The Captive Bride

The Stolen Bride by Susan Spencer Paul
(Harl. Historical #535, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29135-3
If your TBR pile is down to nil and you are so bored you can scarcely see straight, then The Stolen Bride, sequel to The Captive Bride, might be an okay one time read. Unless you meet the aforementioned criteria, however, I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to my fellow romance reading comrades. The relationship between the protagonists is solid and at times endearing, but lordy lordy, it's also dull.

Sofia Ahlgren is responsible for the upkeep of her father's manor, not to mention the well-being of the entire populace of Wirth. She doesn't mind her lot in life, in fact she enjoys it, but what she cannot abide is her worthless father's lack of initiative and inability to protect those under his care, herself included.

When the tyrannical and sadistic Sr. Griel determines to have Sofia as his wife, she isn't certain what she should do to dissuade his suit, for her father fears Sir Griel and would rather see her wed to the man than stand up to him. Sofia soon finds an unlikely protector in Kayne the Unknown, Wirth's blacksmith and resident hunk.

Kayne the Unknown isn't just a blacksmith, of course, for he also happens to be one of the king's fiercest knights of the realm. Having recently returned from fighting and much killing in France, Kayne has given up the knighthood and vowed to never again take a man's life unless in defense of himself, a woman, or a child. Kayne's resolve is put to the test when he meets and falls in love with Sofia, for he knows her father might have many faults, but he'd never allow his sole heiress to marry a commoner. Will Kayne rejoin the knighthood and claim Sofia, or will he allow her to wed with another?

This question is a no-brainer and one of the reasons I can't give this book more than a two. There is nothing original about the plot, the characters, or even the story's main angst. The novel reads as though the author created it by popping a CD entitled "Medieval Historical Romance Formulas 101" into the computer drive, changed the names of the protagonists and a few details, and voila! - The Stolen Bride.

Compounding that problem is the fact that the book employs overdone narrative as a means of explaining who the characters are, their motivations, the setting they are in, and relevant plot details. Superior storytelling usually includes a delicate balance between narrative on the one hand and character dialogue on the other. The Stolen Bride relies far too heavily on the former and not nearly enough on the latter.

All of those issues aside, the main reason I gave this book a two heart rating is simply because it's boring. Pages and pages (and pages) of narrative with nary a word of dialogue as a counterbalance might be the perfect cure for insomnia, but it's not the perfect anecdote to romance reading withdrawal. Whether describing a setting or telling us about the characters, the narrative employed to do it with is dry and daunting.

Before the end of this tale came to a close, I had dozed off - literally - a grand total of four times. Unfortunately, I have in my possession the photographic evidence to prove it, as my children thought that mommy sitting on the couch with a book perched in her lap while her mouth hung open and she snored too amusing a Polaroid moment to let pass by.

For that reason alone, I feel compelled to warn you away from The Stolen Bride. The book has its good moments, as there are a couple of scenes between the hero and heroine that are interesting, but there are not nearly enough of them to snag your attention and keep it. Unless you're in dire need of a new entry or two in the family photo album, I'd shy away from this one.

--Tina Engler

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