Bride of Hearts
In Bride of Hearts by Janet Lynnford, romance grows amidst the gossip, danger, and political maneuverings of the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
Matthew Cavendish, Baron Graystock, is a successful sea captain and a widower. Upon returning to England after two years at sea, he spies a lovely woman, Cordelia Wentworth, swimming in the Thames (I’d bet this was not a healthful activity, even in the sixteenth century). He is charmed by her fairylike beauty, and appalled when an assassin shoots at her before his very eyes. Who could want to kill Cordelia? Could it have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of another woman from court? Matthew and Cordelia investigate and uncover a web of secrets, conspiracies, and lies. They are also bound together by Carew, Matthew’s thirteen-year-old son, who has become a rebellious, uncontrollable hothead during his father’s absence. Cordelia loves Carew and is the only one who can control him.
As a romance, I found this book frustrating. Matthew and Cordelia spend much of their time apart, and when they are together they’re either arguing about the mystery or arguing about Carew. Also, the internal conflict between them struck me as artificial and weak. Matthew wants Cordelia, wants to protect her, and needs her help with the kid, so marriage seems like an obvious solution. Unfortunately, Matthew resists this idea violently, because he’s still tormented by the death of his first wife, thirteen years ago. Am I wrong to wish he had moved on after thirteen years? I like a tortured hero, but if an author does not succeed in making me feel his pain, then it strikes me that she’s just supplying him with an excuse for obnoxious behavior.
Cordelia is a nice character, a heroine who is brave without being so spunky that she forgets the meaning of fear. She is lonely for love, and her way of adopting the people around her into a surrogate family is touching. Matthew, on the other hand, often acts like an ungracious lout. He constantly barks orders, delivers lectures, and gives both Cordelia and Carew mixed signals. Cordelia and Matthew do not act as a team – he’s forever telling her to stay out of things for her own protection, and he gets annoyed when she discovers something helpful. Once, when Carew has obviously witnessed something important, Matthew is too busy scolding him to listen to his story. Matthew lightens up a little towards the end, but it takes too long, and I found his reasons for being a boor unconvincing to begin with.
Lynnford strives for a poetic, dreamlike prose style, and while sometimes she pulls it off, more often it’s just deep purple, sometimes bordering on the incomprehensible: “The late-afternoon sun streamed through the chapel windows, bathing him in liquid fire. Or did the fire emanate from him? She knew it did.” It did?
My biggest criticism of Bride of Hearts is that it’s boring. Lynnford shows our protagonists discovering clues; then we see them telling each other about the clues; then we’re there with them while they think about the clues. Also, the narrative is frequently interrupted for vague foreshadowing statements: “Danger seemed to lurk in every corner of the palace,” and “the scent of murder seemed to hang in the air.” Constantly telling readers that they should be feeling suspense is not the way to build suspense.
Then suddenly, about seventy pages before the end, everything changes. The reader abruptly finds herself in the middle of a swashbuckling adventure with lots of action, much of which apparently has something to do with an earlier book in the series. Emblematic of this change is that all of a sudden Matthew isn’t Baron Graystock anymore, he’s Baron Cavendish (somebody really should have caught this). By this time I was so bored with the characters that I was uninterested in the outcome.
Bride of Hearts is quite historically detailed and seems accurate, and if you enjoy stories about the Elizabethan court you may find it fascinating. I liked that part of it, and the details about the civil war going on in France at that time were also interesting. I enjoy complex plots, but I also like sympathetic heroes and a little excitement. Bride of Hearts didn’t give me either of those.