The Accidental Bride

The Diamond Slipper

The Emerald Swan

The Hostage Bride

The Silver Rose

Valentine Wedding

Vanity

Vice

When You Wish

 
The Least Likely Bride
by Jane Feather
(Bantam, $15.95, R) ISBN 0-553-8017-0
****
I have long believed that, when evaluating a book that is part of a series, there are two telling criteria. First, can the reader follow -- and enjoy -- the story without having read the previous books? Second, does the uninformed reader now want to read those previous works? I can assure you that Feather meets the first test with flying colors. As for the second and more significant criteria, suffice it to say that The Accidental Bride now sits on my “to-be-read” mountain and I will be out canvassing for The Hostage Bride tomorrow.

In short, I really enjoyed The Least Likely Bride, somewhat to my surprise as I have never been a huge fan of pirate-and-lady stories. But Feather really made this plot work for me.

For the uninitiated, in 1641, three young girls met by chance at a family wedding. In the fashion of prepubescent females, they shared confidences and discovered that each harbored atypical ambitions: Portia wanted to be a soldier; Phoebe wanted to be a poet; Olivia wanted to be a scholar. Sensing that they had found their true soul-mates, the three pledged eternal friendship, a tie that has endured for seven long, hard years of war. The Least Likely Bride is Olivia’s story.

Feather has set her trilogy against the troubled times of the English Civil War, which pitted supporters of Parliament and constitutional government against a king they believed was plotting to establish absolutist rule. Interestingly and unusually, the heroes of the first two books are not gallant cavaliers, but rather dedicated supporters of Parliament.

Lady Olivia Granville’s father, the Marquis of Granville, has come to the Isle of Wight because King Charles is a prisoner there in Carisbrook Castle. He is charged with negotiating with the king on Parliament’s behalf and helping to assure that the royal prisoner does not escape. Olivia has already come to love the more temperate island and its sea vistas. One day, as she walks along the cliffs, the ground gives way and she tumbles to the beach below.

When Olivia comes to, she discovers that she is in a well appointed cabin on a ship. Her rescuer, Anthony Caxton, has skillfully treated her wounds and nursed her back to health. Anthony is captain of the Wind Dancer and is, as Olivia soon discovers, anything but respectable. Indeed, he is a pirate and a smuggler, and, although Olivia doesn’t discover this for a while, committed to rescuing the king and spiriting him to France.

Olivia finds, to her amazement, that she enjoys the freedom of the sea and the excitement of a pirate’s life. She also soon discovers other previously unimagined pleasures, as the pirate introduces her to the sensual side of her nature. Unfortunately, the experience leads Olivia to remember the trauma of her childhood, when her evil stepbrother Brian Morse abused her. This memory causes her to pull back from Anthony, causing the first rift in their blossoming romance.

There are many other rifts and misunderstandings, as Olivia is both attracted to her pirate and yet repelled by his profession and his supposed acts. Can two people from such different worlds have a future, even if they are perfect for each other? And there is the problem of her loyalty. Can Olivia betray her beloved father to protect the man she loves?

I think that Feather’s greatest achievement lies in making the reader believe in this unlikely romance. True, Anthony is no ordinary pirate. The illegitimate son of an English gentleman who died for a cause he firmly believed in, Anthony was rejected by his grandparents and raised by his father’s erstwhile fiancée, who never let him forget his lineage and made sure that he had a gentleman’s education.

The Least Likely Bride offers not only an unusual romance, but also a tale of intrigue and derring do. The picture Feather paints of the imprisoned king is fair and quite accurate as we see a man who is, in many ways, his own worst enemy.

Feather introduces the characters from her previous books and provides the requisite backstory with a sure hand. She neither overwhelms her current story with too much material from the other books nor fails to provide the details necessary to explain the characters’ behavior. This is a very skillfully written book.

If I have any fault to find with The Least Likely Bride, it lies in Feather’s failure to create a real sense of time and place. Beyond the fact that the secondary plot centers on an attempt to rescue King Charles, there is nothing much in the descriptions of the characters, the customs or the behavior to give the book the “feel” of mid-17th century England. This problem begins with the cover, which is one of the most misleading illustrations imaginable. Whoever the woman looking out to sea is, she is not Olivia and she is not a 17th century woman. And the beach she is on does not conjure up the cliffs of the Isle of Wight. Oh, well, I guess my own preferences are showing here.

Despite its lack of historicity, I very much enjoyed The Least Likely Bride and do not hesitate to recommend it. A delightful heroine, a dashing hero and a compelling romance make it a most enjoyable read.

--Jean Mason


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