The Unwilling Bride
This book gave me a terrible feeling: that I’ve become completely jaded as a romance reader. The Unwilling Bride is a Medieval – one of my favorite subgenres – and it’s about two people betrothed as children, but separated ever since, finally marrying – a plot I really enjoy. So why did this book almost fly across the room a few times? Read on.
Lady Constance was promised to Lord Merrick, son of the William of Tregallas, when both were children. Merrick was fostered to another lord, and they haven’t seen each other in years. Now William is dead and his son has come home to claim his lands and his bride. Constance is not eagerly awaiting him. After the betrothal, she was sent to live at Tregallas and suffered greatly under the mad, bad Wicked William. It fell to her to manage the keep and run the lands and prevent open rebellion from breaking out among the local Cornish tin smugglers who resent the English taxes. Constance fears Merrick, whom she remembers as a spoiled brat, will be just like his father, and she plans to get him to break off the betrothal by being a shrew whenever he comes near.
But she doesn’t account for Merrick being determined to marry her, and far more gentlemanly than she expected. He actually asks her if she wants to marry him, and promises not to force her. Slowly Constance comes to see that he’s a decent man, not like his father, and he stirs such lusty feelings in her, she can’t help but consent to be his wife.
Merrick is a man of mystery. He has a secret he’s told no one, a secret that could cost him everything. He’s lived by his sword for fifteen years, keeping mostly to himself and biding his time, and his silence. He comes to Tregallas with only two friends, Henry and Ranaulf, and sets to establishing himself as the master. It’s not easy, after the wariness and fear inspired by his father, but Merrick is a man of honor and a forceful leader. He works hard to win them over, especially Constance, whom he remembers with great affection and whom he’s been waiting an agonizingly long time to claim.
Let’s start with Constance. She’s unwilling at first – and then she’s not, but instead becomes unfeeling and unthinking. Merrick has sworn up and down that he will be faithful to her, that he will do his best to defend and protect all the people of Tregallas, and that he will be fair and honorable in everything he does. Constance doesn’t really believe him, because his father was such a beast. How is it possible a man like Wicked William could sire a half-way decent son? Yet Merrick is true to his word. Not only does he practically worship at Constance’s feet, he listens to her, he asks her advice, and he constantly tells her he wants to make her happy. So naturally, as soon as he does something without consulting her, something she doesn’t agree with, she flies into a snit. Tell me why, she demands; I promised to tell no one, he replies, not even you. Does Constance, who expects him to respect her word of honor, respect his? No. He must not care about her at all, he’s just like his father, he clearly doesn’t respect a woman’s mind and a woman’s honor and a woman’s right to know every blessed thing she wants to know!
Constance is the sort of heroine who makes me want to scream. She keeps many secrets, yet expects Merrick to tell her everything. She shoots off her mouth to visiting nobles and gets all huffy when Merrick points out that her words might be construed as treasonous, not because she thinks he’s wrong, but because he has the nerve to call her on it. One slightly questionable act on his part completely cancels all the honest, decent things he’s done. Not only should he consult her on everything she cares about, he should take her advice. And if he doesn’t, he clearly doesn’t love her and she begins thinking of ways to break the betrothal or annul the marriage. This is even after he turns out to be right and she turns out to be wrong a few times. Can we say “high maintenance?”
Merrick’s great secret was obvious to me by page 70. The resolution to its consequences is quite and made everything lovely for everyone. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that it causes Merrick a great deal of angst and worry that he’s not worthy of Constance. Aside from some very enlightened (for a Medieval noble maiden) tricks in the sack, she doesn’t really do much for him. He was a perfectly fine hero; couldn’t he have done better than her?
With no suspense, characters straight from Central Medieval Casting (the Scheming Uncle, the Blossoming Virginal Friend-of-Heroine, and the Bickering but Loyal to Death Friends-of-Hero), and a heroine who really needed a swift kick in the pants, all this book has going for it is a poor decent hero, unfairly saddled with a mediocre story.