The Bride Hunt
I discovered Margo Maguire last year when I read her two Victorian-set historicals. I enjoyed them enough to search for her backlist, but she wrote for Harlequin, which has notoriously low print runs, and so have had difficulty finding them. The Bride Hunt, a very good Beauty and the Beast story, is her first book with Avon. Here’s hoping that the relationship affords her better exposure, for I feel she deserves it.
Eight years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror is building castles and shoring up his defenses in Northumberland along the Scottish border, while readying for battle with King Malcolm. Marauding Scots raiding parties descend upon one uncompleted castle, killing many and carrying away still more to sell as slaves. Among the latter group is the baron’s daughter Lady Isabel Louvet and one of her suitors, Sir Roger. Anvrai d’Arques, a guest at the castle and a fierce, frightening warrior, takes off in pursuit, but ends up being overpowered and captured himself.
A week later, and deep into Scottish territory, Isabel is sold to a village chieftain. As he begins to rape her, she manages to kill him, setting the cottage afire in the process. In the ensuing commotion Anvrai, who has been beaten and staked to the ground, is able to free himself. He, Isabel, and Sir Roger flee and begin a perilous journey back to England. All three are injured and, when a safe distance away from village, they take refuge in a deceased hermit’s cave for several days to regain their strength before continuing on.
While a gentle and accomplished convent-raised lady, Isabel proves herself to be unexpectedly tough and resourceful. Roger seemed the perfect suitor before the abduction, but Isabel is changing through her experiences and now she’s not sure if the gentle, sweet – dare she say helpless and whiney? – Sir Roger is quite so perfect for her after all. Could she actually be better suited for the rough and ugly Anvrai – he of the big, tough, and gorgeous body?
Anvrai is a big and ugly man. His face was severely scarred and he lost an eye when his entire family was killed in a raid. Though he was only eight years old, he feels he failed to keep his mother and sister safe, as his father commanded him to, and has since been loath to be responsible for anybody but himself. He is not happy that being with Isabel is gradually bringing out his protector and caregiver side. He is used to being shunned by women who recoil in revulsion when they see him, as Isabel did occasionally in the beginning, though she was always unfailingly kind and grateful to him.
Maguire does a nice job of describing Isabel and Anvrai’s physical attraction to the other. The inventory each character makes of the other’s attributes is described in loving detail, and Isabel’s perusal of Anvrai as he is bathing in a stream is particularly satisfying both to her and this reader. However, Anvrai occasionally descends into the more pedestrian “lust-think” – which gets old.
The gradual change from lust to love is especially well done. Isabel in particular changes so much during the journey that all her assumptions about herself and what she wants are turned upside down. Falling in love with a landless knight is now not at all implausible, but simply an extension of her growth and new awareness of herself and who she really is. I liked Isabel a lot. However, Anvrai fights love tooth and nail, knowing he has nothing to offer a baron’s daughter. It is Anvrai’s stubborn refusal to even consider a life with Isabel – even after they have made love – that was my only real problem with the book, though Anvrai manages to remain a sympathetic character. He is such a competent, capable man, but has such low self-worth where women are concerned that you can’t but root for him.
This is an exciting story, filled with dangerous episodes and many hardships as Anvrai and Isabel, along with the whiney Roger and another couple of strays they pick up along the way, try to evade recapture on the perilous journey home. Maguire has an excellent grasp of the time period and the “medieval feel” felt right. If you are a medieval fan who appreciates road romances, I heartily recommend picking up The Bride Hunt.