Deborah Hale’s Border Bride takes place along the border of Wales and England during the Crusades, Conwy ap Ifan is returning home after 13 years spent as a warrior in the Holy Land. Although happy to see his homeland, Con is there with another agenda. He is to speak with the Welsh lords on behalf of the Empress Maud. The Empress is trying to get her son on the throne of England and does not want the Welsh lords siding with any of the Normans who oppose her. Con has agreed to do this because Maud has promised to make him a lord in his own right.
On his way to speak with Lord Macsen, he stops at Glyneira and there he meets up with Enid, the widowed mistress of the keep. Con and Enid had grown up together; she was the daughter of the local lord and he was the boy who kept the livestock. Despite the difference in their stations, they had been friends. The summer they were 17 changed that – they fell in love. Because he realized that their stations in life were too different, Con left for the crusades. He had thought Enid was promised in marriage to a highly placed Welsh lord and is very surprised to find her at the small holding of Glyneira.
What Con did not realize was that Enid became pregnant on the one night they spent together before he left, and had been married off to a small landholder. At the time of Con’s return, Enid is a widow, the mother of three children, and in charge of her late husband’s estate.
The setting of the novel is very well described, the politics are necessary to the plot and instead of being intrusive are quite well done, and the use of Welsh terms is done skillfully enough to add to the ambiance of the story but not overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar phrases. That said, the novel suffers from several flaws. The plot depends both on the secret baby scenario and the Big Misunderstanding. Con never knew he had fathered a child with Enid, largely because he was drunk at the time; Enid seduced him to stop him from leaving, but he was so out of it that he did not even remember their tryst. In spite of knowing that Con never knew about his son, Enid persists in blaming him for her lot in life. Even though Con has now returned, Enid has no intention of telling him about her oldest child. Bryn is fostered with Lord Macsen, and when Con meets him Con is able to guess Bryn’s parentage in a rather unlikely leap of logic. Con also has a real fear of commitment. Through out most of the book, although he realizes he still loves Enid, he does not want to get married. Even though Enid would pass up a very advantageous match to marry him, Con actually leaves the keep after refusing to marry Enid. It is only after events conspire to bring them back together that Con finally decides he might be able to commit to Enid.
And this is the true great drawback of this book. By the time the main characters finally got their relationship together, I just did not care. In their separate ways they had both been so wrong headed about their relationship and were both so unyielding when together that I never felt a sense of sympathy for either of them. Yes, Enid had a tough life, but it was one she largely brought on herself. Yes, Con wanted to make something of himself, but it just did not make sense that he could not achieve his goals while married to Enid. Also, his continuing doubts about his ability to commit to Enid did not make him a romantic hero – it made him just the opposite. Both characters acted with a level of immaturity that made them seem more like teenagers than rational adults. There was no trust in their relationship. Both of them lied or omitted the truth. Even the major love scene in the book was unrealistic. I could not believe that Enid would even consider putting herself in a position where the love scene could take place, much less believe that she would be so casual about getting intimate with Con.
Border Bride has an interesting setting and good secondary characters. Unfortunately, the romance between the hero and heroine never gets above tepid, leaving the reader wondering if Con and Enid might just be better off apart. This made the book a very disappointing reading experience because the rest of the writing is of a very high caliber. If there had been a true spark between the main characters, this would have been a very good book; but in its current state the story of Con and Enid’s relationship tends to leave the reader wondering if the romance was worth the investment of time it takes to read the book.