My First Nora (Review – Born in Fire)

Cover comment: Boring, could be anywhere, but easy to buy without embarrassment

Setting: Contemporary Ireland, switching between the heroine’s home in rural County Clare, and the hero’s tony digs in Dublin.

Series: Yes, this is book 1 in the Born In trilogy. Book 2 is Born in Ice, Book 3 is Born in Shame.

Main characters: A starving artist with major family of origin issues, Maggie Concannon is a “fiery” heroine in at least 3 ways: she has reddish hair, is a professional glass blower, and has a hell of a temper. Rogan Sweeney, yin to Maggie’s yang, is urbane, cultured, calm, business-minded, and “born in” money.

Plot: Straightforward romance plot (no spies, blackmail, violence — unless you count rough sex — or paranormal elements).

Distinctive features: Setting, temperament and profession of heroine.

My take in brief: Born in Fire is one of those books that most people love, and while it is not one of my personal favorite romances, I can easily understand why.

First published in 1994, I listened to the Audible edition, which came out earlier this year. Read by an Irishman, the accents were perfect to my ignorant American ears, but the narrator’s version of female voices was to read their dialogue super fast, which it made them all sound slightly hysterical.

Word on the Web:

Rosario, one of her faves

Melissa Gold, AAR, Grade: A

Laurie, AAR, Grade: A

Cathy Sova, Romance Reader, Rating: 5 hearts

Amazon, Rating: 4.5 stars after 57 reviews

Audible, Rating: 4.25 after 8 ratings

Ciara Stewart, Review: very positive

Karenmiller, Review: one of her faves, Review: I got vertigo trying to make sense of it. You’re on your own.

Reading Adventures, Grade: 4.5

Google Books preview here.

This is an older Roberts book, and it’s considered a classic. In the most recent AAR readers’ list of top 100 romances, it came in at #57. Instead of rehearsing the plot and other details, which are probably well known to many readers, and easily accessible at the links above, I’m going to list a few things that make this romance stand out:

1. The heroine: Many heroines in romance are what I’ll call “feisty”: they resist the hero, usually for ridiculous reasons, and they make bad choices which are not consistent with logic or even with their own motivations (often earning them the label “TSTL”). But once the romance begins in earnest, all traces of their “feistiness” disappear like the smoke they were basically blowing up the readers’ arses all along.

Not Maggie Concannon. She swears and scowls, she wears baggy jeans and flannel shirts, she drinks to excess, she unapologetically has sex to meet bodily needs, and she doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you or anyone else thinks of her. She’s a brilliant artist fiercely protective of her independence for two very compelling and believable reasons: (a) she has the temperament of an artist — moody, creative, a loner, and (b) she has been emotionally wounded and permanently scarred by the sudden and untimely death of her father, and by her treatment at the hands of a verbally abusive and unloving mother. Maggie isn’t going to suddenly become milquetoast when she finds true love. Rather, the road to true love is going to be bumpy and incredibly challenging for both Maggie and Rogan, who will have to work very hard to earn her affection, trust, and loyalty.

2. The hero: Too often, to portray a very masculine, strong hero, authors resort to alpha behavior of the Neanderthal order. The hero gets jealous and behaves badly, insulting the heroine or impugning her honor; he gets ridiculously possessive (the “mine” language has even started appearing is historicals. Thanks, JR.); or he’s too aggressive sexually. This can work in paranormals, but not in most contemporaries or historicals. In Rogan, Roberts has managed to give us a very strong hero who is not dominant in the relationship. He even has some qualities that aren’t usually associated with a strong hero, like his interest in fine art, his fashion sense, and an overwhelmingly strong desire for order, in both his physical and spiritual lives, that make him actually afraid of Maggie and the whirling vortex of emotion and passion she represents. Rogan is attracted to Maggie physically, sure, but what really turns him on is her strength, intelligence, creativity, and passion, and that’s a wonderful thing to read. And the battle between his desire and fear is brilliant to read, especially when he gives in to the dark side.

3. The setting and glassblowing: there’s enough about Ireland to give you a strong sense of culture without feeling like you’re reading a travelogue, and there’s enough about glassblowing to make it really interesting without boring you to death. The glassblowing is such a perfect metaphor for Maggie and Rogan, individually, and as a couple (their fire, their fragility, their combustibility, their dangerousness for each other) that you are actually learning more about the characters as you learn about the art.

4. The writing: My reviews are usually content focused. I’m no expert in literary analysis. But even my untutored ear couldn’t help noticing that Roberts manages to say a lot with a few words. As with the title of the book, which works on a number of levels, she is always doing a number of things at once (building character, moving plot along, foreshadowing), and you often don’t realize it — you just enjoy it.

And what didn’t work for me? Maggie’s mother, Maeve. This woman is so embittered, so rude, so callous, so one dimensional, so clearly built to serve a purpose in this novel (set up the family dynamic), that she could only be fictional. Perhaps she gets humanized in the later books, but the character didn’t work for me at all in this one. She was so over the top mean that every time she spoke I had a memory of that (wonderful) 1995 Kate Beckinsale movie, Cold Comfort Farm, in which the crabby old Aunt Ada Doom repeats the phrase “I saw something nasty in the wood shed” over and over. Cold Comfort Farm was a satire, though, and Maeve Concannon is, unfortunately, supposed to be real.

The only other Roberts’ books I’ve read are the first 3 In Death books, and the first of those was published about a year after Born in Fire. The relationship between Maggie and Rogan is similar in some ways to that between Eve and Roarke (Roarke is even Irish), and I find myself wondering if they were the inspiration for that now ultra-famous duo. I don’t plan to continue with this series, and while I appreciate Roberts’ gifts, I think I may prefer a bit more drama and intensity in my reads. I do hope to try another Roberts one day — if you are a die hard Roberts fan and you are reading this review, please recommend one!

Published in: on August 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m no die hard Roberts fan but I hope it’s okay I comment anyway. šŸ™‚

    Born in Fire was one of the first romances I read which I didn’t know then. It didn’t look like it, more like women’s fiction. Anyway, I think you summed up what makes this novel stand out rather well because these are the things for which I remember this novel. I liked it well enough then but your post made me wonder how I would read it today, after having met my fair share of feisty heroines and Neanderthal alpha heroes. šŸ˜‰

    I went on and read a few other novels by Roberts. I appreciate Roberts as a skilled writer and I know I’ll get a competently written story when I read one of her novels, but I have yet to read one that totally grabs me. So sorry, no recommendation, but thanks for for reminding me of this novel.

  2. Of course it’s ok to comment! Thank you for confirming I am not the only one to have this attitude of respect but not fangirlish love for La Nora. I will try her again, just not…yet.

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