His Bonnie Bride
His Bonnie Bride, originally released in 1988 under the title Amber Flame, is a good read in many respects. The plot and characters are strong and likable for the most part – particularly the heroine – and it is a very absorbing tale. The fast pace of the story ensures that boredom never sets in and the conflict between the Scots and the English is well thought out. But the book suffers decidedly from its 1980s sensibilities, and for those bothered by a lack of definitive time setting, well, the English and French were fighting, so that narrows the field to what, several hundred years? This was Howell’s first book, and it shows.
Life along the Scottish borders wasn’t easy; the English and Scottish were sworn enemies and raids and battles were simply a way of life. The scene is set in the prologue, during which the marauding MacLagen clan engage in combat with the noble British Eldons. Tomboyish Storm Eldon, along with much of her family, are captured and held hostage by the MacLagans after her wicked step-mother, Lady Mary, leads them too close to the fighting because she enjoys watching the men do battle. Storm endears herself to her captors by helping heal the MacLagan leader’s shoulder wound despite the fact that their families are sworn enemies. Tavis MacLagan, son of the clan’s leader and a few years older than her, is impressed by what he sees. Storm quickly proves herself to have a will of steel and the fists to match as she keeps order amongst her band of ransomees.
We rejoin the story years later as Lord Eldon and the men from his and a neighbouring noble English family have left for the battle raging in France to help their king, and Storm is fending for herself against the scheming Lady Mary, who plots to marry her off to her illicit lover Sir Hugh Sedgeway in order to claim Storm’s well-protected dowry for themselves. Lady Mary, in the absence of her Lord, has been carrying on with everything in trousers and Sir Hugh, taking his cue from her, determines to trap Storm by raping her.
The much grown-up Tavis MacLagan rescues her and holds her hostage at the MacLagan family seat, and a tempestuous battle of wills between the lovely and brave Storm and the firece but proud Tavis begins. When no ransom is forthcoming from the avaricious Lady Mary, Storm is taken as a bedmate by Tavis, who is no longer able to hold off his amorous feelings. Storm, who is already falling for his charms, seeks to protect herself by hiding her love for her abductor, and Tavis, wounded by the betrayal of an earlier lover, is unable to overcome his conviction that all women are faithless. Storm, in her efforts to protect her heart, doesn’t make it easy for Tavis to claim his right as hostage keeper to her bed, and provides many amusing scenes as she uses the edge of her caustic tongue to put him in his place.
Storm also notices that Tavis’s own wicked stepmother, the young and beautiful Janet MacLagan, lusts madly for Tavis and does her best to worm her way into his affections, as does the mistress Tavis set aside, Katerine MacBroth, in order to pursue Storm. Nevertheless, Storm does her fighting best to keep her pride and dignity and soon endears herself yet again to much of the MacLagan clan. And the action doesn’t stop there as dangerous plots aplenty swirl around Storm and Tavis that could alter the balance of power in both families.
However, there are many disappointing facets that detract from what is otherwise a ripping good yarn. Storm is a highly enjoyable character, whose earthy yet caustic sense of humour sets her would-be lover on his ears and knocks the evil Sir Hugh down a peg or three. But Tavis worked less well for me. His increasing reluctance to declare his love for Storm, his refusal to acknowledge his feelings and his immaturity in letting her go are highly implausible despite the antagonism between the two principal families. The results of his behavior cause the two to be separated more than once so that by the time they truly are together there is little time to enjoy reading about them as a couple. My final impression of Tavis is good enough, but I came away believing that he truly did not deserve such a wonderful woman.
Another disturbing aspect to the book were the ubiquitous typos and the belabored effort to recreate a realistic Scottish accent, which led to many baffling and utterly incomprehensible sentences. There were so many typos in my commercially available copy of the book that I constantly tripped over them. Mistakes were numerous enough to severely knock the book in my opinion, even though the author cannot be held responsible.
Finally, the two-dimensional portrayal of Lady Mary Eldon and evil sidekick Sir Hugh did not add to the plausibility of the plot. With all the time Lady Mary spent orgying amongst knights and soldiers you’d imagine she had little time left for scheming and plotting, and so casual is she about murder that I got bored of her threats to seduce and then do away with her many male pawns. And while she was off being super-baddie, Storm made so many implausible rescues and saved so many lives that they also lost their ability to thrill.
Readers who can’t get enough of Scottish historicals may be able to set aside these problems because with all its faults, His Bonnie Bride has entertainment value. Those looking for a quick and absorbing read featuring a terrific heroine could do worse.