Firebrand Bride

Bride of Hearts by Janet Lynnford
(Signet, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40831-4
Set amidst the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Bride of Hearts is the fifth book in Janet Lynnford's Cavendish series. Although the book is well written and has a decent plot, some readers (myself included) will have a difficult time warming up to a hero that compares the heroine to his dead wife at every turn.

Matthew Cavendish, Baron Graystock, is a seafaring captain who has been widowed for over thirteen years. He docks once a year to visit with his son Carew. Matthew has chosen to let the women in his birth family raise Carew because after his wife died he no longer had enough left of himself to give to another human being. A storm kept Matthew from docking last year, so it has been two years since he last saw his son. When he and Carew are finally reunited, Matthew discovers that his son no longer holds him in high esteem and now gainsays him at every turn.

Matthew is jealous to learn that there is a person his son met at court, a woman to whom Carew turns for his love and support. Her name is Cordelia and she is as beautiful as a fairie princess. Where Cory can take Carew in hand, Matthew cannot. Matthew is also upset at the realization that the more time he spends with Cory, the more attracted to her he becomes. And unfortunately for him, he has to spend time with Cory because someone is trying to kill her and the queen has assigned him to the case. Nevertheless, Matthew will continue to deny his feelings for Cory because he refuses to allow another woman to supplant his dead Johanna in his life.

Cordelia, Viscountess Wentworth, is a widow who is also a virgin. She has had fantasies of her dream lover for ages: a pirate captain who will sail into her life and sweep her off of her feet. When she meets Matthew Cavendish, a baron whose looks fit the role, she is disappointed to realize that he will never be the man of her dreams, for he is too surly, too brooding, and too determined to never again wed. Still, Cory cannot help the fierce attraction she harbors for Matthew. A murder at court and an attempt on her life forces Cory to Matthew's side. Will she be able to win his heart in the process?

Unfortunately, many readers will quit caring long before Cory wins anything. She is a wonderful, spunky heroine, but one worthy protagonist does not a successful romance make. Where the heroine is lovable, the hero has a tendency to get on your nerves.

Matthew is not an easy hero to like, or even to respect. The fact that he has difficulty giving his heart to his own son says it all right there. The reason Lynnford denotes to excuse his behavior stems from the fact that he was afraid to love anybody again after his wife Johanna died...thirteen years ago. After thirteen years, one could only hope that Matthew would have matured and become less cowardly in his emotions. Besides, this is a child we are talking about. Any man who can neglect his son for so many years for any reason whatsoever does not make for sound hero material in my book.

This leads into the issue of the protagonists' relationship. We have all read the occasional romance that highlights a hero haunted by the passing of a beloved wife until the heroine makes him feel love again. I generally have no qualms about such a story line, but in Bride of Hearts, Johanna plays far too large a role for a woman who's been dead over thirteen years.

Everything poor Cory did was compared to the dead wife. If she smiled, it reminded Matthew of the happy times with Johanna. If she was sleeping, it reminded him of how Johanna used to sleep. If Cory was soothing Matthew's son, it reminded him of all the things Johanna never got to experience. Good lord, but I grew weary of hearing the name Johanna. A hundred and fifty or so pages into this novel, I began feeling jealousy on Cory's behalf, since the heroine was apparently not inclined to do so. It's a sad state of affairs when an author can make you resent a dead woman.

Aside from the depressing hero, Bride of Hearts is also a tad on the dull side. The plot is intricate and has plenty going on, yet somehow it fails to come to life and grab your attention. Perhaps this stems from the author's writing style, as you tend to feel a certain emotional distancing from all of the book's actors. You read about Matthew's pain, but you never really feel it. You read about sexual tension, but you'll never find yourself wandering to the kitchen for a cool drink after reading a love scene. In other words, you read about what you are supposed to be feeling, but somehow the feelings themselves elude you.

Die-hard fans of the first four Cavendish books might enjoy Bride of Hearts much more than I did. Unfortunately, the constant and never-ending references to the dead wife Johanna and the inability to draw me into the plot, turned this reader off.

--Tina Engler

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