The Bride Fair
The Bride Fair is another of Cheryl Reavis’s historicals set in Salisbury, North Carolina, the first of which was her RITA-winning The Prisoner (she’s won three RITA’s, the other two for contemporary series titles). Both historicals revolve around Union soldiers who survived their stay in a Confederate prison.
The War is over, but the Occupation has just begun. Colonel Max Woodard returns to the South a survivor, a victor, and now a commander. He has a great deal of anger towards the town of Salisbury. The people there did nothing to temper the horrible conditions of the local prisoner-of-war camp, and now they are in his power. He may do with the locals as he likes. What that will entail, he is unsure of.
Maria Markham is also a survivor, and she has any number of heavy burdens without Colonel Woodard adding to them. Her fiancé and two brothers were lost in the war, and both her father and her best friend are ailing. Her family is encumbered with debt, so she has been billeting soldiers in order to pay her bills. Unfortunately, the last commander took a shine to her that she did not return, and, out of pique, he refused to render the money he owed to her. Oh, and she has one more little problem. She’s pregnant – and definitely not married.
Max and Maria meet when she obeys her father’s order to pick him up at the train station. She can barely bring herself to be civil to him, and as a result of her behavior, Max takes it in his head to annoy her whenever he has the opportunity. Knowing she will not like having him in her house, he insists that he stay there. He demands her presence and her opinions when he knows that she would like nothing better than to ignore him. However, in getting to know her, he begins to see that she has been wounded just as he has been and that she bears her burdens with proud resignation. He can’t help but respect her. Could love be far behind?
Reavis does an excellent job portraying how much damage has been done both to individuals and to the country because of the War. The book begins in 1868, and Salisbury has yet to recover financially. Few young men are left to marry, and so the town’s occupiers have the strange status of being in high demand by some and staunchly repudiated by others. Max’s suffering is largely over, though he has yet to recover fully from his imprisonment, either physically or mentally. But it is Maria’s burdens that truly illustrate the country’s tragedy. Her situation is quietly desperate and becoming more so, and none of it is her fault.
Both Max and Maria shoulder their difficulties with a dignified stoicism that is admirable. Neither of them gives into self-pity, and, though they both have regrets, they continue to soldier on. In some ways this book is reminiscent of Carla Kelly’s traditional regencies. Max and Maria’s lives have both been irrevocably affected by war, but neither of them has lost their soul to it.
The book has rather a somber feel to it because of the circumstances under which Max and Maria meet, but there are lighter touches. Maria often cares for her best friend’s boys, and they are little balls of energy moving at warp speed. Max also has a helpful sergeant major named Perkins who is capable of completing any duty, no matter how difficult. Perkins was fairly cheeky for an underling, and he reminded me a bit of Luster, the butler in Kelly’s One Good Turn.
The only problem this book had was that a couple of the scenes – the nightmare bedside visit and the sick vigil – had a very familiar ring to them. I’ve read other scenes very much like these several times recently, and they seem clichéd.
Cheryl Reavis is an author worthy of a little more publicity. Her books are well written with a unique voice, and she obviously has a great deal of respect for humanity because she draws her characters with such dignity. The Bride Fair is a good book about good people living in a very difficult time, and I do recommend it.
|Review Date:||April 17, 2002|