I love finding new romance authors I actually like: they are spread too thin in the great tsunami of cruddy novels, like a floating plank on the surface of a receding wave. One such author is Elizabeth Lowell and her book Eden Burning. What drew my eye to this particular book is that it is set in Hawai’I; usually books are set in Regency London or contemporary New York, so this was a pleasant change. I had no expectations about the story itself, merely hopes of hearing about lush tropical landscapes and the occasional cry of a bright bird in the dark.
These hopes were entirely fulfilled; the setting carried the story, while the romance was something of a dud. Why must the leading man be the brawniest in any room? And why must the heroine be comically short in comparison, or feel short in relation to his impressive tallness? (page 13) Why must the relationship unfold like a fencing bout, men advancing and women retreating? (page 84) Why do women become property? (141) Finally, why do we keep seeing the phrase “I’m too little woman”? (page 319) Aah!
Fortunately, we have the magic of Hawai’I to save us:
Coral trees blazed with color, their clusters of red flowers rising from each naked branch tip like a fistful of flame. Next to them, shower trees lived up to their name, producing fantastic cascades of blossoms that covered their branches. In other lands shower trees came in single colors – white, yellow, pink, or pale orange. In Hawai’i the trees had cross-pollinated until they transformed themselves into what the natives called a rainbow shower, a tree that produced flowers of all colors in soft-pedaled rainbow drifts that had no equal anywhere else on earth. (Page 96)
How much does it cost to get to Hawai’i? Give me a moment while I check…
With their smooth, dark trunks, fernlike leaves, and delicate lavender flowers, the jacarandas pleased her in ways she couldn’t describe, only feel. She loved to lie beneath the trees at the height of their bloom, to see sunlight glowing through thousands of pale purple blossoms, and to have sweet, spent petals swirl down around her in a fantastic amethyst snow. (Page 96-97)
Bad news. Air fare from Boston to Honolulu can set you back $800, minimum. Oh well. But did you take a look at that fantastic Oxford comma? It’s not a patch on going to an island paradise, but man. It is bliss to read a book that is punctuated.
Furthermore, it is a joy to read a book that is noticeably passionate and well-researched; we get enough detail about Hawai’i to make the story believable and charmingly visible. We learn about two different types of lava, pahoehoe and aa lava (it’s pronounced ‘aah-aah’), about kibukas – the oases in the middle of lava flows – and about how the black sand beaches form. The descriptions of these things and these places takes place nearly seamlessly as the characters traverse their landscape; it sloshes over into each of them, makes them seem more intelligent and less like two bodies sizing each other up in preparation for their next sexual encounter. It’s a sneaky way of showing an ecological conscience and – gasp! – teaching something over the course of the narrative. This is the key to the best romance novels: they aren’t really about the love story, but serve more as a vehicle for banter or for overall concepts. A good love story is a byproduct.
Eden Burning is escapism at its best –if the romance is less than ideal, at least it’s consensual – and it lives up to its title: someone does get stranded in an active eruption zone during the book. There’s nothing like a natural disaster to shake your characters into order!