Sarah Gabriel’s debut novel, Stealing Sophie, features a couple who marry for the wrong reasons and try to make it work. The story is unique and fresh, and has some well-written scenes, but there are pitfalls along the way.
Conner MacPherson is a man of honor. So when he makes what he thinks is a deathbed promise to marry the sister of a friend, he goes through with it no matter what – even if that promise means stealing a bride. Aside from his honor and title, Conner does not have much left. Stripped of his lands and money for his Jacobite beliefs, he now lives in his friend’s abandoned haunted castle and makes his living stealing cattle and causing trouble.
Sophie MacCarran is a gently bred lady who was raised in a nunnery. She has been sent home to honor her family’s agreement to marry. She is not excited by the prospect and knows that if she does not marry for love she will lose the true gift of her fairy magic. The fairy magic is what keeps her happy. She knows if she loses her ability to make things grow, she would lose one of her great loves, gardening.
The book gets off to an exciting start. Conner and his rebel brethren destroy a bridge and steal a bride. He gets her drunk and marries her at the family’s home church in their tradition. They trek up a mountain to her family’s abandoned castle, where the marriage is consummated. At least, they think so, since they were both too drunk to remember. If that is not enough of a thrilling start, Conner realizes the next morning that he has married the wrong sister. All of this excitement made for an interesting first third of the book.
Next came what felt like endless pages of back story and political bantering. After that action-packed beginning, this is a major slump, one that took three days to slog through. Sophie’s magic is explained and the reader learns what really happened to Connor’s family, as well as the story behind the haunting of Castle MacCarran. Sophie spends most of this section killing Conner with kindness. She starts a garden, gets to know the animals, and settles in to a life she is unsure she wants. Conner spends a goodly amount of the time away, making trouble for the English and trying to find out what has happened to Sophie’s brother. He also tries to determine what to do to rectify his marriage to the wrong sister, all the while dreaming about having the slow life of a farmer.
The book’s latter third picks up speed as all mysteries are solved and issues resolved between the couple. After the slow middle section, this final section feels rushed and everything is tied up a little too neatly.
Stealing Sophie had its moments, but suffered from the dreaded sagging middle. The author threw too much into her story, which would have flowed better if the reader did not have to contend with fairy magic, a haunted house, and a Big Misunderstanding. One or two of these things would have made for nice story. Gabriel has talent, writes well, and creates some wonderful tension in her novel. But her pacing needs a lot of refinement. Let’s hope she gets it better next time.