The Bride Wore Scarlet
Halfway through Liz Carlyle’s latest historical romance, The Bride Wore Scarlet, I put it down and went to reread the first book in The Fraternitas Trilogy, Ms. Carlyle’s latest slightly paranormal series. I enjoyed that book, One Touch of Scandal, but had forgotten its premise. I was glad I did — One Touch of Scandal is a fun tale and rereading it placed the plot and the characters in The Bride Wore Scarlet in context. One could read The Bride Wore Scarlet without having read One Touch of Scandal, but it wouldn’t be as meaningful.
I use that word deliberately. In this series Ms. Carlyle poses significant questions about destiny, fate, and responsibility. Her heroes and heroines struggle, at times painfully, to carve out lives — and loves — true to the tasks and talents life has bestowed upon them.
The hero in The Bride Wore Scarlet is Geoff, Lord Bessett — the son of the couple from an earlier Ms. Carlyle novel Three Little Secrets. Geoff, like the hero in One Touch of Scandal, has the gift of the Sight. The word gift, though, is a misnomer. It’s no gift to see the dangers about and the deaths to come of those around you. It’s a huge responsibility and requires enormous mental discipline. Geoff has that discipline, but it’s made him a chilly, almost remote man. The one thing he gives himself to is the work of the St. James Society (the fraternity of the series), an ancient group of Guardians whose mission is to protect those with the gift of the Sight, called the Vateis, typically women and children, from those who would exploit the Vateis’ abilities for evil ends. Additionally, Geoff, who has struggled with the burden of the Sight all his life, knows a child with the Sight must be trained to understand and successfully manage the gift. So, when the Society learns there is a young Vateis in Brussels whose Guardian has been murdered and who, with her mother, is virtually imprisoned by an iniquitous man (the rogue plans to use the girl’s gift to restore the French monarchy) Geoff volunteers to go to Brussels and convey the mother and daughter back to England.
Geoff needs a pretext to approach the faux family in Brussels — the villain, Lezennes, is a smart and wily man who has made it very difficult for anyone to speak to the girl (Giselle) or her mother (Charlotte Moreau). The perfect cover would be a wife, which Geoff most certainly does not have. However, before Geoff can begin the search for a suitable woman to pretend to be his bride, he and the rest of the Society are called to a sacred Fraternitas ritual: The initiation of a new Guardian.
The new Guardian — sponsored by Lord Lazenby, a secondary character who is quite intriguing – is not what Geoff or anyone other than Lord Lazenby expected. All the Guardians are male and the new acolyte is a young woman. This woman, Anais de Rohan — the daughter of the lovers from Ms. Carlyle’s No True Gentleman – has trained all her life to be a Guardian. She too has the Sight, although it comes to her through the Tarot and she denies its power. Since Anais was a child, her beloved grandmother, herself an exceptional Tarot reader, told Anais it is her destiny to become part of the Fraternitas and to fight against a great evil. (Her nonna also told her Anais would marry a man from Tuscany.) The St. James Society, however, is adamant that no woman may be inducted into the Fraternitas. A compromise is hammered out. Anais will accompany Geoff on his mission to Brussels, posing as his wife. Anais sees this as an entrée into the Society; Geoff and the other members see it as a way to fob off her ambitions.
Anais and Geoff are complex, flawed characters. Anais has allowed her grandmother’s vision of the future to limit the choices she makes. Despite longing for love and possibly a family, Anais can only see herself as successful if she’s a member of the Fraternitas. Geoff is restricted by his commitment to the Fraternitas and to the gift he bears. Both have so tamped down any hope of true connection with a lover that, when they find themselves irrevocably drawn toward each other, they believe that their time together must be limited, even meaningless. And they are drawn to one another. When they finally fall into each others’ arms, after an impassioned jousting match, they just about burn each other up. They find sex before they find love, and thus they value their intense physical connection for its own rewards. Anais isn’t a virgin and Geoff isn’t a rake. They come to their shared passion open-eyed about the rewards of desire and doubtful of the possibility of love. For each to give the other the gift of love is a mighty thing.
I truly enjoyed the love story between Anais and Geoff. I found the novel’s suspense plot less compelling. Initially, when Anais and Geoff are in Belgium, living across the square from Giselle, Charlotte, and Lezennes, the tension in the story is profound. The visions Anais and Geoff have about the young girl and her mother portend something truly awful. I worried for the safety of Anais, Geoff, Charlotte and Giselle. My worries were unnecessarily overwrought. In this tale, evil is dispatched and good triumphs without any great cost. Geoff’s and Anais’s gifts are minimally important in the resolution of the story and, given the pain those abilities have caused the two, I felt cheated on their — and my -behalf.
It’s a testament to Ms. Carlyle’s talent my disappointment with the suspense plot had little impact on how much I liked the book. Everything else in the book is well done. The secondary characters in this book, all of whom are in One Touch of Scandal, are captivating. I’m especially curious to see how Ms. Carlyle will resolve the lives of Lord Lazenby and Lady Anisha (the sister of the previous book’s hero). Ms. Carlyle has set up seemingly contradictory possibilities for Lazenby and Anisha, and I look forward to seeing how those contradictions are resolved in the third book in the trilogy, The Bride Wore Pearls.
Perhaps the thing I liked best about this book is the writing. Ms. Carlyle assumes the best about her readers. She never hammers a point home nor does she over explain her characters’ actions. She trusts her readers to be smart and paying attention. She achieves the goal of fiction workshop participants everywhere: She shows and doesn’t tell. I’ve read too many romances recently where I felt as though the author believed I was feebleminded and unable to think for myself. The Bride Wore Scarlet was a welcomed, pleasurable respite.