|The Brat is a delightful tale with a romance filled with fun, laughter and genuine characters. It has a murder plot and a heroine who is smart, funny and willing to do what she needs to do. The hero is a man’s man yet has a funny softer side as well. All together, it is a fun story to read, despite a few distractions.
Lady Murie is a ward of King Edward III and has been in his court for ten years, ever since her parents both died of the plague when she was ten. Now it is time for her to marry and the King is persuaded by his Queen to let it happen. He gives Murie the chance to pick her husband amongst his single noblemen. Two men seem to be frontrunners, despite her reputation as a selfish imp who often throws tantrums and acts like a child (hence the name Brat).
One is Lord Malculinus, who along with his sister, Lauda, plot to force Murie into choosing him. Malculinus wants her dowry. He is a selfish and often cruel man, even though he hides it well. The other is Lord Balen Gaynor. He is championed by Murie’s friend Lady Emilie because he seems nice, has been a warrior, is known to be good to his animals and needs her money to restore his estates since he inherited when his father succumbed to the plague.
Murie is extremely superstitious and one “wives tale” she hears is that if a woman eats rotten meat on the eve of St. Agnes’s Day, then she woman will dream of her future husband. Malculinus plots to have her doped up so he can sneak in her room and wake her with a kiss. She, in her befuddled state of mind, would assume it was her dream and choose him. But Balen overhears the plot and his attempts to foil it result in her seeing HIM. They end up marrying.
The story follows their journey and then settling into the Gaynor castle. They have to figure out their relationship, figure out who seems to be trying to kill Balen and to see how Murie will get on with the servants and staff at the castle. There is a large cast of suspects including Osgoode (cousin to Balen), Cecily (Murie’s maid), Malculinus and Lauda (who are neighbors) and all the staff at the castle. Even Murie herself comes under scrutiny by some.
There are a few minor distractions. On the journey, Balen makes a big deal about his little sister Julianna and upon arriving, Murie makes a big effort to gain her favor. She is a tomboy and often stubborn. That storyline fizzles out. There is a mention that the Gaynor cook has a sister at Malculinus’s home and she could be a spy. This was left hanging with no follow-up. Murie is described as a brat and has a horrid reputation. The explanation is that she was faking it and she is really sweet and easy to get along with. While the latter is how she acts, it leaves the reader feeling a bit like we were fooled and the description on the book cover has little to do with the actual flow of the story.
The author’s ability to write likable characters and a story that almost told itself was not a disappointment and more than made up for the shortcomings. There is plenty of action and, while at times it is told in the past rather than the present, it is an engaging story and fun to read. The relationship is spiced up with lovemaking and humor. The hero and heroine are both strong and yet, caring and willing to express their feelings for each other.
The Brat is really a misleading title, but the story is well worth the time to pick it up and read it.