His Rebel Bride
Shelley Bradley’s His Rebel Bride has one of my least favorite plotlines: the hero uses his position of power to to force the unwilling heroine to marry him. Despite some anachronisms, the book was mostly a pretty good read, which enabled me to overcome my prejudices; and at one point my grade rose to a solid B. However, the ending seemed contrived and came somewhat out of the blue, so I finally decided the book deserves the lower grade.
Kieran Broderick is a knight who knows little else than battle. He was recently made the earl of Kildare. King Henry VII orders him to travel to the castle of Langmore in Ireland, to marry one of O’Shea daughters and to subdue the local rebellion if possible. He is not overjoyed, as his Irish father and English mother had a very unhappy marriage, but he’s got no choice. Only after he sires a child may he return to England if he pleases.
Maeve O’Shea is an Irishwoman who is betrothed to a local man called Quaid, currently rotting in an English dungeon. She’s bookish and walks around the castle wearing wooden spectacles, holding a candle in one hand and a book in another.
(Honestly! In the turmoil of a rebellion in 1490, what are the odds of an Irishwoman being able to read? What are the odds of her being able to afford books? Printed books were a newfangled invention, and hand-copied ones would have cost even more, and some of those volumes weren’t handy-sized paperbacks one would casually carry around either. Even if the family did own books, would Ovid’s erotic poetry in an English translation be the obvious choice? The first eyewear we’d recognize as spectacles were probably made in Italy in late 13th century but they weren’t common in Ireland in Maeve’s time – a Spectacle Makers Company was formed in England in 1629 – and the frames were usually made of metal, bone or even leather.)
Anyway, Kieran considers her surprisingly attractive, although he has never been attracted to learned, bookish women. The odds of his ever having encountered another woman like Maeve must be slim to none. Maeve aids the rebellion in small ways but campaigns for peaceful solutions and negotiations instead of battle. She dislikes the idea of marrying a bloodthirsty English knight who represents the enemy.
Soon they are man and wife and Kieran starts his ceaseless attempts to get her in his bed. Although she declares he cannot force her to desire him, she always melts into a puddle at his feet when he kisses her, touches her or merely bares his rippling muscles. This tends to irritate me whenever I encounter it, but after breaching the barrier between them (no, I don’t mean her maidenhead) they have some satisfying scenes together and Maeve starts to see traces of compassion in Kieran. However, the happiness is not to last for long, as there are ample reasons for conflict and separation between them.
The ending provides some action, but was such a disappointment that it made me grade the book down. At the beginning of the book, the reader feelsl that all the opponents in the political strife have some justification for their actions. In the end of the book, the Irish rebels are mad and evil, and they intend to perpetrate a horrifying and puzzling plot. I couldn’t understand how their plan would further the cause of freeing Ireland at all – it just seemed designed to make Kieran the unequivocal good guy. This makes Maeve’s difficult choice between her English husband and her Irish people easier – too easy.
His Rebel Bride is the conclusion of Bradley’s Brothers In Arms trilogy, and suffers from a certain amount of sequelitis. Readers who loved the previous novels will no doubt be pleased to know that Kieran’s blood brothers Aric and Drake make many appearances in the book and are very happy in their marriages; that Averyl is pregnant with her third child; and that after many years of waiting in vain, Gwyneth finally gave birth to a baby called Blythe. As His Rebel Bride was my first glimpse at their lives I couldn’t help feeling that it was gossip that I didn’t need to know about strangers that I didn’t care about.
Despite its flaws, His Rebel Bride has some good moments and shows definite promise. The prose flows smoothly, and Kieran and Maeve have great chemistry between them when they’re not sulking. If not for the unlikely details the grade would have been a lot better, and I’m sure there are readers who will enjoy this book more than I did.