Throwback Thursday Review: Emerald Fire by Phoebe Conn


Emerald Fire by Phoebe Conn
Re-release Date: March 18, 2014 (originally published in 1987)
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages: 404
Source: book provided by the publisher for review



Desire led her across an ocean. Deception could send her straight into danger. When Virginian Evan Sinclair sets sail for Venice’s carnival season, his mind is set on revenge. Someone murdered his younger brother, and Evan’s only lead is a letter containing two clues: a love-struck description of a golden-haired, green-eyed beauty, and a handkerchief monogrammed with an A. Certain a jealous rival for the woman’s affections is the culprit, Evan has vowed to find the temptress, court her, and lure the murderer into the open. Bianca Antonelli can barely sit still for a portrait, much less for her parents’ plans to arrange a match to a rich, tiresome man. When she meets the wealthy, handsome Evan at a party, she answers the call of her restless spirit—and his seductive kisses—to impulsively accept his marriage proposal. As Evan watches for a killer who seems in no hurry to appear, he finds his heart warming to Bianca’s sweet, innocent fire. But when family machinations uncover the truth, Bianca’s despair sends her running to an even greater danger than a broken heart. And Evan could be too late to save their love—and her life.

This Retro Romance was previously published by Zebra in 1987. Warning: Contains a handsome hero who cuts a fine figure in high leather boots, and a plucky heroine with the sass to follow her heart across the sea. Satisfied sighs guaranteed.



Review: This is one of those historical novels that might fall into the ‘unusual’ category. This is a ‘retro-romance’, a book originally published in the late eighties and has now been given new life in the digital world.

Bianca, a sixteen year old girl in Venice, with a British heritage, is fighting her father’s insistence she marry a man she doesn’t love, and who is a cold fish.  When Evan, a mysterious man from America, suddenly appears in her life, he sweeps her off her feet.

Before Bianca can absorb the impulsive decision to run away with Evan, she finds herself aboard his ship, in the middle of the ocean, being married by the captain. Little does she know, her new husband has a mission, and she is at the heart of it. Does Evan love her or is her only using her as a means to an end?

So, what makes this book so unusual? The dual locations of Virginia and Venice is unique, especially for the modern reader who most likely never gets to read a historical romance that isn’t a regency, or set in Scotland, or if one is super lucky, in France.

Secondly, the age difference between Bianca and Evan might raise some eyebrows because today we would consider this type of marriage wrong on many levels. Still, the relationship shouldn’t cause the reader to recoil, since in this time frame, such marriages were quite common.

Bianca is a figure that is at once frustrating, and delightful. My heart went out to her because she was telling Evan the truth as she knew it, knew nothing of his thirst for revenge or his suspicions regarding her family and former fiancé, or that she was in essence being used as bait.

She attempts to adjust to marriage, please her husband, and make a good wife, but is thwarted at every turn. Still, she can behave like a petulant child at times, is a little too naïve, and her pampered lifestyle occasionally breaks through, making it hard for her to understand some issues of propriety or how harsh life is for some people.

All the same, she is a spunky character, full of life, and doesn’t take Evan’s treatment of her in stride. She has her pride and means to excavate herself from a marriage in which she is only a pawn.

Evan, is a man consumed by rage and a lust for vengeance after his half-brother is murdered, allegedly over a woman. Evan is determined to see justice done, and bring peace to his frail mother. His mission nearly becomes an obsession, with Bianca caught in the middle.

Initially, I didn’t trust Evan, and throughout most of the story I was on the fence about him. My main issue was his continued dishonesty with his wife, and his tunnel vision in regards to finding his brother’s murderer, and my doubt about his loving Bianca. But, I do like a hero that is a little mysterious, as it adds a little more tension into the story.

I enjoy a good mystery and this story has a ‘whodunit’ atmosphere, especially in the last quarter of the book as both Evan and Bianca turn into amateur sleuths to discover who murdered Charles. Still, I wondered if after all was said and done, if Evan and Bianca would manage to salvage a marriage based on such premises. Will true love come to the rescue?

Many people shy away from historical romance novels written in the eighties and nineties because the awful reputation some of them have for being ‘bodice rippers’, when in fact, most of these older titles are not. While the covers of these Zebra titles published back then, may give off that vibe, most of these are pretty standard historical romances, perhaps with a bit more reality in them, which showcases the true adversity women faced throughout history. While this is infuriating, it is factual, and I like seeing these women overcome staggering odds to find true love. However, in this case, Bianca and Evan were so tame they could easily fit into today’s regency trope. The steam level in this book borders on PG 13 and R rated, as there are many steamy love scenes, but by today’s standards are very, very tame, and do not instruct us on where all the parts go.

Overall, this is a good story, but it’s pretty light fare, making it a book both older and younger audiences will enjoy. I love reading these titles from authors I read back in the day, revisiting the stories that pioneered the historical romance genre and made it great. So, don’t judge a book by its cover- check some of these older titles out from time to time, you just might discover a hidden gem.