The Dragon's Bride
I didn’t like The Dragon’s Bride, Jo Beverley’s latest, as much as I’d expected to based on her earlier books – Secrets of the Night is one of my favorite romances. Although I liked the hero, the heroine, the setting, and the plot, I was plagued by a nagging sense of disbelief as regards the romance.
When they were fifteen years old, Susan Kerslake and Con Somerford knew each other for a fortnight, during which time they fell passionately, permanently in love. They had one fumbled, innocent consummation before Susan did something that broke both their hearts.
Now eleven years have passed. Susan is a resigned and somewhat bitter spinster. Con has spent the past eleven years at war, and is battle-scarred and hardened. He has unexpectedly inherited the Earldom of Wyvern on the southern coast of England, a part of the country – as he knows well – where smugglers have been active for generations. Con comes to take possession of his truly strange house, Crag Wyvern, where he discovers that Susan is acting as a housekeeper. Susan’s position in the house has nothing to do with her need for an independent income, as she claims; she and her brother are both neck-deep in the smuggling activities of the area, and Crag Wyvern has long been the post from which she has facilitated matters.
Susan and Con are immediately wracked with longing, anger, guilt, lust, and so on. For the past eleven years, their mutual past has driven their most important decisions, and now that they see each other again they’re both caught up in old feelings and old betrayals. For the life of me, I could not get caught up in those feelings myself. This is where the book failed for me – the author can tell me on every page that these characters are in love, but I just didn’t believe it.
I think that much of the problem is the events of eleven years ago were conveyed entirely in flashbacks. Beverley tells us, rather than shows us, that the teenaged Con and Susan were soul-mates, and that they had the kind of connection that lasts forever. Because that original relationship was never portrayed (except in the memories of the characters as adults), the betrayal of it didn’t seem like such a big deal. And the entire plot of the book hinges on the fact that the betrayal was a very big deal indeed.
Maybe it’s because they only spent two weeks together when they were fifteen. Maybe it’s because they only spend three days together in the present. Maybe I just can’t believe that the love of one’s life at fifteen is still going to be the love of one’s life at twenty-six, or that one stupid mistake made at age fifteen would have this kind of permanent effect on people’s lives. The events that drive them didn’t seem powerful enough to do that, and I didn’t understand why they hadn’t gotten over it, forgiven each other, and forgiven themselves.
These are two very complex and interesting characters. I enjoyed the fact that Susan is not a shy maiden – she’s strong and brave, and those traits have lent her an admirable self-command while at the same time leading her to do things she regrets. Con is a deeply honorable man, haunted by demons of the war. It’s a pleasure to spend time in their company. There’s also lots of fun goings on in the bizarre Crag Wyvern, and some interesting twists and turns in the plot.
Con is one of the Company of Rogues, and a couple of his Roguish friends turn up in this book. Also, the hero of Beverley’s novella from the anthology In Praise of Younger Men makes an appearance as well. If you’re keeping track of these series, you might find The Dragon’s Bride to be an essential chapter.
Jo Beverley is an author who has earned her devoted fan base. I’ve read other books by her in which I was able to suspend my disbelief and wholeheartedly root for the characters, unlikely as their circumstances seemed; that didn’t happen this time. Much as I enjoyed the complex characters and interesting plot, for me, The Dragon’s Bride is a romance that almost worked – but didn’t. Not quite.