The de Burgh Bride by Deborah Simmons
(Harlequin Historical #399, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-28999-5
****
Deborah Simmons has the knack for writing enjoyable bread-n-butter historical romances. The fare is not fancy, nor is it heavy, but usually a good time is had by romance readers. The de Burgh Bride is the sequel to Taming the Wolf; it continues the saga of the de Burgh brothers. Its premise is a somewhat altered version of the Taming of the Shrew and it's enjoyable because Simmons provides readers with an intelligent, complex heroine in Elene Fitzhugh.

An edict from King Edward demands that one of the de Burgh brothers wed Elene Fitzhugh and Geoffrey de Burgh has drawn the short straw. The Fitzhugh's reputation for being a shrew is legendary; she killed her last husband in cold blood on their wedding night. So it's with no little trepidation that Geoffrey, the patient scholar of the family, travels to Fitzhugh Manor to wed his unwanted bride-to-be and take control of her land.

It's not exactly love at first sight. A wild mane of ginger hair covers Elene Fitzhugh's face and many of her expressions, but her foulmouthed curses and her ever present dagger leave Geoffrey with little doubt that his marriage will be a constant battle. But Geoffrey chooses not to fight; he meets Elene's venom with patience and humor and he treats her with courtesy and no little kindness.

He does not demand his marital rights, a wise decision considering Elene has more armor secreted on her person than most knights of the realm, and he leaves her wondering what manner of man she has married. Taught by a life of cruelty and violence that a man must be her enemy, Elene doesn't give Geoffrey much leeway. However, she is not unintelligent and when it looks like someone wants Geoffrey dead, Elene realizes that she is better off with Geoffrey than with another husband and her dagger becomes a source for his protection rather than an instrument for his death.

Simmons takes the time to really delve into Elene's character; it's this time and attention to character development that makes The de Burgh Bride a better than average bread-n-butter historical. Elene is a physical warrior and an emotional coward; her life has made her what she is. However, it's Elene's intelligence and her ability to use that intelligence to evolve which makes her such an interesting character.

At one point in the story, Geoffrey takes Elene to visit his brother and his wife, Wolf and Marion; Elene is astounded by the undeniable evidence that a man and a woman can be happy together. She begins to question all that she thought she knew about the world and men and women; including her values and her way of life. Elene has the courage to try to change a lifetime of beliefs, even though it means leaving behind the relative safety of being a shrew.

Although I normally do not care to see major characters from a pervious book given a major role in yet another romance, I must admit that Simmons uses Wolf and Marion effectively and to good purpose in The de Burgh Bride. However, I do think that the ending would have been better if there hadn't been quite so many de Burgh brothers thrown into the mix. Their presence wasn't necessary and I felt that Elene and Geoffrey should have been allowed their moment-alone.

In addition, I believe this story could have been improved by adding a little more historical color. Although I'd rather an author not discuss the history of the time at all than give inaccurate facts or descriptions, I think more concerning the day-to-day life of King Edward's reign should have been included. For example, much of this story was focused on the mismanagement of the Fitzhugh estate, but few relevant details were provided to explain what this entailed.

Finally, I'd like to commend Harlequin for the tasteful cover of this book. Although I think Harlequin has some very fine authors, I'm usually either too embarrassed or too uninspired to by their romance covers to buy their books. The cover of The de Burgh Bride, a lady's hand placed in the knight's glove, is not only romantic and tasteful; it actually has a place in Deborah Simmons's fine story.

--Judith Flavell


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