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Briar Rose by Kimberly Cates
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-01495-1
Do you like romances with hero who has closed himself off from all human emotion who is saved by a warm and wonderful heroine who has faith in life and in him? Then you're going to love Kimberly Cates' new book.

Captain Lionel Redmayne was the villain in Cates' last book, Magic, although he apparently exhibited some small measure of humanity before the story ended. (I say apparently, because I haven't had time to get to the bookstore to buy this book yet. But I will.) As Briar Rose opens, Redmayne is being attacked by assassins who leave him to bleed to death on a deserted Irish hillside. Redmayne waits for death, convinced that his ultimate destination will not be paradise, given his ruthless and heartless life.

Rhiannon Fitzgerald finds the wounded man and saves his life. She is his complete antithesis. The daughter of an idealistic Irish barrister, she has managed to sustain her optimistic attitude toward life despite travails that should have embittered her. Her father was ruined, they lost their beloved home and took to the road in a gypsy caravan, and her father drowned, leaving her alone except for an odd menagerie of animals. But legend has it that Rhiannon is fairy-born, thus her healing skills. And she has never lost her joie de vivre and her love of nature and of humankind.

This is indeed an odd couple!

There is a suspense subplot: who wants Redmayne dead? But Briar Rose is overwhelmingly about the relationship between Rhiannon and Redmayne. He is a man accustomed to having his way, but his usual authoritative manner means little to his lovely rescuer. She is not intimidated and will not do his bidding, a most unusual happenstance. Nor will she abandon him when he is in danger.

At first, Redmayne finds Rhiannon's sunny outlook intolerable and is willing to use fair means or foul to force her to return him to his garrison. But he is unwillingly attracted to this unusual woman and his cold heart begins to melt. However, Redmayne has been trained in a hard school to distrust emotion. Cold, hard logic has been his byword. There is nothing cold or hard or even logical about Rhiannon or the feelings she rouses in this embittered man.

Cates skillfully uncovers the dark past that has made Redmayne the man he is. Brutally schooled by his demonic grandfather, he had to struggle to maintain even a modicum of his true self. This is a truly tortured hero.

Rhiannon is everything good and light, in comparison to Redmayne's darkness. If she seems too good to be true, we are likewise shown how she became the life-loving and life-affirming woman who can melt the coldest heart. Perhaps she truly was fairy-born.

Cates sets her story against the troubled background of early 19th century Ireland. She treats the ongoing exploitation and oppression of the Irish by the English, but lightly and mostly in passing. In fact, the historical setting of Briar Rose remains very indistinct. All we really know is that the story occurs sometime after the 1798 rising, though since the waltz is danced, I guess we can assume the events take place during the century's second decade. This lack of historical exactness detracted somewhat from my appreciation of the book.

But only somewhat. This is one of the best "redemption" stories that I have read in quite a while. So if you, like me, just love to see a potential villain redeemed by love (and who among us romance fans doesn't?), you are going to love Briar Rose.

--Jean Mason

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