Sir Hugh Dryden, Earl of Alldale, is a wounded and haunted man. A powerful knight, he found himself at the mercy of the dastardly Phillip Colston, who held him prisoner and tortured him in Windermere Castle’s dungeon. Although he was eventually rescued by his good friends Wolf and Kit Colston, Hugh’s body told the tale of his horrific confinement - multiple scars, a missing finger, and the loss of an eye. After his recovery, Wolf convinces him to travel to Castle Clairmont in northern England, and ask for the hand of the widowed Lady Marguerite Bradley. An alliance between Hugh and Marguerite would be a sound one, and good strategically to ward of the marauding Scots.
Hugh has resigned himself to this mission, even though he has no desire to wed. He fears his soul has been damaged beyond repair, and his numerous scars only proceed to frighten and disgust many. Upon reaching Clairmont, he happens upon Lady Sian Tudor, who finds herself in a confrontation with a very ill tempered wild boar.
Sian is a Welsh woman with her own troubled past. Years earlier, her father had spearheaded the Welsh uprising against the Saxons, and was soundly defeated. After both of her parents died, her brother Owen was sent to London where he rose up to the ranks of Queen Catherine’s entourage. Sian was shuffled among relatives who had little use for her, the daughter of a rebel. Feeling unloved, and of no use to anyone, when Owen later summons her, she joins him readily. But she quickly becomes a nuisance to him, for her country ways don’t exactly fit in among the glittering royal court. Not only does Owen find Sian completely unsatisfactory in the potential wife department, he has no dowry to offer. Therefore, he has decided to send her to a local nunnery, and out of his hair.
Sian has no desire to be a nun, and when she meets Hugh Dryden, she’s positive she’d be totally unsuited to take the veil. She is fascinated by this powerful and emotional wounded man, and immediately is smitten. Hugh also finds himself equally drawn to Sian, but denies his growing attraction. After all, he’s supposed to win the hand of Lady Marguerite, not become infatuated with a spirited country girl.
I really enjoyed Maguire’s follow-up to The Bride of Windermere thanks to a strong and likeable romantic couple. Hugh is a perfect example of everything I love about emotionally wounded romance heroes. His tortured past continues to haunt him, making him a foreboding figure. It’s only when he runs up against Sian that the reader begins to see his resolve start to crack.
Sian is an entirely different kettle of fish, and a rather complex one. She’s a spirited young woman, who has a way with children, often engaging them in sporting games and old Welsh tales. However, her behavior is anything but appropriate for a noble woman (even if she is a Tudor) and she often finds herself on the receiving end of scorn and ridicule from her brother. This hurts Sian, and she is often reduced to tears throughout the course of the story. However, this didn’t bother me. Frankly, it does get tiresome to constantly come across romance heroines who have known nothing but hardship, yet remain feisty and constantly determined. Sian stands her ground amiably, but she often finds herself alone and disheartened. I sympathized with her, and totally understood her need to cry over the frustrations she faced.
The romance between Hugh and Sian would be enough to propel any medieval, but Maguire infuses this tale with lots of action scenes and royal intrigue. Hugh and Sian soon find themselves fighting off Scots, scheming to protect young King Henry VI, battling horse thieves, and thwarting the evil Earl of Wexford - a despicable man from Sian’s past.
Dryden’s Bride is a action packed medieval that easily had me turning the pages. Hugh’s tortured past, Sian’s feistiness and vulnerability, and the non-stop pace make me eager to see what Maguire will offer up next.