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The Bride Finder

The Night Drifter by Susan Carroll
(Ballantine, $19.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-43312-2
Readers who enjoyed Susan Carroll's The Bride Finder will undoubtedly want to revisit the otherworldly St. Leger family of Cornwall. Ever since the family's founder, Prospero, was burned at the stake as a witch, the St. Legers have been blessed (or cursed) with superhuman abilities. Even their love affairs have a supernatural element. Their perfect mates, the one they will love passionately and eternally, are "found" for them by the family "bride finder," a member of the Fitzleger family. Woe betide the St. Leger who tries to find his own mate.

Lance St. Leger is the son of the couple brought together in Carroll's last book. In his late twenties, he has returned from fighting Napoleon to oversee the family property while his parents and sisters take an extended continental tour. Lance has a reputation as a careless rake. He carries a load of guilt because he feels responsible for the fact that his twin brother Val was crippled. He sees himself as an unworthy heir to the St. Leger tradition.

This feeling of unworthiness is magnified when he loses Prospero's sword. He had attended a village celebration dressed as a knight and on the way home, was set upon, knocked unconscious and robbed. Desperate to find the sword, he calls upon his own special gift to search for it. Lance has the ability to separate his soul from his body and drift through the night. He is a Night Drifter.

Believing that one of the unsavory characters who make the local inn their headquarters might be the thief, he visits in his body-less state. He encounters a guest, who, rather than fleeing in fright, stays to converse with the spirit she assumes is the ghost of Sir Lancelot.

Lady Rosalind Carlyon is a young widow who has come to Cornwall because of a promise she made a friend of her father's many years before. Rosalind, the only child of older parents, had spent her lonely childhood immersed in the legends of Camelot. Encountering the ghost of Sir Lancelot in the inn's storeroom is, for her, a wondrous experience.

Lance is much taken by the lovely Rosalind and gently plays along with her fantasy. Imagine his surprise when, the next day, he finds her at the home of Effie Fitzleger, the current Bride Finder. Imagine his even greater surprise when Effie announces that Rosalind is Lance's chosen bride.

Rosalind wants no part of marrying the mocking and rakish Lance. He may resemble her Sir Lancelot in form, but he is very different from her ideal in manner. Yet, when he kisses her, she feels a passionate response she had never felt with her kindly, older husband. When fate and Prospero's sword bring Rosalind into closer contact with both Lance and his night drifting self, she becomes even more confused.

Lance finds himself in a real dilemma. His chosen bride, whom he does find himself falling in love with, has herself fallen in love with his alter ego.

Carroll has thus created a most interesting love triangle. In fact, the Sir Lancelot persona represents a part of Lance that he thought lost when betrayal and guilt robbed him of his youthful innocence and hopefulness. But how can he convince Rosalind that in marrying Lance she will in fact be marrying the "man" she loves without betraying his deception?

In addition to this most unusual romance, Carroll includes a suspense plot centering on the theft of the sword. She also delineates the troubled relationship between Lance and Val whose once close ties have been frayed by the Lance's guilt over Val's crippled state.

If there is any weak link in the story, it is the character of Rosalind. She seems an unlikely mate for a man like Lance, too sweet and too innocent. Yet I suppose that only a woman who has spent her life escaping into myths of heroes long dead would be likely to fall in love with a "ghost."

The Night Drifter is an enjoyable historical paranormal romance. I enjoyed it as much or more than The Bride Finder. Carroll succeeds admirably in creating a plausible world of magic and mysticism. I imagine Val's story is next to come from her talented pen (and I bet I know who his "found" bride is). I leave it to readers to decide whether they wish to pay the hardback price or wait for the paperback version. I'm not sorry that I sprang for the hardback and I guess that's a pretty good recommendation.

--Jean Mason

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