The Border Bride

Laird of the Mist by Elizabeth English
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13190-3
It is Beltane Eve, in the year 1374, and 20-year-old Deidre Maxwell needs to slip away from her abusive husband to celebrate the ancient springtime ritual. Brodie Maxwell is brutal but unintelligent, so Deidre successfully tricks him into drinking a sleeping potion. Leaving their daughter, Maeve, asleep, she walks through the wood to a quiet pool where she greets the spring. As she gazes into the pool, she begs to be shown her true love even though she knows that if her wish is granted, it is too late for her.

In the meantime, many miles away, Alistair Kirallen has been sent to a cave behind a waterfall to spend a night. Almost as soon as he reaches the cave, he falls into a sleep and, after dreaming about the doom that befell his foster brother, he finds himself beside a pool. There he sees, and speaks to, the beautiful woman crouching next to the pool. In their separate trances, both he and Deidre know that they have seen their perfect mate.

The problems Elizabeth English has posed for Deidre - her abusive husband, her isolation from her Irish kin - were readily understandable; Alistair’s were not. Why was he an outlaw? Why was he living in a cave with Fergus, a visionary and a hermit? What doom do the twa’ corbies that stalk him foretell? He is certainly gloomy enough. For instance, when he meets the living Deidre at Cranston Keep, Brodie Maxwell’s castle, and realizes she is already married, he wonders why he was granted his vision of her on Beltane Eve. “But then, what point was there to anything? Life, that seemed to offer so much, in the end gave nothing but disillusionment and disappointment. And love was the greatest deception of them all.”

I understood Alistair’s bafflement when he realized Deidre was married, but where did the rest of his despair come from? Another 50 pages and the light began to dawn. I realized belatedly that Laird of the Mist is a sequel, and Alistair Kirallen must have been the villain of the first book. No wonder he is skulking around the Scottish Borders! Now, having finished the book, I am still wondering why “love was the greatest deception of them all” when the author makes it clear that Alistair had no great love and loss in his past. “There had been no virgins for him, no rings or empty promises. He made damned sure that any woman who shared his bed understood exactly what he offered.” (How many times have you read lines like that in romance novels? I wish I’d kept count.)

Alistair’s meeting with Deidre takes place when he joins a force Brodie is assembling to attack a neighboring clan. In the aftermath of the battle Deidre and her little girl escape Cranston Keep and set out for her home in Ireland. Two days into her journey, she finds herself thoroughly lost. Fortunately - but not surprisingly - she stumbles into Alistair who agrees to escort her to her father in Donegal. Of course, the trip will not be without complications. The Maxwells want to recapture Deidre so that they don’t have to repay her bride price to her father, and the Kirallens are looking for Alistair for their own reasons.

Elizabeth English is a competent writer, and her characters and plot seem authentic for their 14th century Scottish milieu. That alone may make Laird of the Mist an enjoyable reading experience for devotees of romances set in medieval Scotland. For myself, I would have enjoyed the story a great deal more had those characters and that plot been more original. Both Alistair and Deidre were too stereotyped to come fully to life for me, and many of the situations in which they found themselves felt overly familiar.

Finally, I must mention that the book ends with a very amusing sequence in which much of the ominous atmosphere Ms. English has previously cultivated is thoroughly undercut. Funny though that scene was, it seemed to belong in another book, perhaps one entitled “Topper Visits Scotland.” Ms. English should seriously consider writing that book. She has a knack for humor.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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