The Border Bride by Elizabeth English
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-13154-7
***
The Border Bride is a story that is very familiar…the son of a Scottish laird and the daughter of an English lord are forced to wed to end the feud that has been raging for years.

Jemmy Kirallen fled life in his clan to explore the world by sea, returning only because his father sent for him when the family enemy, Lord Darnley, killed the eldest son, Ian. Upon his return, Jemmy’s father orders him to bring peace and an end to the feud by marrying Darnley’s daughter.

Lord Darnley has other plans. Although he has vowed to allow his daughter to wed Jemmy, he did not say which daughter. Alyson Bowden, an illegitimate daughter, is coerced into acting the part of her half-sister, Maude. Lord Darnley holds her only brother and promises to kill him if she does not cooperate. The plan is for Alyson to marry and learn the defenses of the keep, allowing the Darnleys to attack the Kirallens. Only then is she to reveal she is the wrong daughter, adding humiliation to their defeat.

Alyson hates what she is being forced to do, but can find no way out. Knowing that she is not a lady, and therefore cannot stay married to Jemmy, she struggles between her growing love and fear for his safety and her concern about her brother. She does not know if she can trust Jemmy, and yet she hates to betray him. Jemmy struggles with his honor and duty to the clan, his feelings for Alyson and his need to return to the sea he loves. Jemmy is intrigued by his bride, who can be churlish one minute and loving the next.

The author, newcomer Elizabeth English, tries to inject some new twists and turns into the story to make the tale unique. She is successful with some and not so with others.

She skillfully uses flashbacks to help the reader understand Alyson’s and Jemmy’s motivation for their actions. I grew to like them and was glad to see them reach their happy ending. Unfortunately, it took almost half the book before I cared what happened to them. Alyson thinks she loves Jemmy after only a few brief encounters. At one point, I had to ask myself what she loved about him, as he hadn’t spoken more than half a dozen words to her in their few interactions. The physical aspect of their relationship developed even more slowly.

As Captain of the Knights, and foster brother to Jemmy, Alistair Kirallen is the antagonist within the clan. He is a difficult character to figure and one that the author struggled to define. He opposes Jemmy, yet is sympathetic to Malcolm, Ian’s young son. He hates the Darnleys and this hate rules his life. He is cold and vengeful one minute, and gentle with Malcolm the next.

Most of the other family members are one-dimensional and add to the sense that you have read this book before. There is nothing new in the evil Lord Darnley, his misunderstood and weak younger brother, the cruel stepsister, and the tired and worn-out Laird Kirallen.

The author attempts to use some unusual plot twists to differentiate this story, but is not completely successful. These twists include the supernatural aspects of several “ghosts” putting in intermittent appearances and the sub-plot of Alyson’s mother and her attachment to the MacLaren clan.

I give the author credit for trying these ideas even though they confused rather than helped the plot. There is a ghost that shows himself to Alyson, and then to Jemmy. It was intriguing to wonder how this ghost would influence their romance. He didn’t help though, as he was not a part of the story again until he just popped up in the last scene.

As a whole, The Border Bride is a tale that has been told before, but if you like reading about the Scottish and English border wars, then you will find this book satisfying on its own. If you are looking for more, keeping looking. But while you are looking, keep an eye out for the next book by Elizabeth English, a new author who shows promise.

--Shirley Lyons


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