Bogus Bride

Ironheart by Emily French
(Harl. Historical #580, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0373-29180-9
The storyline of Ironheart is a perplexing assortment of episodes that hint at mysticism, including a hunt for the Holy Grail, a mistaken identity and a lukewarm romance between Leon Fitzwarren and Lady Brenna. I was baffled so many times I lost count. I do know that when I stop at page 30 and again at page 63 so that I can go back to re-read the pages because I am at a total loss as to the plot, I am in for a miserable time.

The setting is Wales in the year 1204 and the land is in a state of unrest. The King sends Leon on a secret mission (which remains a secret to readers, too) and he is set upon by ne’er do wells who leave him with a bump on his head which leaves him daft. From the description of the symptoms, he has a concussion. He meets Brenna when she has traveled outside the gates of her keep and is under attack from beggars. He saves her. She mistakes him for her betrothed and takes him in.

They end up in her bedchamber where she hides him while he heals from both the bump on his head and a fever. Where he got the fever is never explained, nor is the reason she decides to hide him. Thinking they are betrothed, Brenna allows him to make love to her, only to discover he is not her fiancé. Leon informs her that he was with her fiancé in the war and he is dead, so Brenna asks Leon to marry her within the week.

Now it gets really confusing, if that is possible. We are introduced to two antagonists. One is a neighboring baron out to get the keep and the other is a knight who knew her fiancé was dead and has come to claim Brenna’s hand. They both hate Leon. Brenna hates them and thus the conflict.

Neither Leon nor Brenna are well developed characters. I felt like they spoke in riddles and their actions added to the confusion. For instance, Leon is described at one point as being hideous because half his face is scarred. Yet Brenna talks about his inner beauty. I can accept that…until both Brenna and Leon talk about how hard a man he is with scars on the inside that have left him cold and often unfeeling. How can he be both?

Other plotlines are thrown in that further bewilder the reader. One of these is a search for the Holy Grail, which apparently is in the possession of a stable boy on the estate. This story keeps popping up and is obliquely linked to the neighboring baron. It muddles rather than enhances the story and the romance.

Another plotline is some type of mysticism that includes Brenna as an angel and some magical powers. There are hints of powers and herbs that do strange things, but again, this is never really developed and detracts from the story.

In one of his marathon dialogues with Brenna, Leon ponders

He did not understand her. He began to wonder if each of them was carrying on a one-sided conversation.

I suffered that feeling myself for almost two thirds of the book. The final third of the book is a more conventional story of romance between Brenna and Leon. They have picnics, they court each other and their conversations actually make some sense. If I understood the characters better, I might have more been satisfied with this section of the book.

Unfortunately, this is too little too late. Ironheart left my heart untouched.

--Shirley Lyons

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