Monday, January 11, 2016

The Border Bride (Elizabeth English)

The Border Bride
(The Borderlands trilogy, Book 1)
Elizabeth English
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Historical Fiction/Romance
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Since time before memory, the Scots and the English have squabbled across the border, and few feuds run as deep or bloody as that between the Kirallen clan and the Darnleys. But lately the aging laird of Kirallen has been having strange ideas, wearying of digging graves for kinsmen. In an attempt to end the rivalry, he demands that Lord Darnley's daughter marry his last living son, the wayward Jemmy. But John Darnley does not share his counterpart's dreams; indeed, this marriage may give him a chance to topple the Killarens from within, and see their ancestral home of Ravenspur reduced to rubble and ash. For when John gave his word to send his daughter, he never mentioned which daughter...
Alyson has lived her life in the Darnley kitchens, an unwanted bastard byblow of one of Lord Darnley's raid trophies north of the border. Then she finds herself whisked from the kitchen and forced into a terrible deception: posing as Darnley's legitimate daughter Maude, Alyson is to wed Jemmy Kirallen and act as spy and distraction while the lord prepares a surprise attack that will end this blood feud once and for all. Alyson's heard nothing but dark tales of the Kirallens in general and Jemmy in particular - rumor pegs him as a pirate and a ne'er-do-well - but even then, this lie makes her sick. Still, she has no choice but to go along with Darnley's plan, not so long as John holds her young brother hostage.
Jemmy Kirallen was never his father's favorite child: that was Ian, his elder brother who shared the laird's taste for war... the brother stabbed in the back by Lord John Darnley and his English curs. Rushing home, he learns that he has been promised in marriage to Lady Maude Darnley. Tired as he his of the feud, this is going too far: everyone knows how difficult a woman Lady Maude is, on top of her being English and a Darnley to boot. Three months, his father swears: get her with child, ensure the peace, and he can go back to his life upon the seas. Reluctantly, Jemmy agrees - little good as it's likely to do. One sham of a marriage cannot possibly erase generations of hatred.
Neither Jemmy nor Alyson could predict that the marriage begun in deception might become something much more potent... and much more dangerous, as Darnleys and Kirallens both scheme to upset the fragile peace their vows created.

REVIEW: It looked like a quick read, a romance with a historical, 1300's Highland flair. At first, that's more or less what I got. Jemmy, Alyson, and the other characters are mostly victims of the past, a traditional blood-feud that's gone on so long neither side remembers how it started, but both are too proud to step away. Indeed, the rivalry has come to define them in ways that will be hard to unlearn; cattle raids are a rite of passage on both sides, and the killing of an enemy is the ultimate mark of manhood. Even given the time period, though, the sexism grows wearisome. Alyson's the innocent virgin, the tenderhearted girl with a strong faith in God, who by and large does a terrible job of deception. Jemmy, naturally, is a hardened man of the world, veteran of the battlefield and the bedroom, whose one love was an unfaithful Spanish lady (can we say stereotype?); her betrayals left him unable to trust his heart... until, of course, an innocent English woman slips past his defenses. Alyson frets and prays and even contemplates suicide to escape this devil's dilemma, Jemmy wrestles with his heart and head over the call of love versus the call of blood, and various forces without and within try their best to tear the couple asunder. There's a tedious tendency for someone (usually Alyson) to be on the verge of revealing a Major Secret or Confession of Love, only to be interrupted at the last minute. One can only pull this trick so often before it gets old, especially when the interruptions are so impeccably timed. The children in the novel are annoyingly innocent; given their age and the era, I'd expect them to be a little less naive, especially having grown up in the middle of a bloody feud. And then there are the ghosts, who turn up for absolutely no reason. I suspect they were more important in an early draft, but as it reads now, there is absolutely nothing the spirits do or say that couldn't have been performed by a living person. Why bother introducing a supernatural element if it's not going to matter? Tensions and lies ratchet up, often pushing into melodrama, before the whole matter comes to a head. The ending is subtly unsatisfying, and doesn't quite address the lingering hatred - hatred that will likely be inflamed on both sides by certain elements of the resolution. This story does indeed read fast, but I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed in how it all played out.

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