Lucien Knight is England's most skilled and cunning spy. He has drawn out Britain's shadiest characters and the most dangerous foreign spies by turning a secret underground cave on his country estate into a den of iniquity complete with a fake cult. Lucien also feels it is his duty to protect his twin brother, Damien, from manipulative ladies seeking to be his wife. To this end, Lucien seduced Caro, Damien's intended, to prove her unworthy of his heroic brother. Caro is a selfish extravagant woman who will bed any man who catches her eye, while leaving her young son in the care of her long-suffering sister-in-law, Alice. When Caro goes away for the weekend to attend one of Lucien's infamous pleasure parties, leaving her sick son behind, the prim and proper Alice can take it no longer. She sets out in search of her errant sister-in-law with the intention of dragging her back home if necessary and making her be a mother to her son. When Alice finally arrives at Lucien's estate, she must "do battle" with the guards to even gain admittance. Eventually, she is shown to a comfortable room, but is baffled by the lack of dancing or other activities that one would usually find at a country party. She has been told by the servants that Caro is in a place called the Grotto, and lacking the patience to wait, Alice covertly goes in search of her. What she find there is completely shocking to her innocent sensibilities. As Alice surveys the perverse scene unfolding before her in search of Caro, she suddenly finds herself face-to-face with the dashing Lucien Knight himself.
Thinking that this unknown woman is a spy, Lucien escorts Alice to his private viewing room, where he proceeds to question her and search her for weapons. It doesn't take long for Lucien to find out who Alice really is, and he is well aware of her reputation as a "goody-two-shoes." In spite of himself, Lucien is instantly beguiled by the light of purity and innocence emanating from Alice, and finds himself wanting to rekindle that long-lost light within his own life. Alice is appalled to find herself drawn to Lucien in spite of his darkness. Lucien extends his hospitality to Alice for the night, but when morning dawns, he finds himself wanting beyond reason to know if what he sees in Alice is real or not. He puts her to the test by saying that he will only allow one woman to leave his estate, and she must choose whether it will be herself or Caro. Of course, Alice makes the selfless choice, agreeing to spend one week in Lucien's company in exchange for Caro's release, even though it puts her reputation at great risk. In that short week's time they are both stunned to discover things in each other which they had been seeking yet had never thought to find, but when news arrives that Lucien's mortal enemy is still alive and once again on the prowl, he must choose between two passions, the woman he has come to love above all else and the man he hates with every ounce of darkness in his soul.
Lord of Fire was a fabulous book that has a little bit of everything: heart-pounding action and suspense, spy intrigue, history, and best of all, swoon-worthy romance. Galen Foley's writing style contains a richness of detail that vividly brings to life the world she has created, making me feel like I had actually been transported to another time and place. It is apparent to me through reading her books and looking at her website that Ms. Foley is meticulous with her historical research, and it definitely shows in her writing. I also loved that the author kept me on my toes throughout the story. Every time I thought that she was going to resort to some well-worn plot device, she surprised me. There were many times I thought that Lucien and Alice were going to have the "big misunderstanding," but then not long after a confession would be forthcoming. They did have a few quarrels, which can often be irritating to me, but in this case, I found them to be genuine issues that a couple in their circumstances might actually have to face, rather than just petty bickering. Even though there were a couple of things that I predicted would happen early on, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel, because there were plenty of things that didn't go as I expected. I normally am not a fan of love at first sight stories, but Ms. Foley managed to make me believe in this couple's love for one another and a lasting happily-ever-after, even though they had only know each other for a short time. She accomplished this by creating a deep emotional connection between Lucien and Alice, as well as between the characters and the reader, by having them get to know each other fairly intimately before sharing physical intimacies. Admittedly, the love scenes are few, but I found the sexual tension to be exquisite and laden with tender emotions. All in all, Lord of Fire was a very well-rounded story that kept me excited about reading it.
Lucien and Alice were a wonderful and perfectly matched couple. In spite of his charming personality, Lucien is a tortured soul. Working deep undercover as a spy for the Crown, he lives a dark, rather solitary existence. Personally knowing someone who has done deep cover law enforcement work and having heard some of his stories, I felt that the aloneness and soul-searing intensity of Lucien's work was very realistically rendered. It was a fabulous contrast of dark and light, and doing things you really don't want to for the greater good. Lucien loved his twin, Damien, deeply, and their recent estrangement over Lucien's choice of professions has left him feeling more alone then ever. Yet, Lucien has always felt like he was living in his brother's shadow and never quite measuring up. When Alice unexpectedly shows up in Lucien's life she brings the light of her innocence and goodness into his darkened world, making his heart long for things he thought lost to him forever. When Lucien used trickery and manipulation to keep Alice at his country estate, I wasn't sure I would like him, but aside from that one lapse, he behaved in a gentlemanly way for the remainder of the book, which endeared him to both me and Alice. I thought Alice was a very well-balanced heroine. She was kind, caring and intuitive, understanding Lucien in a way that most people didn't, and he reciprocated in kind. She also had spunk and spirit, speaking her mind to both Lucien and her sister-in-law, Caro, when the circumstances warranted. There were a few time when Alice's spunk led her into potentially dangerous situations, but I felt like I generally understood her reasoning and that she was usually just trying to protect those she loved. Overall, I found Lucien and Alice to be a delightful couple who were a pleasure to read.
The palette of secondary characters was varied and interesting. Lucien's rogues were charming and entertaining. The main villain, Claude Bardou, was irredeemably evil, bringing a dangerous menace to the story. There are a couple of other foreign spies, an American double-agent and a Russian woman, who added a bit of extra intrigue. Alice's sister-in-law, Caro, is very well-rendered as a flamboyant, self-centered woman who rarely thinks of anything but her own pleasures, and has little interest in even trying to be a good mother to her three-year-old son, Harry. Harry is a sweet, endearing child who charms nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact. In addition to these, there are a whole host of other supporting characters who for the most part play small roles, but manage to add a great deal of depth to the other characters and the narrative. There are even a couple of brief mentions of Lucien having met Darius Santiago (from Princess, the second of book of Gaelen Foley's Ascension Trilogy) in his undercover persona. This is something that I didn't pick up on until re-reading this book, because the first time around, I hadn't yet read the Ascension Trilogy. The most realistic and intriguing of the secondary characters though, is Lucien's identical twin brother, Damien. These two rogues may look alike, but their personalities are opposites, with Lucien being a charming, smooth-tongued devil and Damien being more staid, reserved and uncomfortable in social settings. Most interesting of all is the sympathetic portrayal of Damien as an honorable man and wounded war hero suffering from severe PTSD. I was so fascinated by Damien that I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series, Lord of Ice, in which he becomes the hero.
Lord of Fire is the second book in the Knight Miscellany series. It is preceded by The Duke, which was another wonderful book. I wasn't sure that Ms. Foley would be able to equal it, but I was mistaken. As much as I enjoyed The Duke, I actually liked Lord of Fire slightly better. The remaining books in the series are Lord of Ice, Lady of Desire, Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin and His Wicked Kiss. I love Ms. Foley's writing style, and think that she has found a great balance between descriptive prose and beautiful dialog. With two keepers in a row, she has definitely earned a place on my favorite authors list. In fact, I have already ordered a copy of Lord of Ice and will be anxiously watching for it to arrive in my mailbox, so that I can read sexy, tortured twin, Damien's story and continue this enchanting and thoroughly romantic series.
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