Sunday, June 26, 2022

Review: The Welsh Lord's Convenient Bride

The Welsh Lord's Convenient Bride is Lissa Morgan's debut novel. Prior to signing with Harlequin Historical she had been working for years at contemporary romance and then an editor she met at a conference suggested she try writing a historical. This book is the result and it's very good. Like, so good I can't believe this was the author's first stab at writing a historical - let alone a book set in Wales during the Middle Ages.

Rhun ab Owain is his father's only son, having grown-up in the borderland between Wales and England. He also at the age of 12, witnessed one of Richard de Vraille's knights cut down his mother as she was returning from administering to the sick in the village. The attack left Rhun with a severe leg injury that causes him to limp to this day. It also left him haunted, with a fair amount of PTSD, and vowing revenge. The knight in question is little more than a mercenary, and the book opens with Rhun in Castile, finally receiving word many months after the fact that his father is dead. It's time to come home, claim his inheritance and seal peace by marrying de Vraille's daughter, Eleanor.

Eleanor has known disapproval her whole life. She was her father's last child, having committed the crime of being yet another girl (she has two older sisters) and being the last child her mother was able to conceive and deliver. Eleanor was not a boy and the last chance - unforgivable sins in her father's eyes.  She also has a hidden "disfigurement" (spoiler: a large birthmark) that in the not-terribly enlightened Middle Ages would be a source of concern. Now she's being bundled off to marry a Welsh Lord, a man she only laid eyes on once as a child.  And yet, Eleanor is somewhat hopeful. Yes, Castell y Lleuad and her groom are unknown, but it's not roses and bonbons in her father's household.  This could be better, right?  Well...

Rhun isn't cruel like her father but he's indifferent with a touch of resentfulness. It's a marriage being thrust upon both of them in the name of peace and building alliances, but both Rhun and Eleanor are a bit like lambs starring down at the end of eventual slaughter. She wants to be helpful and accepted, while Rhun still burns from the fact that Eleanor's father murdered his mother.  Baggage, these two crazy kids have it.

What I liked about this story is that while Rhun and Eleanor have a fair amount of internal baggage and do spend time all up in their feels, it's not the only driving conflict in this story. Hey, remember when romance novels had external conflict?  Yeah, I had forgotten that was a thing as well.  Anyway, we have it here - because the Welsh and the English? That's a relationship on very unsteady ground, and when rebellion breaks out again Rhun has to choose sides.  His people, or his English wife.  His English wife he hasn't bothered to consummate his marriage with yet.  Take a wild guess which side he falls on.

This uncertainty, war, a marriage alliance that doesn't do what it's supposed to do (at least in the eyes of the English) lead to both Eleanor and Rhun growing up to a certain extent.  They're married now. Her father is a raging a-hole, but in the eyes of the Crown, the Welsh people are traitors.  And Rhun is playing at a very dangerous game.

This is a slow-burn romance and once the author gets to the love scenes, she makes them count. A romance where the sex doesn't feel like word count padding? I forgot those could exist!  Also, the growth arc for both characters is quite good - but especially Eleanor, who is hiding a "disfigurement," yearning for approval, and falling in love with a husband who has every reason to hate her guts, if only by proxy.  But, and here's the distinction between this and say, a Harlequin Presents - Rhun never hates Eleanor. He's resentful. He's bitter. And while he comes off as indifferent to her, he's not outright cruel. We as the reader know he is not indifferent to Eleanor, it just takes time for both of them to work past their respective pasts to realize they 1) love each other and 2) make a great partnership.

The first part of this book is heavier on the internal angst, while the last several chapters carry us through using external conflict. It's really well done, because it saves readers from a manufactured third-act separation. It's also the first historical romance I've read in a while that felt like a historical. Like, I learned some stuff - which hasn't happened in a dog's age.  And even factoring in how little I know about the historical conflict between Wales and England, the author brings the reader up to speed without drowning us in minutia or a centuries-long historical treatise. 

I liked this story quite a bit. I liked Rhun and Eleanor separately and as a couple. I loved the historical backdrop and the external conflict. I also really appreciated how the author handled the resolution to the external conflict - it's believable and still allows for our couple to have a happy ending.  If you're looking for a historical romance palate cleanser between Regencies, this is a good one.

Final Grade = B

1 comment:

azteclady said...

WOOT WOOT!!!

Yes, this will be the next one.