A Gentleman of Substance

My Lord Protector

 
The Bonny Bride by Deborah Hale
(Harl. Historical #503, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29103-5
****
I had to make a special expedition to get my hands on Deborah Hale’s new Harlequin Historical. I have to say that The Bonny Bride was worth the extra effort. Hale provides an unusual setting -- New Brunswick in 1825 -- and an interesting twist on the “mail-order bride” story. I very much enjoyed this, her third historical romance.

Janet (Jenny) Lennox has had a hard life. Her mother died bearing her eighth child and left Jenny to raise her seven brothers in a poor farmer's croft in Scotland. Desiring something better, Jenny agrees to emigrate to New Brunswick to marry a man from her hometown who has become a successful ship builder. Her plans are stymied when the couple with whom she is to travel is unable to make the voyage. But her friend suggests a solution. Harris Chisholm, manager of the friend’s father’s quarry, is sailing on the same ship. Harris will see her safely to her fiancé.

Harris is loathe to accept the responsibility. Scarred in a fire when he was a child, he has always been self-conscious about his looks. He has never been very comfortable around women. But Harris is moved by Jenny’s pleas and promises faithfully to deliver her to New Brunswick. Jenny is no more thrilled to accept Harris’ aid. She always felt that he was proud and aloof. But needs must.

The sea voyage, throwing the two together, changes their relationship. Harris takes care of Jenny when she is seasick, offers to teach her to read, and learns to be comfortable around this particular woman. Jenny discovers that Harris’ aloofness is rooted in shyness rather than pride and promises to teach him manners so that he can become comfortable with other women. The two become friends in the isolation of shipboard living.

By the time they arrive in Canada, after more than a few adventures, friendship has become something more. But Jenny has promised to wed another. More significantly, Jenny knows the hardships that women face in this new land. She understands that Harris is starting out with very little, that a wife and family will be a burden to him. She has dreamed of the comfortable life that her betrothed can give her. She is simply not sure that love will survive the harsh life that is all that Harris has to offer her.

Jenny may seem like a selfish heroine, unwilling to forego the financial benefits of her planned marriage despite her growing love for Harris. Yet Hale helps us understand the very real and compelling reasons that lead her to make the choices she does. We may see her actions as wrong-headed, but we do understand her motives.

Harris never thought to love a woman, never thought that he would be loved in return. He is puzzled and hurt by Jenny’s actions, but he never stops loving her. He has promised to protect her, and protect her he will, even against the powerful man who has brought her across the Atlantic to be his bride. Yet his faithfulness does not make him seem foolish, but rather devoted and strong.

Harris and Jenny have all sorts of adventures in the untamed wilderness that was New Brunswick at the time. Hale, herself from the area, weaves the early history of the province into her story very effectively. New Brunswick in 1825 was much like the United States had been a century earlier. It is still a land filled with untold dangers. The land demands much of those who would live there and ultimately, both Harris and Jenny rise to meet the challenge.

The Bonny Bride has fascinating and unusual setting, a fine hero, and a nicely done romance. If Jenny waits almost until it is too late to understand that love is more important than material comfort, her final choice provides a most exciting climax. This is a most enjoyable historical romance.

--Jean Mason


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