|Reviewers of Moore's previous books have praised her multi-faceted characters, her eye for historical detail, and her talent at bringing a past world to life. Those skills are not as present in her most recent novel. Nevertheless, if you are willing to forgo a more complicated view of troubled thirteenth-century Britain, you may be in for an acceptable read.
King John has sent Lady Roslynn to Lord Madoc of Llanpowell as a reward for his military services. The Welsh Lord helped the English king capture a traitor - none other than Roslynn's husband. In return he gets a bride.
Neither party is happy with the match. Roslynn suffered through one abusive marriage. Despite her dreams of children and family, she would rather join a convent than live with another violent man. Although Roslynn comes with a generous dowry, Madoc feels cheated out of the gold that would pay for his castle's up-keep. Besides, he has already had one unwilling wife hoisted on him; he's not about to accept another - at least not without her full agreement. He gives Roslynn the choice, and after a little help from his friends, she consents.
Things begin well. Not only are Roslynn and Madoc attracted to each other, but more importantly they are determined to make the best of their circumstance and offer a convincing show of doing so. Unfortunately, their happiness is not a done deal. Madoc's past comes between them in the person of his older brother.
The latter has never forgiven Madoc for marrying his promised bride and inheriting the land and title that should have been his. He raids Madoc's lands and steals his precious sheep. Although there are reasons why Madoc does not quickly and effectively put an end to these petty skirmishes, it takes a while for him to confess them to Roslynn and thereby clear up the growing misunderstanding and distrust.
The Warlord's Bride is a relationship-focused novel with much of the attention on how two world-weary and wary souls build a new life together. Alternating low-level sensuality and a light hand at humor with more heavy-duty introspection, Moore is relatively successful here. The problem is, neither Madoc nor Roslynn have the depth or the authenticity to make the story completely engrossing. True, both have exercised bad judgment, but aside from their one mistake, they are almost too good to be true. They are also so single-minded and self-assured in their desire to avoid past mistakes that I had a hard time remembering this was a medieval-set novel I was reading.
Moore attempts to build tension by withholding the identity of the real villain and by hinting rather loudly at Maddoc's hidden secret. In both cases the answers are so obvious that they might as well have been openly revealed. The story and the characters deserve something more. And so too, in the final verdict, do the readers.