by Alexis Harrington, historical (2003)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97956-8
Alexis Harrington is an author who often creates characters that are a little deeper than your usual historical rake/bluestocking archetypes. In The Irish Bride though, the heightened sense of ridiculous when it comes to the villain plays a big part in making me hard to take this story seriously. The heroine is also a rather stubborn and passive woman, and often I wonder what the hero sees in her.
This story tells the tale of Farrell Kirwan, a poor Irish lass, and Aidan O'Rourke, her husband. Farrell was a poor relative living with a family who already has too many mouths to feed. Her brother works for a nasty Englishman, Noah Cardwell, to evict his fellow Irishmen out of their houses. After escaping the lecherous Noah, she runs home only to learn that her brother is dead, killed in his attempt to evict the O'Rourke. Aidan O'Rourke has also loved Farrell, and now he has accidentally killed her brother, oopsie. As if she being in love with his brother Liam isn't bad enough. The sadist that he is, he takes Farrell along with him as they both escape Noah and Ireland. So this story sees our twosome traveling from Ireland all the way to America, via a slave ship somewhere along the way, with Noah on hot pursuit.
The biggest problem with this book is Noah. He's probably a little better than Snidely Whiplash and Wild E Coyote in the Caricature Villain Hall Of Fame, but that's not saying much, is it? This is a man whose badness is pretty over-the-top and he actually chases Farrell and Aidan all across the ocean just because he wants to finish what he almost started with Farrell and because his father ordered him to clean up the mess caused by Michael Kirwan's death. With the villain an unrealistic character, this story seems stuck in a grey area between campy and character-driven. Aidan and Farrell are pretty well-drawn characters, so I really don't know what to make of them sharing the pages with the cartoon Noah.
While I emphatize with the circumstances in Farrell's life, she starts out a humorless, miserable woman so I am also hard-pressed to understand what makes Aidan so determined to win her heart. I like Aidan because of his patient fidelity to Farrell throughout their adventures even when I'm sure a sane man who would be driven insane by Farrell's behavior. Devotion is an appealing trait in a romance novel character. Farrell, however, is so insistent on stubbornly clinging on to the memory of Liam to the point of denial and even refusing to acknowledging Aidan's goodness often frustrate me. For example, when Aidan earned some money to feed them both, she really should not ask him whether he cheated at gambling for her. (Even if he cheated, good for him, if you ask me.) Of course, she apologizes, but she often keeps doing it again and again - clinging on to this silly belief that Liam is the man she should have married. I wanted so many times to shake some sense in her: Liam abandoned her and it is Aidan who is dragging her denial-shroud ass across the ocean, so she'd bloody well stop whining and put her weight into making both their lives as comfortable as possible!
Also, the story peters off into a tedious communication breakdown between those two that make me roll up my eyes. Let's just say that after the mighty epiphany of love and whatever once they reached America, suddenly Farrell and Aidan begin embarking in some self-centered "I love you more than you love me, how could you be so selfish?" contest. This conflict actually causes Farrell to come off even worse than before. After Aidan has done everything to get her safe to America and to make her see how much he loves her, now she's apparently declaring that she loves him and he doesn't seem to love her back enough for her liking. Whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, complain. She's all take and no give when it comes to this really one-sided relationship, and I don't like this at all.
There are some great things about this book: the Irish dialect is done in a restrained yet seemingly authentic way. The dialect doesn't overpower the book, just enough to remind readers that the Irish characters here aren't the usual wallpaper sorts. Aidan's character will probably fit right at home in the hearts of readers wanting to look for a hardworking, devoted, and a little rakish hero. The setting is very well done too. But two major aspects of this book - the ridiculous villain and the parasitic heroine - cause enough damage to prevent this book from being only slightly above average romantic road trip adventure.
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