Rose Bride is the third book in Elizabeth Moss’s Lust in the Tudor Court series. True to its name, it’s an energetic and bawdy romp set at the court of Henry VIII. But while I found its outrageous, over-the-top scenarios amusing enough, the lack of appealing characters makes this book an average read at best.
Margerie Croft has returned to the English court. Ten years ago at the instigation of her mother, she lost her virginity to Lord Wolf in an attempt to trap him into marriage. Even though Lord Wolf did offer to marry her, Margerie could not bear the thought of marrying a man who must surely hate her for her deception and fled to France. Now that her mother is dead and her grandfather’s health is failing, she has returned to court where her grandfather hopes she will make an advantageous marriage.
As the story opens, Margerie is about to be raped by King Henry’s attendants. Her indiscretion years ago has earned her the reputation of a wanton, and after rebuffing the king’s advances earlier in the night, she is considered easy picking. But just as the men are about to have their way with her, help arrives in the form of Virgil Elton, the court physician. To Margerie’s surprise, Virgil is able to hold off the men and escort Margerie safely back to her quarters.
The attraction between Virgil and Margerie is immediate, and pretty soon Virgil has asked Margerie to become his mistress and the two begin a torrid affair. At the same time, a young courtier named Lord Munro also has his eyes on Margerie, but his interest is of a different nature. There has long been talk at the court that Lord Munroe prefers the company of men, and to dispel those rumours, Munro would like Margerie to become his mistress in name only. In exchange for her help, he will gift her with a manor house and its surrounding lands in Sussex. For Margerie, a fallen woman with no marriage prospects, this is too good an offer to refuse even if it means a further tarnishing of her already tattered reputation.
This is one of those books where the focus is on making each sex scene more outrageous than the last. So we get a subplot involving Virgil experimenting with an aphrodisiac and another one in which Virgil gets mad at Margerie so a spanking scene can be worked into the story. The sex scenes here are loud, ribald, and full of foul language and crude descriptions. While some of the acrobatics are inventive, I found very little romance in the acts. One aspect of their love making also involves Virgil doing something extremely selfish and thinking nothing of it. I won’t spoil the details, but readers who are looking for slow-burn scenes of seduction or something resembling romance will not find them here.
For me, the biggest flaw of the book is the characterisation of the principals. As a heroine, Margerie is beautiful, selfless, and suffers from a serious case of low self-esteem. Because of her history with Lord Wolf, the entire court believes her to be a whore and treats her with nothing but disdain. And Margerie seems to believe that she deserves no better as well. It never occurs to her that she can be anything more than just Virgil’s mistress, and this inferiority complex led her to put up with some pretty indefensible behaviour from Virgil. As a result, there is an imbalance to their relationship throughout the book.
But as infuriating as Margerie is, it is Virgil who had me gritting my teeth. When he first embarks on the affair with Margerie, he thinks that she is also sleeping with Munro but is fine with it. After all, he has no intention of taking their relationship any further so who cares how many men she’s sleeping with? But when an event happens later in the book that forces him to re-evaluate their relationship, Margerie’s perceived promiscuity is suddenly no longer acceptable. Consequently, his belief in Margerie’s supposed wantonness leads to some really reprehensible behaviour on his part, including one sex scene that borders on the abusive. While that is chalked up to his jealousy and he does apologize to Margerie after he finds out the truth regarding her arrangement with Lord Munro, the implication here is that Margerie is only worthy of his love because she has not slept with more than one man. While this attitude is probably historically accurate, I still found myself wishing Margerie would give him his marching orders instead.
In the end, Rose Bride delivers exactly what its subtitle promises – a heavy dose of raunch and lust. Despite its flaws, it is a fast and breezy read and I was never bored. If you are someone who enjoys improbable sexual scenarios and is willing to read the book without taking it too seriously, you may like it. If you are looking for a romantic love story featuring a well-balanced relationship, you will have to look elsewhere.