The Brazen Bride
If you’ve read the earlier books in the Black Cobra Quartet, you know the set-up: Four soldiers are making their way separately from India to England with irrefutable proof that a nobleman’s son is behind the Black Cobra cult currently wreaking devastation across the Indian subcontinent. You also know that the final act will consist of cameo appearances by members of Laurens’s ever-popular Cynster family, because she wants to remind us that she wrote the books about the Cynsters, and that some of them were very good books. This one, while an improvement over the previous book in the Black Cobra series, is still just more of the same.
Linnet Trevission has made a life for herself on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands of the coast of England. After the death of her beloved father, she has taken over the family lands and business concerns. She considers herself the caretaker for the island’s less fortunate, and often takes in children who, like herself, were orphaned due to accidents. Linnet does not want to marry, because marriage would force her to give up her power, and Linnet enjoys being in control of the world around her. Then Logan Monteith washes up in a cove near her home, and everything changes.
Shipwrecks are common along the rocky coast, but Logan is not the usual victim. Logan is a large, handsome man who, despite his severe injuries, exudes an eroticism that draws Linnet in immediately. Though she doesn’t wish to marry, Linnet is not above having physical relationships with men, and she feels a sensual connection with Logan. Logan comes to Linnet both physically and emotionally vulnerable. He has little memory of who he is and what has brought him to Linnet’s home and bed, and he’s badly wounded. The lack of memory is refreshing, because it places the focus more on the budding relationship between Logan and Linnet and less on the intercontinental chase (and constant references to cultists) that dragged down the two earlier books in the series. Logan is a blank slate, free of concern that the assassins of the Black Cobra are going to turn up at Linnet’s family home and attack.
Logan, however, wants more than a simple physical relationship, and the more he learns about Linnet, the more he loves her. Linnet has her own concerns though – how will Logan feel when his memory returns and he realizes that there’s a life that he’s missing? Life on Guernsey can be tough, and Logan is likely a man of means from a wealthy English family. He may love her now, but will he still love her when he remembers who he is and what he has?
Meanwhile, the evildoers of the Black Cobra, still reeling from the loss of some of their main operatives, are re-grouping in England. Their assassins have lost track of Logan Monteith, who is assumed dead after the shipwreck, so they let down their guard somewhat. They assume that the original document, the one that will incriminate them as the Englishmen behind the Black Cobra cult, is still out there, but they don’t seem to care quite as much as they did in the previous books. How can we make these villains, who condone rape and murder of innocent people, even more evil? Why, make them gay, and involved in a sexual relationship with each other, even though they are half-brothers! The scenes with villains Daniel and Alex involve heated discussions of evil doings, which apparently get them so excited that they have to start removing each others’ clothes. It may not have been Laurens’s intent to equate homosexuality with evil (and with incest), but it wasn’t a leap to read it this way, and it made me very uncomfortable.
I liked Linnet as a heroine. Her independence was refreshing (if a bit anachronistic), and she learns, through her relationship with Logan, that being in love doesn’t mean giving up who you are, as long as you’re in love with someone who appreciates who you are. Logan doesn’t want to change Linnet, he just wants to protect her and adore her. The love scenes get very heated, and occasionally feature metaphors that are questionable. I made specific note of a scene where Logan drives himself “into the weeping furnace of her sheath.” Weeping furnace? Really? I know there are only so many ways to describe the situation, but “weeping furnace” is not romantic or sexy. The amnesia device has certainly been done before, but Laurens makes good use of it.
The romantic plot is solid, but once the focus shifts from Linnet and Logan’s relationship to the Black Cobra intrigue, the story goes off the rails. Once Logan regains his memory, it’s back to England and back to being chased by cultists. Once again, the adventure is far-fetched, the heroism is unlikely, and the aforementioned sexual relationship between the half-brothers behind the cult is unsettling. And can we please let the Cynsters retire?
Stephanie Laurens is capable of making choices that are interesting and daring, and she’s enough of a marquee name to get away with unusual settings and way-out-there plots. I’ll read the final book in the Black Cobra Quartet, mainly because I want to follow the story through to the end, but after three books in the series, I know exactly what to expect. Plucky heroine, tough-and-tender hero who’s good with a sword, overwrought love scenes with disconcerting metaphors for the heroine’s ladybits, cultists! cultists! cultists! and a passel of Cynsters, waiting in the wings on their stallions, ready to swoop in and save the day. While The Brazen Bride was better than some of the other books in the series, it hardly reaches the heights of the author’s earlier works.