Firebrand Bride by Janet Lynnford
(Topaz, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40830-6
There is a definite richness to the settings and mood in Janet Lynnford's Scottish tale, Firebrand Bride. There are times when one can almost feel the dampness of the Border air or hear the pounding of horses' hooves as they race across lush meadows. But there is also a distance between the reader and the characters that the author never manages to close. With deadly Scottish tradition going head-to-head with "modern" sensibilities in the form of reiving, revenge, ghosts, family secrets, bastard children, weddings, kidnapping…you name it, it's in here. It all becomes too much to bear for a hero and heroine with shoulders not strong enough to support such an unwieldy cast of characters and plot devices.

The story starts out in a lovely way, with Lucina Cavendish caught in a raid but nonetheless coming to the aid of the notorious Black Alex Graham. Graham is livid that his renegade cousin has expressly ignored his rules against reiving, but he is preoccupied with saving the life of his favorite mare.

A lover of horses recently arrived in the Scottish border territory to claim an inheritance, Lucina helps the mare through a difficult delivery and in her exuberance, kisses Alex, the laird of the manor. Though she has seen a glimpse of Alex's softer side, the Black Graham as he is known, is a tormented man, still mourning the death of his wife and struggling to keep peace in the borderlands. Though he is immediately drawn to Lucina, he is far too stubborn a male to admit to his feelings. So he disguises his affection as concern and forces Lucina to marry him for her "protection."

Lucina's beloved brother is being held captive by Alex's evil cousin, who is in league with various local clan leaders and other nefarious fellows to gain control of the border lands. Meanwhile, back at the keep, there is a ghost roaming the hallways and a slightly dotty old lady who keeps insisting that Lucina is her long-lost sister. There are secret passageways and extended families, traitors in the dungeon, tower rooms, and basically too many people to keep track of. Lucina and Alex's romance easily gets lost in so much peripheral clutter. Frankly, the reader never has the time required to bond with them. But then, the relationship itself seems borne strictly from convenience.

Though things do tend to pick up in the latter half of the book when the author starts tying all the various pieces together, it all happens a little too late. By that point much of the interest is lost. There is little or no emotional connection between the reader and the hero and heroine because they're both too busy dashing off attempting to solve everyone else's problems.

Firebrand Bride, while being vivid in a rather broad way, just doesn't have the focus one needs to create a truly memorable romance.

--Ann McGuire

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