The Lily and the Sword

The Rose and the Shield

Kissing the Bride by Sara Bennett
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-058433-5
Anguish, pure and simple. I cannot describe this reading experience in any other way. I love to read and I generally read fast. It has taken me over a month to read this tale, and I was able to finish four other books in the meantime. I dreaded picking up this book and only finished it because I had to write the review. Kissing the Bride is a tale to skip.

Set in 1075, Lord Henry of Montevoy is a confidant of the King and one of those Lotharios at court who has mistresses galore and swears he will never marry. One of his oldest friends is Lady Jenova of Gunlinghorn, a widow who now controls her estate, raising her young son. Jenova is thinking of marrying a neighbor, but wants Henry’s advice. The neighbor is a weak-kneed son of a powerful Lord. The marriage between Alfric and Jenova would join their lands, yet Jenova could easily manage Alfric, or so she thinks. His father, Lord Baldessare, sees the marriage as his way to gain control of Jenova’s rich lands. Baldessare is a mean man who controls with threats, beatings and terror. Both Alfric and his sister Rhona are afraid of him and are pawns in his plans.

There is another player in these machinations. Baldessare’s priest is also cruel and seems to be encouraging the marriage. Father Jean-Paul is hideously scarred from a fire and uses his face to scare others into doing his evil deeds. And he holds a secret.

Henry is hiding secrets too. As a youth, he did some things he is not proud of, things he is certain will cause him scandal and that he fears will cause Jenova to turn from him. As these secrets are not revealed until the final 30 pages, I will say no more, except to state that these secrets are the thread that the entire tale is based on. And the fact that they are held onto until the final thirty pages makes the wait seem interminable.

The difficult part of reading this story is the pacing and the lack of action throughout the bulk of the book. Henry arrives at Gunlinghorn and he and Jenova succumb to a fit of lust. This changes their entire relationship and now they are lovers. Yet Jenova is semi-engaged to Alfric. So she breaks off the engagement, causing Baldessare to be angry. They spend the next 200 pages debating whether Jenova did the right thing, whether Henry can ever love her, and waiting for Baldessare to act. Meanwhile there is innuendo that Henry’s secret is known by Baldessare, causing him angst.

Frankly, Jenova is a bit of a non-entity, supposedly being strong enough to run her own castle, yet fretting because she doesn’t think Henry will love her enough to stay. And she whines about her previous husband, who apparently was a cad. Because of the pacing, Jenova never really fully develops into the lady that it is inferred she can be.

Henry is more defined, but he appears weak because he is so afraid of his past. He stays at Gunlinghorn because he is too enamored of Jenova and too soft to suck it up and take control. At the end when Jenova finally concludes she loves him and he loves her and details all the actions he took to prove it to her, I was astonished. I never guessed acting like such a wimp for 200 pages could be construed in such a heroic way.

There are sub plots and the obligatory romance between Henry’s vassal and Lady Rhona. This is almost sickeningly sweet and totally uncharacteristic for the way these two were portrayed at the start. Happy endings and new beginnings are one thing, but the entire cast making a major transformation in the end just seemed too good to be true.

Kissing The Bride had the potential to be a seductive, tight drama but instead it plods along and in the end, was nothing more than a lengthy tale that is better left on the shelf.

--Shirley Lyons

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