Sunfire Romance Novels
In the 80s, the world was lit by Sunfire!

Historical Disasters # 3

Once again, work has delayed my return to the blog. I’ll try to keep it going consistently for the next few weeks.

Anyway, many weeks ago I re-read the third Historical Disasters book, The Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Elizabeth Massie.

Chigo Fire: 1871 Front Cover

Chicago Fire: 1871 Front Cover (Credit: Wendi Schneider)

Front Cover Blurb: In the glow of a burning city, an unexpected love…

Main Character: Katina Monroe, an 18-year-old orphan whose entire family died during the Civil War–her father in battle, her mother and sister when deserters from Sherman’s army burned down their Georgia plantation down with the family trapped inside. Katina lived in an orphanage until, disguised as a boy, she ran away to Chicago to find the only family she has left. Unfortunately, the Monroes of Michigan Avenue refuse to see her, so Katina continues to live as “William,” a 15-year-old playwright who lives in the slums. In her boy disguise, she has cut her curly auburn hair short.

Suitor #1: Russell Cosgrove, 19 or 20 years old; long, dark brown hair and blue eyes. He is described on the back as a “minister,” but it’s not meant in a religious sense. He’s left college and his working-class home to help the poor. He works as a bootblack, but he’s really trying to get articles published about the plight of the poor, and also opens a shelter called “Homeplace.”

Note: It’s unfortunate that my sister has been forcing me to marathon “Rules of Engagement” off Netflix, because all I’m getting from “Russell” is…well…

Ah, Mr. Dunbar. Seriously, WHY doesn't Timmy just quit?

Ah, Mr. Dunbar. Seriously, WHY doesn’t Timmy just quit?

Suitor #2: Adam MacPherson, who owns the theater that “William” writes plays for. Then he allows Russell to use the theater part-time for Homeplace.  (Russell versus Adam? Where’s Jeff?)

Setting: If you didn’t guess…It’s Chicago, 1871! Seriously, the story starts in June, and goes up to the night of the fire: October 8. Then the epilogue jumps to 20 years later.

On the Cover: Right, Russell, and left, Katina. Let me just say, with all apologies to the artist/photographer…I’m sorry, I hate this cover so much. They’re supposed to be scrambling for their lives in the middle of a fire that destroys an entire city, and Katina looks positively bored, if not sleepy. Russell looks bored too, but at least a little determined…like he’s looking at a particularly nasty floor that needs scrubbing. There is NO excitement in this cover at all, except for the flames behind them. And Katina is carrying a lamp! What the HELL…the LAST thing she would need at this point is a lamp. Is there some sort of insinuation that Katina started the fire with her lamp? Did she pick up the lamp at the O’Leary barn? Just…no. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even the blurb is wrong: the “unexpected love” took place well before the fire.

Let me also rant a bit here about how out-of-place this photograph seems after the illustrations on the first two books. It’s like the publisher couldn’t decide what they wanted this series to be, so they just went all over the place with it.

Back Cover Blurb: No place to hide…

Chicago Fire: 1871 Back Cover

Chicago Fire: 1871 Back Cover

Similar Sunfire Book: None, and it always upset me greatly. Especially as we got toward these last few books, where most of the “historical events” were natural disasters…blizzard, flood, hurricane, earthquake…but no Chicago fire! Bummer. I suppose if there’s one it’s closest to, it’s Caroline with the heroine-in-drag motif.

That said…I didn’t find this book particularly effective. Part of the problem is that, in a 208-page book, the fire starts on page 136. So about 1/3 of the book is about the fire; the rest is just setup. Katina and Russell meet, face some danger, become roommates, face some danger, deal with Katina being revealed as a girl, have a misunderstanding, begin courting in earnest, have sex on the pier, have a misunderstanding…and THEN we’re at the fire, finally. By that time you’re already exhausted from all the danger and misunderstandings.

Again, the sex is highly implied and not spelled out. We see Katina pushing off Russell’s suspenders (tee-hee…Russell) and begging him three times to “love her.” Then, when they wake up together the next morning, Katina hopes “to see in his eyes the same love in them she had seen the night before.” (Aw, she forgot to sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” before they headed to the pier.)

UP NEXT: Merrie, who changed her name from plain ol’ “Mary” so she could dot the i with a little heart. (No, not really.)

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