The Soldier’s Bride is one of those stories that comes ever so close to being a really good book but falls just short. Its premise is one of my favorites, a marriage of convenience. It also includes another promising plot device: the adjustment of a soldier returned from the war. Unfortunately, the book also has some problems that detract
from its overall success.
Lisbeth Barlow has just seen her two elder sisters find true love. In both instances, they “saw” the face of the man who would be their perfect match in the “magic locket” that has been passed from mother to daughter and sister to sister. Lisbeth had thought never to wed but when she looks at the locket, she sees the face of Lord Thomas Kepley. Who should immediately thereafter arrive on her doorstep with an offer of marriage than Lord Thomas himself.
Lisbeth and Lord Thomas had become friends during the London season. Thomas was home from the war, recovering from a wound. Now he is about to return to Portugal. He has discovered that his overbearing father, the Marquess of Aylsham, has planned to force him to marry Lady Anne Dalwood. Thomas decides that the best way to forestall his father’s plan is to marry another lady and Lisbeth “is one of the very few females whose company I can abide.” Thomas offers Lisbeth the freedom that a married woman enjoys and financial security, something she has never known. Somewhat to her own surprise, she accepts the offer and two days later, bids he new husband farewell as he sails back to the army.
Twenty months later, Lisbeth is living at Thomas’s estate with her eleven month old son. She believes that her husband had died when his ship sank off the coast of France. The marquess had not reacted well to the marriage; he had used his influence to prevent Lisbeth from receiving both the allowance Thomas promised and the inheritance. He
insists that little Tom is not his grandson. We have discovered the reason for the marquess’ anger. He had wanted Thomas to marry Lady Anne because his married eldest son had seduced the young woman and gotten her pregnant. Lady Anne had committed suicide.
But Thomas had not died. Rather he had been in France for the intervening months. He returns home to the wife had had dreamed of and the child she bore. But Thomas, like his father, insists that little Tom cannot be his child. He does not bear the birthmark found on every Kepley son.
Lisbeth has not had an easy time during her husband’s absence. She and her aunt have struggled to support themselves, she by working for a seamstress. Moreover, little Tom suffers from a breathing problem which only her aunt’s herbal treatments seem to help. She is at first delighted to see her husband but is dreadfully hurt when he rejects his
son. For his part, Thomas is hurt that Lisbeth found consolation so soon after his death, but is willing to accept Tom if only Lisbeth will confess who his father is. Obviously the two have a lot of barriers to overcome.
I understand that a novel is fiction, that the author has a lot of leeway in constructing her story. However, when the reader closes the book, the behavior of the characters should make a minimum amount of sense. Unfortunately, such is not the case here. Instead, I was left with lots of questions. Why did Lisbeth not call on her sisters and their powerful husbands to insure that she and her son were not reduced to penury? Why did Thomas leave his family and wife to believe that he was dead? The reasons given are not persuasive but rather seem to arise from the needs of the plot.
Despite these problems, there are good elements to The Soldier’s Bride. The hero is an admirable and attractive character and I suppose his conclusion about the parentage of his son is justified. He behaves honorably in spite of his conviction that Tom is not his. Lisbeth is generally a good heroine who has shown determination in the
face of difficulty. The pair’s discovery that they love each other is nicely done. There is a delightful secondary romance between Lisbeth’s herbalist aunt and a crusty physician.
I have just finished two books that are part of a continuity series. In both cases, I had not read the previous books. I believe that an author who chooses to create such a series has a responsibility to readers like me who may not be fully familiar with the ongoing characters and circumstances. While the other book brought me up to speed in regards
to the backstory, I don’t think that Kihlstrom quite succeeded.
In particular, I can only conclude that friendship that led Thomas to propose to Lisbeth was detailed in the earlier books. With little understanding of their previous relationship, both their hurried marriage and their subsequent behavior makes less sense than it should.
Thus, I conclude that The Soldier’s Bride is acceptable but I can’t recommend it.