His Lady Bride

His Stolen Bride

One Wicked Night

 
His Rebel Bride by Shelley Bradley
(Zebra Ballad, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-6790-9
*****
Following His Lady Bride and His Stolen Bride, the final book in Bradley's "Brothers in Arms" trilogy transports us back to medieval Ireland during the reign of Henry VII. Struggling to gain independence from England, the Irish setting is used to its best advantage to tell the story of how a man and a woman divided by ideology and politics manage to come together despite the odds and fall in love.

Kieran Broderick is named the earl of Kildare by King Henry, but it is a title he does not want and for good reason. Kieran has not ventured to Ireland since his mother stole him away from the country in his youth and he has no desire to go back to it now and relive the old, vanquished memories.

Nevertheless, a royal decree is a royal decree, so Kieran must set out for Ireland whether he wants to or not. His friend Aric, however, manages to finagle a compromise out of the king so that Kieran won't be forced to remain in Ireland indefinitely. The compromise is a seemingly simple one: Kieran must choose a wife from one of the O'Shea sisters living at Langmore Castle, get her with an heir, remove the child from her custody, and return with him to England to rear him with English values.

Having no choice in the matter other than to remain at Langmore Castle forever, the new earl of Kildare sets off for Ireland fully intending to carry the compromise through to the letter and return to England as soon as possible. Not only does Kieran harbor no desire to remain in his birthland, but he also believes it will be impossible to form a sound marriage with an O'Shea sister any way. After all, the sole reason the king specified that his bride must be an O'Shea in the first place is because all of the O'Shea family members are staunch supporters of the Irish rebellion that seek to overthrow English rule.

And so Kieran arrives in Ireland, reminding himself that he won't have to remain here any longer than a year. Just enough time to choose a sister, wed her, bed her, and get her with his heir. All of that reminding does him no good at all, however, once he lays eyes on Maeve O'Shea, the sister he chooses as his bride. Maeve might be a supporter of the Irish rebellion, but there is something about her that he can't seem to get out of his system.

Worse yet, at least to Kieran's way of thinking, is the fact that the more he gets to know his wife the more he genuinely likes her. Pretty soon his biggest fear is losing his heart to a woman whose politics and beliefs are destined to make them enemies.

Shelley Bradley does a commendable job of portraying Kieran and Maeve's disparate viewpoints and why they both feel so strongly about their belief systems. Kieran is sworn to the English king in an age when a man's word is his very honor, while Maeve detests English tyranny because of the rape and plundering that has gone hand-in-hand with it. I've read other romances where the author employs the "born to be enemies" scenario, but this is the first one I've read where the author actually pulls it off without making the heroine come across as an exasperating shrew.

Ordinarily I prefer romances where the hero and heroine both realize their feelings for the other early on and spend the remainder of the book cementing those feelings in one form or another. Such a plot device, however, would feel too unrealistic in His Rebel Bride and Bradley is wise not to use it. Yes, the hero and heroine are mutually attracted to each other from the beginning, but their feelings of genuine attachment happen in baby steps throughout the novel and are borne of thoughtful gestures here and kind actions there. Because of that fact, Kieran and Maeve's romance is a convincing one.

Aside from the well-scripted romance, what brings this novel into 5 heart status for me is the complexity of the protagonists themselves. On the surface Kieran seems to be nothing more than a charming ladies man with a grin that kills, but underneath all of his bluster lies a loyal, steadfast man who has experienced much emotional neglect and abuse in his childhood and therefore doesn't really think he'll ever find somebody capable of loving him for himself.

On the surface Maeve is a woman who appears to be stoic and unemotional, but underneath the determined face she wears for everyone is a tenderhearted woman who has grown weary of the bloodshed that has been the direct result of England and Ireland's clash of wills. She is also a woman who is being torn apart, forced to choose between the country and kin she has always known and loved and the husband she is growing increasingly adoring of.

His Rebel Bride is not perfect. There is a plot device used toward the end that seems a trifle too convenient, but it's not so outlandish as to distract from the novel as a whole. Viewed in its entirety, Shelley Bradley has taken a subject matter that is very difficult to convincingly work with and crafted it into a winning novel. Because of all the odds and obstacles the couple must face before finding their happily ever-after, Kieran and Maeve's love story is a powerful one and one that will stay with you long after you close the book.

--Tina Engler


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