The Dragon's Bride
So many authors, so little time. I’ve been hearing for years that Jo Beverley’s books were really good, but although I own some of them, The Dragon’s Bride is the first one I’ve read. While everyone else was waiting for Rothgar, I was off reading other things. Now I’m contemplating a trip to the bookstore for further glomming.
Susan Kerslake and Con Somerford spent two weeks together when they were fifteen, and although the time was short, events that took place then have continued to haunt them both for the last eleven years. Susan’s thoughtless words at their parting broke Con’s heart, and neither of them has been able to forget what happened. In the intervening years, Con served in the army, and Susan served as secretary to the former Earl of Wyvern. When the old earl died, Susan took a position as housekeeper of his home, Crag Wyvern. Although she is gently (if illegitimately) born, she is also the daughter of a notorious and powerful smuggler. When her father was caught and transported, her brother took over as head of the local smuggling gang. Susan is working at Crag Wyvern in order to find some gold that the old earl owed the smugglers.
Con is now the new earl, and when he arrives at Crag Wyvern he runs into Susan – right as she’s assisting with a smuggling run. He immediately thinks the worst of her, and is surprised to discover that she is his housekeeper. The house itself is horrid and full of oddities that the previous earl liked to collect. Con already has a home in another part of the country, and he has a nice, deserving woman he intends to court there. He has no intention of staying in Crag Wyvern a minute more than he has to. Susan shares his sentiments. It was through her folly and poor judgment that Con’s feelings were hurt all those years ago, and she has always regretted her words. Now she’d just like to leave Crag Wyvern and escape the attractive Con and their shared past.
But Con and Susan’s natural attraction has not diminished, and now that they are both adults it seems to have grown along with them. It’s not just sexual; they really like each other. There still doesn’t seem to be much hope for them. Con is all but promised to another woman, and he still thinks of Susan as a scheming opportunist. While Susan is more sure of her feelings for Con, she doubts he will ever forgive her for the things she said, and she doesn’t see how she could ever be part of his life again. But this is a romance, so we know these two will find a way, and rest assured, they do.
This is a rather dark and moody read, and I really enjoyed it. Beverley sets the stage with the first scene, as Susan and her brother observe the smuggling run. Even as I was reading it, I was impressed by the author’s ability to convey the drama and urgency of the scene without going over the top into the realm of melodrama. Crag Wyvern is a dark and at times scary house, complete with a torture chamber (mostly for show) and obscene artwork involving a woman and a dragon. In another book it would just sound ridiculous, but here it’s just atmosphere. Part of the reason it works so well may be that there really isn’t a suspense plot tacked on. So often books like this one would feature an evil villain who is trying to kill the hero or heroine. While there is gold to be found (and later, some important papers, Can and Susan don’t have to run through the scary house fearing for their lives. Instead they actually get to talk and interact with each other. It’s a refreshing departure from the ordinary.
Other aspects of the book distinguish it from the pack. Susan is a sexually experienced heroine – and not just with Con. She has to live with the consequences of the choices she’s made, which are not all positive. But it all adds to her character and makes her seem more like a real woman rather than a cookie-cutter virgin heroine. Throughout the book she is presented with moral choices. She knows she wronged Con, and she needs to decide what to tell Con about her past – and find the most honorable way to deal with him in the present. Her choices are often difficult, and it’s her handling of them that makes her seem so human. Con is somewhat harder to warm to, simply because it takes him quite some time to understand how honorable Susan is. Still, his reluctance to trust her makes sense given her actions in the past.
This is the second book I’ve read in recent months with a major smuggling plot. Lisa Cach’s Mermaid of Penperro is the other. While each is completely different in tone, they both get across some interesting points about the enterprise. The Dragon’s Bride delves more deeply into the smuggling world, and I found the detail informative and evocative.
So why the B grade? While I enjoyed the book, there is an ending scene that comes off as a slapdash effort to spotlight heroes from future and past novels. The problem that occurs is pretty major, but the characters concoct a scheme to fix everything in what seems like five minutes, and their plan goes off like clockwork.
This book is related to two different series. Beverley’s Rogue series, and a trilogy about three guys named George. I am living proof that you can enjoy this book without having read any of the others, but naturally more of the names will make sense to you if you’ve read the previous books. My minor nitpick in this area was that all the characters refer to the group of “Rogues” frequently (Nicholas is a “Rogue,” but Van is not, etc.), and it just seems kind of silly to me. Groups of friends with special names pop up everywhere in romance, from the Fallen Angels to the Rogues to the Bar Cynster. I don’t mind when the author refers to her series that way, but when the characters themselves do that it all sounds so T-Birds and Pink Ladies to me, like they’re going to show up with matching leather jackets or secret decoder rings.
But both those nitpicks are relatively minor ones, because on the whole I really enjoyed this book. The Dragon’s Bride is a thoughtful, engrossing read, and one of the better historicals I’ve read this year.