Kissing the Bride
Since I am normally a fan of Medievals and the tumultuous period immediately following the Norman Conquest has always been a favorite of mine, I was excited about reading Sara Bennett’s latest romance. Unfortunately, while Bennett is generally a very good wordsmith, her main characters never quite came alive for me, ultimately resulting in a rather average book.
The bride of the title is the widowed Lady Jenova of Gunlinghorn. At the start of the story, she summons her childhood friend Lord Henry of Montevoy to visit her. When he arrives, she announces that she intends to marry again and that she has fixed upon Alfric, the son of the neighboring Baldessare family. Though Henry has no romantic ties to Jenova, he finds himself upset at her news. Though his distress is caused in part because he has no love of the Baldessares, he also fears there is something else to it as well.
Deserted as a young child when his mother entered a religious order, Henry spent his childhood passed from relative to relative. Now that he is grown, he serves King William and desires no other life than the one he has crafted at Court and, though he considers Jenova a friend, he has no wish to marry anyone. However, one snowy evening, Henry finds himself taking refuge with Jenova in a ruined tower. From there, he begins to kiss her and they find their friendship rapidly changing.
Much of this book centers around Henry and Jenova trying to figure out how each fits into the other’s life. After all, Jenova still has to decide whether or not to marry Alfric, and Henry has no wish to marry at all. In addition to enjoying his London life, he fears that secrets from his past will keep him and Jenova apart.
Though there is certainly a great deal of internal and external action, the story never really comes alive. Part of this is due to Jenova. While reading this book, I had to keep searching the text to help me recall her name – not a sign of a compelling heroine – and, even though there is certainly plenty of sex and conflict, there are few scenes in which the reader can determine what sort of person Jenova really is. Henry is a fairly interesting and somewhat tortured hero in spite of his Duke of Slut past, but Jenova often seems bland. In contrast, the secondary romance blossoming throughout the second half of the book features two characters who become more well-defined and engaging each time they made an appearance.
It was also hard to feel absorbed in the story due to the fact that the Medieval setting was largely of the wallpaper variety. While the king and the recent Norman Invasion are periodically mentioned, it is hard to tell exactly what is happening historically as this story unfolds. Wallpaper romances are not bad by definition in my opinion, but they just do not work as well when they are set in times of major tumult. Having a wallpaper-style romance set against the turbulent reign of William the Conqueror would be somewhat akin to writing a book set in the American South of 1865-77 and neglecting to address Reconstruction.
There are also a few jarring instances where it almost seems as though elements of a Regency Historical found their way into this Medieval tale. For example, Baldessare’s daughter laments the fact that she never had a season in London and Henry, a Medieval lord, is described as living in his lodgings in London and cavorting with aristocratic mistresses in a way that would do any Regency Duke of Slut proud. While not hideous anachronisms, these sorts of instances pull one right out of the story.
Bennett does an excellent job of maintaining tension in this rather gothic tale of dark secrets and violence that grows ever darker as the tale progresses. One of her villains is purely evil and this darkness is rather well-rendered. Things get a little too melodramatic at times, but the suspenseful back story is handled skillfully for the most part and Bennett’s writing here is vivid indeed. Unfortunately, that quality does not fully extend itself to the main couple in the story.
While decidedly not a contender for my keeper shelf, this romance does have its pleasant moments. Fans of Bennett may welcome this addition to her series, however, since the various books in her series stand alone well, I would recommend The Rose and the Shield to new readers rather than Kissing the Bride.