Book Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

Robinia in Australia !?
Robinia in Australia !? (Photo credit: Tatters:))

Book Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

Traci Kenworth


Adult: Historical Romance                                                                 A Jove Book 1987


For the sake of any young adults that come to this page, I’m going to mellow the language and forego the hook line of the book. Let’s just say, Bruno, the hero is born out of wedlock to Sir William Fermain, holder of the Jarnaeve Keep whose wife continues to conceive female children who die within hours. When Bruno’s talents with a sword and horse are known, his father gives him a gift and his mother thinks he will acknowledge him but his wife bears another child—a girl, Audris, upon her death bed. He cares for the babe in his mother’s absence because he knows his mother cannot give this child away. The nursemaid of a nobleman’s child had many privileges and she shuts her door to other men.

And then during the dog days of August, his father died. Sickness wipes out the keep and delays Audris’ uncle, Sir Oliver, from coming for her. His mother is slain by someone who believes she carries the sickness. He manages to keep Audris and himself hidden for many days. He is taken into the household for Audris’ sake. Sir Oliver takes over Bruno’s training himself, teaching him the skills of a knight rather than a man-at-arms. He is sent with a troop from Jernaeve to answer a summons from the king to fight in France as Sir Oliver’s substitute. Seeds are sown to make him leader rather than Audris—Sir Oliver sends him away because of this.

Melusine is the only daughter of Sir Malcolm of Ulle. Each of her brothers teachers her a different task. Sir Malcolm is his cousin’s estate manager. King Henry does not trust him but doesn’t drive him out either. Her mother was married to Sir Malcolm for that reason, with the intent to watch him for signs of treason. If she does not report, she along with her children will die. Her mother is dying and her father softens toward her. During her May Day b-day celebration, sickness falls upon the house and four brothers, two with their wives and children die. She thinks it is her fault and never celebrates her birthday again. Her remaining brothers marry to tragedy, the first wife cannot conceive and kills herself.

All this takes place because upon King Henry’s death, Stephen of Blois, who is the sister’s son of the king is crowned instead of Henry’s daughter, Empress Matilda. King David of Scotland brings troops into North Umbria to support Matilda. In a message to warn the king of such, Bruno is taken as Squire of the Body to King Stephen. Believing he can rule Jarnaeve through Bruno, Stephen is pacified when Hugh Licorne marries Audris. A feud develops between Stephen and Robert of Gloucester, King Henry’s most beloved illegitimate son. Stephen pushes David back and Ulle is taken but not before Melusine (whose father and brother joined King David against Stephen) sends her people into hiding and has them take all the valuables. But the old men left behind fight Stephen when he enters. Bruno is the first man into the Keep.

Stephen tells Bruno he will make him Knight of the Body if he marries Melusine. The Queen suspects Melusine of hiding something besides being a rebel. Melusine is frozen with terror at the choice of her husband. All these weeks of grief awaken her to her fate and she tries to stab Bruno. They make a truce. He will get her lands back for her, if she makes peace with him. Bruno takes Melusine to Jarnaeve and Audris and she make fast friends. Then they head to Ulle where Stephen finds the only treachery his wife is capable of is trying not to get cheated with profits.

When King Stephen passes over his brother, Henry of Winchester, in a choice of Theobald as Archbishop of Canterbury, Bruno is in shock. He learns Waleran de Meulan encouraged dissension between Henry and Stephen as Waleran works to place his relatives in high places in the kingdom. The Queen makes Melusine her scribe of the closet. She finds evidence that the previous scribe cheated the Queen. She warns Melusine to keep an eye out for anything odd. When the Bishop of Salisbury is arrested by Stephen, Henry threatens war if the Bishops are not returned. Less than a month passes before Empress Matilda and Robert of Gloucester arrives.

As the war strengthens, Bruno and Stephen are taken hostage and Melusine must discover within herself if she loves Bruno enough to risk her people in a last ditch effort to save the kingdom.

I liked this story but as a writer, I noticed a LOT of backstory, but that may be normal of the historical genre. My problem was that this was done in first person viewpoints of Bruno and Melusine and each would cover the same scene the previous one had gone over from their own perspective. It got kind of annoying, plus keeping track of all the different historical figures as well as characters was a bit tedious. I know I may offend some historical readers who adore such stories and normally I do too, it’s just I wish that there was a progress made between the characters on stage instead of all the back tracking.

I love reading stories about knights, castles, kings and queens, and this was no exception, it was a very detailed account of the war between King David of Scotland and King Stephen of England. The history was interesting and the author’s accounts seemed well researched. Still, I would have preferred more advancement in the story, but then again, I’m coming at this as a writer as well as a reader and picking up on things I’ve tried to cull from my own works. The descriptions of the characters did not mesh with the cover as well. An aside, I know, but you think they would have gotten the dark looks of Bruno right and Melusine was also not as fair-skinned as pictured. The final battles will keep your interest and you’ll root for Stephen, Queen Maud, Bruno and Melusine to triumph despite the odds.

Have you read Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis? If so, what are your thoughts? Please don’t let me discourage you from historicals as I adore the genre as much as anyone else. I particularly love Gaelen Foley’s work and I have tons of Barbara Cartland, the dame herself.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

  1. I have never read this particular book and I might because you still point out the interesting parts the novel seems to hold 😀
    I find it quite interesting how sometimes the reader creeps into the writer…I have this happened to me sometimes as well…


    1. I’ve decided to make it a point to be open to other genres, even non-fiction, in order to improve my writing and just to get the “gel” of how to tell a good story and bring my readers with me. Next up is a thriller.


  2. Although I haven’t read this one, I love historical fiction, especially British history, so this would probably appeal to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. 🙂


  3. One has to be so careful when writing in alternating POVs not to cover the same thing twice. It’s tough. I did it once and only overlapped at one particular point, but that was on purpose and meant for dramatic affect. Hopefully it worked! LOL. But to do it all through the book? That could get tiring.


    1. I think that was the biggest problem in the book for me, Lisa. The repetition for each chain of events twice, through different eyes. I try hard to advance my scenes with each character instead of the reptition. I think that works better than the former method.


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