Bride of Windermere

Celtic Bride by Margo Maguire
(Harl. Hist. #572, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29172-8
Pulling the rug out from under your own feet is pretty difficult to do, but Margo Maguire manages it more than once in Celtic Bride. Too bad - it reduces an original story and a unique hero to bland predictability.

Keelin O’Shea is the daughter of Eocaidh O’Shea, former chieftain of Clann Ui Sheaghda. Four years earlier, when Eocaidh was killed in battle with their traditional enemies, led by Ruairc Mageean, she fled their home in Carrauntoohil for England with her uncle Tiarnan and the obsidian spear known as Ga Buidhe an Lamhaigh. This spear is the Sheahda clan’s symbol of ruling power and they escaped to England to keep it out of Ruairc’s hands.

The spear also focuses Keelin’s powers of second sight. Using it, she sees that Ruairc’s men have slain her father’s successor. It’s now time to take the spear back and confer power on the next O’Shea chieftain - and for Keelin to marry the man her father chose for her. Assuming that her intended is an upright, forthright, do-right man, she is blissfully unaware that he’s actually an elderly lecher selected primarily to further Eocaidh’s own ambitions.

Before they can leave, however, Marcus de Grant arrives on her doorstep after Irish barbarians ambush his group. During the attack, Marcus’s father, the Earl of Wrexton, was killed and his young cousin, Adam, seriously injured.

After caring for the boy in their cottage, Keelin and Tiarnan eventually return with Marcus to Wrexton, to nurse Adam and for their own safety. As soon as Adam is out of the woods, though, Keelin must leave for Ireland.

This is not a complete rendering of the plot by any means. Overly complicated, at least in the beginning, with too many characters who never appear in the story except by reputation, the tangle is heightened by the proliferation of unfamiliar Celtic names. I have no idea how most of them are pronounced and no idea what Ga Buidhe an Lamhaigh means; it was confusing to constantly trip over the language.

But most disappointing was the lack of conviction with which the author rendered her hero.

Marcus started out with the potential to be truly extraordinary. In a genre where the double standard is common (extremely experienced men, extremely virginal women), the 26-year-old Marcus has taken a vow of celibacy. His only sexual encounter was a single night with a prostitute who seduced him when he was drunk. It was so emotionally unsatisfying that, in spite of the scorn of his friends, Marcus decided that the only other woman he would ever make love with would be his wife.

As a result, Marcus begins the book endearingly clumsy and uncomfortable around women. I was also charmed by his insecurity at inheriting the Earldom. His father was his hero and mentor, and, losing him too soon, Marcus feels unworthy to fill his father’s shoes. I looked forward with great anticipation to watching him triumph over these highly un-stereotypical traits.

Instead, they all just miraculously disappear. Keelin doesn’t have to help him overcome his shyness - she’s the one woman around whom he isn’t shy. Poof! Problem gone. Do these inexperienced lovers learn the delights of passion together? Nope - apparently one drunken experience with a camp harlot taught him everything he needed to know about “what a woman expected from a lover.” Instant - and highly dubious - expertise.

And Marcus’s first act as Earl is to send most of his entourage home with the body of his father and stay with Keelin and the boy in a hut in the woods. Admirable, maybe, but it seemed unrealistic to think that this would be his most important responsibility under the circumstances. When he does return to Wrexton, we’re told in passing that some of his people “tested” him, but over all he slides effortlessly into the role. Gee - no big deal after all.

That leaves us with “Keelin must return to Ireland” to hang the story on. Not terribly compelling, and not exactly original.

Why set up these enticing situations and then throw them away? I have no idea, but it was a disappointment every time the rug disappeared.

--Judi McKee

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