The Bride Thief
“Who was that masked man?” A dashing nobleman doing good for the populace while hiding his true identity behind a mask – what a romantic theme! In Jacquie D’Alessandro’s latest effort, Zorro meets Beau Brummell, but with decidedly mixed results.
Having witnessed his parents’ unhappy union, and burdened with the knowledge of his sister’s miserable marriage, Eric Landsdowne, Earl of Wesley, dons a mask and adopts the persona of the Bride Thief. Whenever he hears of a young lady on the brink of being forced into a marriage against her will, Eric suits up, rides off, and swoops the girl away, providing her with a ticket out of England and enough cash so that she can start her life over. His latest damsel in distress is Miss Samantha Briggeham, but there’s a catch: Sammie is quite capable of saving herself, thank you very much.
Sammie is determined never to marry, but instead to devote her life to scientific studies and running a small laboratory with her brother Hubert. Her scheming mother has engineered a match between Sammie and a stuffy, older man, so the intrepid miss hies off to his house and convinces him that they would never suit. On her way home, she’s snatched up by the notorious Bride Thief and has to convince him that she’s already taken care of the problem. Dismayed at the mix-up, but captivated by this independent woman, the Bride Thief gets her to confess (before he brings her safely home) to her dreams of a grand adventure. Eric tells himself that he has got to know this young lady better, and setting aside his disguise he does just that.
Unfortunately for the earl, the Bride Thief has ticked off enough families that they band together to form a “Bride Thief Posse” and offer a huge reward for the brigand’s capture. Will Eric evade the Posse? Will he ever confess to Samantha that he is the Bride Thief? Will Samantha be able to resist the growing attraction she feels for Lord Wesley?
This book was an uneven read. The beginning managed to capture my attention, and I liked the hero well enough. Eric’s motivation for assuming his Bride Thief disguise is crystal clear and believable, and there’s an element of humor in the fact that, as Sammie talks to him of the Bride Thief, he becomes jealous of himself. I was not as drawn to Samantha, who struck me at times as typifying the romance cliché of Brainy Heroine Acting Brainlessly, especially when she attempts to stand in for the Bride Thief on a rescue. In addition, her ideas about women’s freedoms and independence came across as closer to twentieth-century ideas than nineteenth-century. When she talked about “a woman’s choice,” I felt as if I were reading a press release from the National Organization for Women.
The middle of the book barely held my attention: too much “think, think” and not enough “act, act,” paragraphs and pages of introspection with nothing happening. The end picked up, though, enough for me to overlook a pattern of grammatical errors (it’s “between him and me,” not “between he and I,” and the plural possessive of Briggeham is “Briggehams’,” not “Briggeham’s”). A couple of the secondary characters are engaging – Samantha’s brother Hubert and Eric’s sister Margaret are standout examples – but for the most part everybody else is straight out of Central Casting.
While I wasn’t bowled over by The Bride Thief, I did come away feeling that D’Alessandro is an author I’d like to read again, and her good grades here at AAR are encouraging. Still, the next time I want a story about a swashbuckling, masked hero, I think I’ll rent The Mark of Zorro.