I am not usually one for medieval romances, so I was shocked when I liked Roger’s Bride as much as I did. Kathryn of Mandeville is the daughter of an abusive tyrant and has vowed never to marry so she will not be controlled by a man ever again. She knows that her family needs an alliance with Anglesea, so she works hard to arrange the marriage between its heir Roger and her younger sister, Mathilda. Plans go awry when the sister runs off on the eve of the wedding and Roger and Kathryn go on a hunt for her. Well, Roger thinks he’s going alone, but Kathryn is not one for waiting around while there are adventures to be had and justice to be won. What follows is a delightful tale of choices, identity, and family.
Kathryn of Mandeville has always wanted to be a knight. Well, not a knight as she knows she can’t due to being a woman and all, but essentially she wants to use the skills she has learned over the years. She’s excellent on a horse, pretty good with a sword, and is working on her jousting. After spending years as the protector of her mother and sister (against her father), the idea of abandoning either one of them is abhorrent. The best thing she can do for Mathilda is make sure she’s married to a good man and so that is what she tries to do. When Mathilda meets Roger of Anglesea she is not convinced, but Kathryn does her best to persuade her. She thinks Roger is stern, sure, but also strong, kind, and trustworthy.
For his part, Roger is fine with the choice of Mathilda as a bride. She fits his wifely requirements, but there is something about her sister he finds intriguing that he can’t quite put his finger on. When Mathilda runs off before the wedding Roger sets off to find her. Kathryn insists on coming along, but Roger being both a man of honor and a man of his time, informs her that it’s too dangerous for a woman. I could practically feel Kathryn roll her eyes at his pronouncement, which she fought with the logic of her knowledge of her sister’s personality. Surely if you take me, Kathryn reasons, we’ll find her faster as I know where she could be and you have no clue. Roger declines and commands her to stay put. Kathryn decides to ignore his command and instead sneaks after him, following him for about three days.
When they finally meet up in the woods, Roger is both impressed and pissed off. They do, for the record, find Mathilda – in her husband’s house. That’s right, y’all, the girl got married behind everyone’s backs! You can see why marrying Roger would be problematic for her. However, her choice of husband tells us a lot about Mathilda – he’s a farmer. Mathilda is a lady who has never worked a day in her life and from the brief encounter we see between the sisters, this is not a love match. Instead, it shows Mathilda to be selfish and mercurial, chasing after whatever gives her ultimate pleasure in that moment, with little forethought to consequence. This trait will weave throughout the rest of the story whenever Mathilda is involved.
Back to Roger and Kathryn. They’ve now been traveling alone (scandal!) and Roger has still been promised a Mandeville bride. Combine those two factors and Kathryn is heading down the aisle, but only after she negotiates safety for her mother.
We’re about halfway through the book at this point and it’s clear that both Kathryn and Roger are besotted with each other. However, they’re both such duty-focused people that they haven’t admitted it to themselves, much less each other. The process to get them from that place to their true happily ever after is both twisty and lovely. There’s more plot machinations to deal with as well, including perceptions of domestic violence in medieval England and a lot of reminders that neither the Reformation nor the Enlightenment has happened yet. (An aside; every time I think it might be fun to live in a castle, I read one of these books and imagine England without any insulation and with stone toilets and I bless the Lord that I was born in the 20th century.)
I’ve read the previous works in this series, which are all standalones, and I feel Ms. Hegger is getting better with each book. The writing sparkles, the dialogue is witty, and everything feels historically appropriate to this novice, armchair historian. If you’re looking for a non-Regency historical, I’d give this one a go.