Coral Sinclair is a beautiful but naïve twenty-five-year-old photographer who has just lost her father. She’s leaving the life she’s known and traveling to Kenya to take ownership of her inheritance–the plantation that was her childhood home–Mpingo. On the voyage from England, Coral meets an enigmatic stranger to whom she has a mystifying attraction. She sees him again days later on the beach near Mpingo, but Coral’s childhood nanny tells her the man is not to be trusted. It is rumored that Rafe de Monfort, owner of a neighboring plantation and a nightclub, is a notorious womanizer having an affair with her stepmother, which may have contributed to her father’s death.
Circumstance confirms Coral’s worst suspicions, but when Rafe’s life is in danger she is driven to make peace. A tentative romance blossoms amidst a meddling ex-fiancé, a jealous stepmother, a car accident, and the dangerous wilderness of Africa. Is Rafe just toying with a young woman’s affections? Is the notorious womanizer only after Coral’s inheritance? Or does Rafe’s troubled past color his every move, making him more vulnerable than Coral could ever imagine?
Set in 1970, this contemporary historical romance sends the seemingly doomed lovers down a destructive path wrought with greed, betrayal, revenge, passion, and love.
Review: This is a classic romance in the tradition of many of the classic romances I read in my younger days. Yet in many ways, it is unique. The writer has a compulsive voice and she is one of those writers who draws you in so that you forget you are reading. I suppose spellbinding is the word I’m looking for. The writer casts a spell on the reader in her vivid descriptions of Kenya and her captivating use of language.
It is contemporary because I remember the time in which it is set – around 1970. Yet it is historical as it is a few years back in time. Set in Kenya, a newly independent nation back then, it doesn’t shy away from giving social history about the plight of the expat European community – those people who had led a privileged lifestyle under colonial rule and now had to decide to be a part of the new Kenya, or leave forever. I found it fascinating.
Coral and Rafe’s love story is has an interesting twist – he’s a man of the world with a dark past, some ten year elder to Coral. She is twenty five, fresh, young and virginal. Back in the day, it was common, especially at the onset of the so called ‘black moment’ in a romance when it looked like all was lost, for the hero to leave the heroine if he found out she wasn’t a virgin. Then, he’d somehow relent and come back, realizing that true love was the most important thing. Nowadays, the hero is far more likely to leave the heroine if she is a virgin and yes, something like this seems to be happening here too. It’s like Rafe thinks Coral is too good for him.
He’s got the past all right and has had many lovers. Coral discovers that one of them is none other than her late father’s widow, her stepmother. Another is an exotic middle eastern dancer. The stepmother is a classic maneating type but the dancer is a rather sad character. Beautiful, yes and protective of her relationship with the hero. However, on realizing that Rafe needs a companion with whom he can share his life rather than a sort of eastern concubine who can take him to heaven and back, the dancer rather sadly recedes from the story. I felt rather sad – it’s the old colonial attitude really. These foreign women are good enough to bed but you can’t beat a homegrown rose, that type of attitude. I think, in fairness, that this is not what the author was getting at. Once the dancer admits her defeat, she and Coral remain on friendly terms.
I have to admit that in most ways, the novel was a perfect love story. The interaction between Rafe and Coral, their dialogue, their shared experiences make beautiful reading. My only complaint was that as a hero, supposedly a rather dark type, Rafe was just too nice. It may be that other readers may not find it so, but that’s what I thought. There’s a wedding in the story, which is an intrinsic part of it and I couldn’t understand how the bride could wear a traditional English wedding dress in the supposedly sweltering heat of Africa and head off for a honeymoon in a cabin by the beach without changing out of the dress. All I could think of was how could she possibly change out of the dress comfortably once she reached the honeymoon destination without the help of her bridesmaids and who the heck was going to hang up the family heirloom dress and jewellery properly? The dress obviously hadn’t been passed down several generations to be ruined by a bride in Kenya who didn’t know the old country’s traditions. I know many of the British in the old days found ‘colonial subjects’ as they called them, rather strange. I’m not surprised if this is how they were handling their family heirlooms. Hadn’t they heard of ‘going away outfits’? That would be the dress the bride changes into before escaping from the wedding venue and it’s usually smart and simple. Oh well, that’s me, picking up on absurd details like I do.
I’d conclude by saying that Hannah Fielding is an accomplished author who knows her craft – for a debut novel BURNING EMBERS is first class – beautifully written with an intriguing premise and interesting characters. I enjoyed it.
Favorite Quote: Coral tried to recapture that clear morning in early April sixteen years ago when she had said farewell to the world she loved: to the sun, to Africa and to her father.