Always a Lady

Ever a Princess


A Hint of Heather

Whisper Always

Barely A Bride
by Rebecca Hagan Lee
(Berkley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19124-9
Griffin, Viscount Abernathy is in a bind. As a charter member of the Free Fellows League, he and his blood brothers have sworn to defeat the French, become national heroes, and remain unmarried for as long as humanly possible. Unfortunately, as he has just received notice that he is to join the cavalry on the continent – his father and country are practically blackmailing him into marrying and getting his bride with an heir. Admitting defeat, Griffin sets out to find a suitable bride – preferably one who isn’t adverse to a marriage of convenience.

He finds the answer to his problem in Lady Alyssa Carrollton. Alyssa’s mother has been salivating over marrying her last eligible daughter to the Duke of Sussex. Thing is, Alyssa wants freedom and a life away from society’s scrutiny – so becoming a duchess is not tops on her list. She also wants to explore her passion for gardening – a passion her mama has forcibly put on hold every since Alyssa has become one of the Season’s Incomparables. Then she meets Griffin at Almack’s, a few stolen kisses later, and a discussion about what they both want leads to a walk down the aisle.

However, what happens when the Lady and the Viscount discover that they have more than amicable feelings for one another? Moreover, what will happen when Griffin returns from the war a very different man?

Lee kicks off her Free Fellows series with a mixed offering that left this reviewer with conflicted feelings. Barely A Bride is what I like to call a slow mover. Over half of the book is devoted to Griffin needing to find a bride, setting his sights on Alyssa, securing her family’s approval, planning the wedding, and finally the honeymoon. Griffin doesn’t actually leave for the continent until around page 200 – and by then the reader is two-thirds of the way through the book.

Also slowing the pace is the fact that Griffin and Alyssa spend very little time together. Outside of some stolen kisses, they don’t have much of a courtship. The honeymoon is a humdinger, but not enough to convince me that their love was real and genuine. The lust is very apparent, but it’s hard to see past that point when the couple spends so little time together during the courtship phase.

What does work very well is Lee’s always-engaging writing style and her characters. There is a nice feel for the Regency period, and both hero and heroine are nice people. Alyssa is especially notable because while she wants to be her own person, she isn’t afraid of falling in love. Griffin starts out the classic charmer, but over the course of the story, Lee transforms him into a man who not only grows up on the battlefield, but also is haunted by the horrors he witnessed. Frankly, the last 100 pages are the meatiest part of the book – and I couldn’t help wishing that the author had devoted more time to postwar Griffin than on the “getting married” portion of the story.

The author also does a nice job of setting up her series without being intrusive. Griffin has two best friends that he formed the League with – both devoted bachelors with no desire to marry. Alyssa’s thwarted suitor, the Duke of Sussex, plays a healthy role – as does her best friend and bridesmaid, Lady Miranda. These two seem destined for their own book, and the brief hints the author drops in the latter portion of this story are delicious.

While I found the pacing a little too slow for my tastes, the author has me so curious about the future books that I’m already making a note on my to-be-bought list. I have no doubt there is an appreciative audience out there for this type of story. Lee can spin a nice tale, and the slower momentum of Barely A Bride is sure to appeal to readers who want to savor a story as opposed to devouring one.

--Wendy Crutcher

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