The Bridal Veil
by Alexis Harrington, historical (2002)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97954-1

Emily Cannon is going to marry Luke Becker. Actually, Luke's supposed to marry her sister, but the sister is now cow pie after a carriage got to Sis here - how sad, huh? - so Emily is here to take her place. She has to. She's desperate. Luke needs a mother for his daughter Rose, so what the heck, ding dong bell, mail order brides is a plot so easy to sell, et cetera.

"No!" Luke's mother-in-law shrieks.

No, before you wince, Alexis Harrington is too skilled an author to create caricatures. The Evil Mother is actually very believable as a bitter human being who wouldn't be like this if circumstances haven't hurt her so. Likewise, Luke allows his mother-in-law to treat his new wife pretty badly, but again, he behaves in a very real manner as befits a man who is still haunted by his late wife. It is so easy to use his guilt to manipulate him into being a helpless twit. Emily is very well-done too as a mousy woman who, through love and other rot, discovers her own strengths to stand up for herself.

I may not agree with some of things Luke and Emily do, but since they are so real to me, I can respect their decisions. It isn't easy reading, but it's darned good to read about people who faces real emotional dilemmas.

But what I can object - and I do object vehemently to this - is the author's unimaginative use of trite plot devices to sell the story. The romance between Emily and Luke is convincing enough (although I wish they will interact more, really), so there is no need to drag Luke's late wife's character through the mud and cheapen Luke's memories just to make Emily come off smelling like roses. There is no need to make every single woman in this story some nasty, rude, and man-grubby creature - except Emily and her stepdaughter, of course. And there is no rhyme or reason to Luke loving so deeply a late wife whom he knows doesn't love him back. Huh? Really?

For almost two-thirds of The Bridal Veil, the story lingers very close to keeper territory. But the author just have to cheapen the very elements in her story that are original, rendering the two main characters passive-aggressive self-absorbed twits, and ruins the entire reading experience for me. Sometimes it doesn't pay to play safe, not at the expense of the credibility of the entire story.

Ms Harrington, I insist you paste a stick-it note at your monitor now: I will not use trite plot devices to resolve difficult emotional dilemmas. Now.

Rating: 78

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