River of Fire by Mary Jo Putney

River of Fire Cover

Review of audiobook version of outstanding historical romance

River of Fire (Fallen Angels #6) by Mary Jo Putney

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: May 23, 2019
Publisher: Pandamax Press
Length: 11 hours and 25 minutes (Unabridged)
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Captain Kenneth Wilding, newly Viscount Kimball, has been left with nothing but a mountain of debts after his father’s death. His besotted father mortgaged everything he owned to maintain his young, beautiful, and extremely avaricious second wife in the exalted style she demanded as her due. At age 33, Kenneth has spent the past 15 years in the military, including the entirety of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), a good portion of that war spent as a spy. Though Kenneth is a military hero, he has accumulated very little savings, and it is not in his power to salvage Sutterton, the family estate, from imminent foreclosure. If it were only a problem for himself, Kenneth might not have minded terribly. But his younger sister has been cheated out of her marriage portion, and all of the servants and estate workers will be greatly harmed if he loses the estate.

Then, out of the blue, Kenneth is handed an offer he cannot resist. A wealthy peer has purchased the estate’s mortgage and is willing to forgive a massive 50,000 pounds of debt if Kenneth will act as a spy on his behalf. The peer wants Kenneth to conduct a criminal investigation of the peer’s brother, Sir Anthony Seaton, who is a rich and famous painter. Sir Anthony’s wife died a year ago under suspicious circumstances, and his brother is convinced that Sir Anthony murdered his wife. He wants Kenneth to seek out proof that is solid enough to stand up in court. Though the motivation of the peer for hiring him is murky at best, Kenneth convinces himself that there is nothing morally wrong with attempting to prove Sir Anthony either guilty or innocent of what might have been a terrible crime.

As it turns out, Kenneth is easily able to insert himself into the Seaton household as Sir Anthony’s personal assistant. As far as Sir Anthony is concerned, the number one qualification he prizes in a potential assistant, which Kenneth possesses to a great degree, is that he is highly versed in the field of fine art. Unknown initially to Sir Anthony (but which is revealed in the book just previous to this one in the Fallen Angels series, Shattered Rainbows), Kenneth is a very talented artist who excels both at drawing and watercolor painting. He fits seamlessly into the Seaton household, bringing order out of colorful chaos because he is intelligent, dedicated, and very well organized. He also offers, at Sir Anthony’s request, much appreciated feedback for Sir Anthony’s huge, elaborate series of paintings of the Battle of Waterloo, which Kenneth directly participated in.

Rebecca Seaton is the 27-year-old, spinster daughter of Sir Anthony, who is a brilliant oil painter in her own right. Though, unlike her father, she has yet to exhibit or sell any of her work. Rebecca is afraid to put herself and her work in front of the public because she has been ostracized from polite society since she ran off with a fellow artist 10 years ago when she was only 17. Before going through with the marriage ceremony, she changed her mind and came home to her parents. As an open-minded, unconventional artist and his equally free-spirited wife, rather than shaming and rejecting their errant daughter, they congratulated her for a narrow escape from a potentially disastrous alliance.

Kenneth is intensely attracted to Rebecca, both out of sincere admiration of her artistic talent and because she is a beautiful, fascinating woman. Unfortunately, he cannot legitimately court her. Not only is he in her home under false pretenses, but he cannot afford to support a wife in the first style of elegance. Which is how, under her father’s roof, that Rebecca has been raised and lived all her adult life.

I really enjoyed reading about the multi-faceted, romantic connection between Rebecca and Kenneth, as two people falling in love who are extremely sexually attracted to each other, and as two brilliant artists. I especially appreciated the way that Rebecca offers lessons in oil painting to Kenneth. He accepts her training gratefully, and Rebecca both shares her extensive knowledge and, unlike his stodgy father when Kenneth was young, encourages Kenneth to pursue his calling as an artist.

There is an intriguing, overarching mystery plot in this novel as Kenneth attempts to discover if Rebecca’s mother was murdered and, if so, “whodunnit,” as well as the underlying puzzle as to why the peer who hired Kenneth hates his brother, Sir Anthony, enough to destroy his life. There is also a sweet, secondary romance involving Kenneth’s younger sister, and an important subplot surrounding Kenneth’s viciously greedy stepmother. All of these subplots merge seamlessly into the main romance plot.

Rebecca is an extremely sympathetic heroine. She is simultaneously very confident and very emotionally vulnerable. It was a pleasure to read about her struggles and triumphs as an artist and as a socially reviled woman. I also greatly enjoyed experiencing the wonderful hero, Kenneth, through her eyes as well as directly, via his point of view. He is a unique and very sexy combination of dynamic, alpha warrior and sensitive, compassionate artist.

The sex scenes in this book are simultaneously sensitively written and sensually enthralling. Unlike what occurs in far too many historical romances, the heroine’s engaging in pre-marital sex is well motivated and therefore plausible, as is Kenneth’s being the fantastic lover that a good romance hero must ideally be. In addition, Ms. Putney never writes sex for the sake of sex itself. It is always tenderly carnal, never crude, and it consistently forwards the growth of the romantic relationship.

As is often the case in a MJP novel, there is an important subcharacter in the story in the form of a cat who has an adorably, quirky personality. Sometimes the cat is the hero’s companion in an MJP novel, but most of the time it is the heroine’s companion, as is the case in this book.

As always, the historical details in MJP novels, and this book is no exception, are accurate and woven into the story in just the right amount in order to provide a subtle, deep immersion in another time and place without ever slowing the forward progression of the romance plot.

I have read this book multiple times over the years, but this particular go-round I had the privilege of experiencing it in a newly available, extremely well done, audiobook version. The talented Siobhan Waring, a British voice actor, is the narrator. She does an excellent job portraying characters of all ages, both genders, and many regional accents. She does not merely dryly enunciate the story, but instead acts out all the parts in a delightfully convincing manner. I will definitely revisit this keeper recording many other times in the future, and I recommend it to fellow historical-romance fans without reservation.

I rate this audiobook as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Mystery Plot: 5

Historical Details: 5

Writing: 5

Audibook Quality: 5

Overall: 5

(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)