Warner Forever, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61227-8
Historical Romance, 2004
Readers who prefer their medieval romances to be, well, medieval should stay clear of Shari Anton’s Once a Bride. The story isn’t good enough to warrant a burst blood vessel when the only thing medieval about this book in terms of sensibilities or actual details are the occasional ’tis and ’twas.
Having said that, this book isn’t even decent wallpaper medieval. The characters are stock characters designed to irritate me. The hellion heroine who holds petty grudges and do very stupid things, the hero who’s… well, the hero, annoying kids, a transparent attempt at court intrigue, they’re all here. It is as if Shari Anton had set out to emulate a typically average medieval romance and actually falls short of doing so.
Eloise Hamelin and Roland St Marten have a history of sorts: she was about to marry her brother, only this lucky man died of a heart attack right before the vows were exchanged. Eloise didn’t love Hugh St Marten, but she was furious nonetheless when she overheard Roland trying to persuade Hugh to bail out on the marriage. (A man can bail out of an arranged marriage in medieval times just like that – snap – it’s very easy, I’m sure.) She will never forgive him. Ever!
Today, they meet under more turbulent circumstances. Eloise’s father is accused of being a traitor and flees, leaving Eloise alone to fend for herself as the nasty Earl of Kenworth arrives to capture Sir John. Roland is among the knights that arrive with Kenworth. Eloise escapes to meet her brother in London and do, er, something to help Sir John. Kenworth is conveniently away, so Roland has to find her. They will end up in London where they will fall in love, clear Sir John’s name, and even make some politically-correct statements about helping the disabled.
Eloise is a heroine that exists in some limbo between girlhood and immature adolescence – she rarely acts with any of the independence or maturity that Roland credits her for having. She runs away, formulates half-baked plans that obviously will not work, and in the process thinks nothing of sleeping with Roland even though she insists that she hates him forever even when he’s hot. Forget Eloise being an unauthentic medieval heroine – she’ll be getting a spanking even if she exists as a contemporary heroine. Meanwhile, Roland has to play the babysitter, rescuer, knight-in-shining armor, and the man who will do all the thinking in the relationship. But any man who insists that Eloise is smart, independent, strong-willed, and brave deserves what he gets with Eloise.
Other things about this story aren’t good either. We have two teenagers playing matchmakers to the main couple, even advising them on matters of the heart at some point. Nowhere in this story does the author show any self-awareness as to how absurd this situation is, unless she’s really trying to tell me that her main characters are utter nitwits. The external conflict is not just predictable, it’s flat-out transparent as everything from the villain to his machinations are very obvious. As for medieval details, this story is an authentic as a medieval reenactment by grade-school kiddies. Some horses, some castles, a few knights, and a ’twas here and there do not a medieval romance make, surely?
Once a Bride isn’t a good authentic medieval romance. It is also a lousy story, with a stale romance between two cardboard characters caught in a badly thought-out flat-out suspense-free external conflict. This story ends up just being too dry and even duller.