Bride of the Dragon by Patricia Phillips
(Leisure, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-8439-4340-8
Let me say straight away that I don't think Bride of the Dragon is a romance novel. It's a love story, definitely, but because the plot encompasses so many themes besides the development of a romantic relationship, I can't call it a romance. That's not necessarily a bad thing. This book didn't give me what I was looking for in the way of a romance, but it did provide me with entertaining reading and a compelling story.

It's difficult to summarize the sweeping plot. Isobel De Lacy is a minor noblewoman in England in the late 1340s. Following the death of her father, her wardship has been placed in the hands of her slimy stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel lusts for his gorgeous ward, but to settle a debt, he (temporarily) gives her to a Welsh knight, Morgan of Nels – known as the Dragon Knight. But his attempt to rescue Isobel fails, and she finds herself stuck with the handsome knight.

Think you know where this is going? I did, too. Wrong! Do the two end up falling in love, despite their bad beginning? You bet. But that part of the story is wrapped up pretty quickly, as they consummate their love at around page 95. And the "why" and "how" of their love relationship is never really explained or portrayed– at least not in the detail you'd expect from a true romance novel. We never get any of Morgan's point of view until after he declares his undying love for Isobel, so all we can really conclude is that he fell in love with her because of her surpassing beauty. Or something.

But there's hardly time to think about that. Instead, we're swept away into a very complicated plot. There's a tournament, a kidnapping, a long separation of the lovers, dastardly deeds by Lionel, and a planned dalliance with the King of England. And just when most of that is resolved – there's more. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, because finding out what happens next is half the fun of reading this book.

Not to say that the plot is never predictable. In fact, there were time when I wanted to conk Isobel and Morgan on the head because they seemed to lack all common sense. As an example, I'll tell you this. When Lionel kidnaps Isobel away from Morgan, he takes her (duh) right back to his own castle – the place where Morgan and Isobel first met. But when Morgan starts out to look for her, does it ever occur to him to try there? Nope. Instead, he spends months and months looking in all manner of far-flung places. (Double duh.)

And then when Morgan finally gets her back, does he take her to some safe haven where the still-scheming-and-now-infuriated Lionel will never find her? Nope. He takes her to her very own manor and then leaves her there alone. It doesn't seem to occur to either of them that Lionel might just think of that. These people need some lessons in intrigue.

And then we have the little problem of Lionel's wardship over Isobel, which legally gives him control over both her and her property. This could be easily remedied if Isobel and Morgan would just go ahead and get married, for heaven's sake, but this idea never enters their heads. So I did feel as though this kind of obtuseness in the characters was inserted simply to keep the story moving, since they're pretty sharp cookies, otherwise.

But despite these irritants, I found the book entertaining. Once I'd accepted the fact that the story simply wasn't going to focus on the relationship between Isobel and Morgan, I sat back and enjoyed the ride. I liked the characters, I hated Lionel, and I worried over the outcomes of the many complications the story goes through. Phillips was able to keep me interested throughout, and that's no easy task.

But it's not a romance, in my mind, because the way the love relationship develops is not detailed. We don't get to see into the minds and hearts of Isobel and Morgan as they fall in love. It happens suddenly, with little explanation. And as the plot unfolds, there are few internal obstacles to the continuance of that love. Oh, there are obstacles that keep them from being together, peaceful and happy with their love, but when they are together, they resolve their various hurts and misunderstandings with little fuss, and they simply love.

So I can recommend Bride of the Dragon as entertaining reading with plenty of emotional involvement. Don't expect a true romance novel, and you won't be disappointed.

-- Ellen Hestand

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