Why I read it: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, which meant I got to read it early. Release date is 13th April 2011 in Australia.
What it’s about: Rowan Tripp is a “Zulie” a Missoula Smoke-Jumper – which is a kind of fire fighter who parachutes into wilderness fires. The story starts with the new summer fire pre-season training of new recruits, where she meets Gulliver (“Gull”) Curry – a former “hotshot” (another type of firefighter but with no jumping out of a plane). Rowan doesn’t do relationships and she doesn’t do sex with other Zulies but Gull, well… let’s just say he’s persuasive.
The season before, Rowan’s jump partner Jim had had a bad jump and went into the trees during a wilderness fire and died. Those of the team who had been around that season still bear the scars and pretty soon, it is clear that something related to Jim’s death is causing trouble for the Zulies this year.
What worked for me: Well, Gull was pretty awesome (even if he does have a bit of a strange name!). Actually, both Rowan and Gull were very engaging characters. Rowan was a kick-ass, tell-you-as-she-sees-it kind of girl. That can be annoying in some cases but Rowan was very likeable – tough, but not mean. She cares very much about her colleagues and is a very dedicated, hard-working and skilled firefighter. Gull decides to go after Rowan right from the start- he’s a man with a plan and it was fun to watch the execution.
Due to her family history (her mother left when she was a baby) Rowan needed someone who could prove he’d stick before she could fully trust her heart to him. The relationship arc was about Rowan softening and learn to open up and trust Gull with her heart. Gull didn’t really have to change or grow – which might bother some but I was fine with it. Gull was open and frank with Rowan – sometimes telling her things she didn’t want to hear, but always with humour and caring at the heart of it. He didn’t have any trouble taking direction from her in a firefight, yet, he was all alpha protective male when it came to Rowan being endangered by the person who was out to cause mayhem for the Zulies. He was happy to let her fight her own battles (watching in case she needed him of course!) and fight fire side-by-side with her but he (amusingly) drew the line (“there’s a line”) at letting her carry their picnic basket (men!). Rowan, for the first time, had a man around who’d not only stick but who could also keep up with her.
The highlight of the book, for me, was the sexy banter between Rowan and Gull – it made me smile or chuckle all the way through the story. Like this
“You can sleep in my room tonight.” He hitched a bandanna out of his pocket, used it to wipe blood from her face. “But everybody who sleeps in my room has to be naked.”
She huffed out a tired breath. “I’ll bunk with Janis until I get it cleaned up. She has the naked rule too.”
“Now that was just mean.”
“…Enough fire and chocolate and I can go all season without sex.”
“Don’t be surprised if the supply of chocolate disappears in a fifty-mile radius.”
There was also a sweet secondary romance between Lucas “Iron Man” Tripp and a high school teacher/principal named Ella.
The close relationship between Rowan and her dad was another feature of the story – Rowan had a bit of a difficult time accepting that her dad was dating (and Gull didn’t cut her any slack about it – which was amusing) but she wised up pretty quickly.
Roberts is, I think, very good at writing dialogue – both for male and female characters and also very good at fleshing out secondary characters without making them either too focal or one dimensional. There were quite a few secondary characters – mostly other smoke-jumpers but they weren’t hard to distinguish.
What didn’t: There was a lot of jargon related to being a smoke-jumper in this book and, I felt, not all of it was explained. I guess it’s hard to explain so many concepts without a big info-dump but there were quite a few things that I had to guess at or gloss over because I didn’t really understand the terminology. Some of it I pieced together from the context but it wasn’t always clear. A little more explanation of some of the concepts (eg, what is a “Smitty bag?”, more explanation of a “shake and bake”) would have been helpful. I anticipate some time on Wikipedia in my future satisfying my curiosity! However, I have already learned enough to know that being a smoke-jumper is not my ideal career. Probably everyone should be glad of that. *grin*
What else: The suspense aspect of the story was weaker than the relationship part, but as I read for the relationship anyway, that wasn’t a huge deal for me. If I say much more, I might give away spoilers. I will say there was a difference I appreciated in that the violence wasn’t necessarily (or always) directed at Rowan personally – it was mostly directed at the Zulies themselves of which Rowan was a member.
Also, a note to the cover designers – my copy has a long haired brunette on the front – Rowan is a Nordic-looking blonde with a short cap of easily managed hair. Just sayin’.
One other little niggle, there was no mention of safe sex/condoms in the book at all – it seemed a bit strange considering the contemporary setting and the nature of the characters.
Fans of Roberts will, I think, like this book. It has all the trademarks of vintage Nora Roberts, while being a fresh new story with an interesting backdrop and is a very enjoyable read.