|Bride by Command is the next entry in the “Emperor’s Brides” series. Lady Morgana Ramsden has a little problem. Whenever she gets extremely angry or upset, everything around her freezes into icy crystal and then crumbles into dust, even people. Readers are first introduced to this issue when Morgana is nearly raped by a neighbor who wants to force a marriage to get his hands on her dowry. He ends up a pile of ash, which reinforces her determination never to marry since she can’t control her power. Who knows what might happen if her husband ticked her off? Kind of hard to explain to the neighbors, too.
Emperor Jahn of Columbyana has vowed to take a wife. Faced with the prospect of
choosing between six candidates, he’s begun to regret the whole idea. Feeling trapped, Jahn decides to disguise himself as a lowly sentinel and ride out with a trusted aide to collect one of the women himself. Upon his arrival at the Ramsden estate, he is amused and a bit put out when Morgana insults the Emperor, declaring he must be fat and stupid. Then he overhears an argument between Morgana and her stepfather in which he vows to finally marry her off to the next man who enters the room, and Jahn can’t resist teaching this haughty woman a lesson.
Jahn has no intention of consummating the marriage and thereby saddling himself with a legal wife, but he decides to play along with it to bring Morgana down a peg or two. Morgana is horrified to find herself married to a lowly sentinel. But he treats her kindly and tells her they won’t become lovers until she instigates it, and as they settle into a drab room over a noisy inn, Morgana finds she rather likes being free from her family’s expectations. Her new husband is intelligent and listens to her. Plus he’s very good-looking, and the more time they spend together, the more these two become attracted to one another.
But what will happen when the truth finally comes out? A subplot involving another of the potential brides and Jahn’s Minister of Magic, and a second one centered around an evil wizard’s plot to kill Jahn and gain the throne for himself flesh out the story.
The problem is, none of these plots are all that interesting. The romance between Morgana and Jahn plays out in utterly predictable fashion, and the prose often descends into purple territory. The author earnestly tells us that the two are falling in love, but their interactions and dialogue are strangely stilted. The whole thing falls flat, though the two are likable enough. Any guesses as to how Morgana will react once Jahn’s deception comes to light, even though by now they are professing their love on every second page? Authors, if you’re going to use a plot as hackneyed as this, how about just once trying something different? Like, say, a level of maturity and reasoned discussion?
As for the second princess, she’s a greedy, self-absorbed ninny with a secret to hide, of course, but without the smarts to tell her problems to the one man who might be able to help her. The evil wizard is a cardboard character as well. The author even throws in an assassin who is tired of killing people; he’s only in the story for two scenes, which means either she was desperate for filler or else has future plans for him as a hero in an upcoming installment and sent him in just to wave hello.
Bride by Command was a definite step backward from the first book in the series. Lackluster and unoriginal, it would have been tossed aside were it not for this review. Unless you are a diehard fan of these novels set in Columbyana, give this one a pass and spend your eight bucks someplace else.