enough why he personally went, although such a life changing event would brand the other guy’s name in your mind.

Amadeo and Sylvesto don’t have a lot of opportunities to develop a relationship, but the class issues and the secrecy issues do get overcome. The first kiss was accidental, but sparked so much more. None of it would have a chance to blossom, though, if Sylvesto’s dealings with the evil Guelfetto had gone differently, and for that, he needs to thank Amadeo. This also brings them from a large social gulf where Amadeo is stuck with a case of hero worship to a more even equal footing.

My quibble with this story is that several of the exciting things mentioned in it were only mentioned. We hear about Amadeo’s ride in the Palio but don't ride it with him, we don’t get to see the race alongside Sylvesto, or watch the jockey fall into disgrace. We find out about a crucial discovery after the fact. What we do get to see is nice, but only at the end do we get to experience the full excitement of the goings-on.

I did enjoy the plot and the resolution, and I want the lovers to be happy. The author has a good sense of place and history, and  I will happily read her next story. 3.5 marbles

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