By Fire and By Sword by Elaine Coffman
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Mira (April 1, 2006)
“She passed stone houses, where rows of chimneys blew wraithlike smoke into the frigid air. Occasionally, sprays of glittering snow driven by currents of wind slid from the pitched roofs and fell onto the walkway. The afternoon would soon begin to fade, already the number of people she saw was diminishing. The world around her was cold and white and terribly silent, as if she were the only person left on earth.”
This desolate scene one encounters upon first opening By Fire and By Sword foreshadows the terrible events that the main character, Lady Kenna Lennox, is destined to face, and also shows the reader how good Coffman is at describing the scenery beautifully. Sadly, the wonderful descriptions are the only redeeming qualities of the novel.
The plot basically goes like this: Kenna saves her sister from death and makes an enemy of her sister’s captor, who is sent to jail. He threatens Kenna, and she is forced to run when she finds out that he is let out two years later. She goes to France where she becomes a master of fencing in a year, and then returns home to fight the villain plaguing her and her loved ones. Meanwhile, she is slowly falling in “love” with Colin Montgomery, a privateer, and he falls in “love” with her. She rejects him in order to focus on destroying her enemy, destroying their “relationship” in the process. Of course, she ends up killing the villain and reconciling with Colin.
To me, this sounds like an excellent plot. Too bad Coffman failed miserably from the start by creating flat characters no one can possibly relate to. You never really get into the story because any chances at brilliant dialogue or interesting plot twists are interrupted by Coffman’s desire to give the reader a sense of the atmosphere of 18th century France and Scotland, which she succeeds at brilliantly.
The worst part about the whole novel is the relationship between Kenna and Colin. Although she attempts to make it seem like they are falling in love, it is clear that the only thing between them is pure lust. Like I said, they are flat with only basic characteristics that aren’t even fully developed. They never actually get to know each other since every time they get a chance they end up locking lips instead. Worst of all, despite its being a romance novel, Colin really doesn’t even have a major part. He keeps disappearing, only to reappear again for another kiss. It is truly disappointing that the male lead plays such a minor role.
In my opinion, the novel should be revised so that it focuses less on the lust and more on the history behind it, and then label it as historical fiction. Only then could it be even remotely interesting. I certainly do not recommend it to anybody, not even historical romance lovers. This is a romance novel focused on lust and landscaping, the most horrible combination I have ever read, and I do not believe that there is anybody who could truly enjoy reading it.