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Dark Wager

Lady's Wager

The Captive Bride
by Susan Spencer Paul
(Harl. Historical 471, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29071-3
Had I been reading for pleasure, I probably would have put The Captive Bride down around chapter three and moved on to something else. While the prologue and first chapter are promising, each successive chapter introduces silly misunderstandings, confusing deceptions, and cantankerous bickering between the hero and heroine.

It's 1437 and Sir Senet Gaillard, the son of a traitorous French nobleman living in England, has righted his family's honor by bravely serving the English in wars against France. (He seems not to have any problems killing the French, even though he's half-French himself.) For his service, he is rewarded with the return of his family property in England, Castle Lomas, but with a condition: He must marry the daughter of Sir Richard Malthus, the man who was given the deed and title to Lomas after Senet's father was executed. Senet resigns himself to this condition and, eager to reclaim the lands, returns to England.

Lady Katharine Malthus, however, is in no mood for a man. She has been managing the day-to-day affairs of Lomas very well without a husband, thank you. Moreover, she has seen how marriage diminishes a woman -- her mother was virtually ignored to death by her domineering father. To Katharine, marriage is just another word for slavery.

Three years before, Katharine's father arranged a marriage between his daughter and the despised Lord Hanley, who conveniently disappeared during a pilgrimage before the marriage could take place. Katharine decides to play Lord Hanley's devoted fiancée to stave off Senet's interest in Castle Lomas. She concocts a plan to have her playboy cousin, Kieran FitzAllen, pretend he's her long-lost fiancé and thus rid Lomas, and herself, of Senet.

This is where The Captive Bride began to fall apart for me. I found it a trifle unbelievable that Katharine would defy a royal order and refuse to marry Senet. When he arrives at Lomas, he demands that Katharine submit to the marriage -- instead, she runs away with her ladies to find Lord Hanley a/k/a Kieran FitzAllen. After Senet and his men capture the ladies, Katharine is tricked into marriage. Senet strikes a bargain with Katharine on their wedding night -- if she sleeps with him for seven nights and decides he's not to her liking, she may leave with provisions for another household.

What I couldn't understand is why Senet would want to be in the same room with Katharine for one hour, never mind sleep with her for seven nights. Her characterization can best be described as schizophrenic: in the beginning of one scene, she's as meek and submissive, and by the end, she's reading Senet the riot act for some silly misunderstanding. Her role as mistress of Lomas has been diminished with her marriage, and she mourns the loss of her management position in the castle. But then she's constantly whining to Senet and her ladies about how little she knows of the running of Lomas. And to top it all off she doesn't want to let Senet run Lomas. Huh? Can you run that by me again?

Senet isn't much of a catch, either. I like my heroes larger than life, and Senet, for a number of reasons, didn't win my heart. In one scene, he vows to be honest with Katharine, yet only a few pages later, he allows her to believe that he's sleeping with another woman. Not very heroic in my book.

What bothered me the most about The Captive Bride is that the plot is based on misunderstandings and deceptions. Both the hero and heroine routinely deceive each other, and misunderstandings, which would be easily resolved, are left to wreak havoc on the character's emotional lives. In my opinion, the book would have been much stronger if the characters had been allowed to be honest with each other. Instead, many of the scenes and situations were ridiculous and absurd.

For example, Senet brings a young woman to Lomas with him. Instead of explaining to Katharine that this young lady is his ward, he allows her to assume that she is his mistress. Senet and Katharine spend way too much time arguing about this "whore," as Katharine calls her.

You're probably wondering why I didn't give The Captive Bride a one-star rating. The writing is very good; Susan Spencer Paul has a gift for capturing the essence and flavor of medieval times through her characters' dialogue, and this I enjoyed. But if you're looking for a good love story with strong, unforgettable characters, this isn't the book.

--Diana Burrell

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