Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Review: The Untamed Bride

Full disclosure: I like pretty much everything Stephanie Laurens writes. This summer when I was purging my book collection for a yard sale, her books were absolute keepers. So my love of her work probably makes me biased when I review her books.

The Untamed Bride is the first in Laurens's new four-part series about the Black Cobra Cult and the four Englishmen who are tasking with bringing it down. The four men are army officers who have been stationed in India since Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. (Laurens ties these men to the Cynsters—the family that most of her books are based on—by explaining that they fought with the Cynster men at Waterloo.) The governor of India turns to the four men when he needs help in bringing down a villainous cult that follows a man called The Black Cobra. These cultists are essentially terrorists who go into villages and murder, rape, and pillage for no purpose other than to cause civil unrest. The British government has surmised that the Black Cobra himself is an Englishman who is capitalizing on the general feelings of anti-imperialism. The four men (actually five, as I'll explain) finally find the man they believe to be responsible after a few months of investigation. But this man is the son of one of the most powerful peers in England, an earl who essentially has the Prince Regent's ear. So they cannot accuse the son of being an evil cult leader without solid, irrefutable evidence. It is only after one of the five is murdered by the cultists that the other four discover their fallen comrade managed to attain this crucial evidence before he died. And he passed it on to them.

Royce, the Duke of Wolverstone (a.k.a. Dalziel from Laurens's Bastion Club series) is England's ex-spymaster, and he devises a plan for the men to bring the evidence safely back to England where he will then publicly expose the public. Three of the men will carry a copy of the evidence and one will carry the original—but no one will know which is which. Each man is to travel by a separate route back to England—but they will not know each other's routes. Only Royce knows the routes, but even he does not know who is going which way. Each man resigns his military commission and goes on his way. That is essentially the introduction to the whole series. And of course, because this is a series of romance novels, each man will undoubtedly acquire a lovely young lady along the way.

The Untamed Bride is Derek's story. Derek (or Del as he is called because of his last name that I can't remember—Delborough, maybe?) is the oldest and highest ranking of the men. He travels by sea back to England, and although there are a few threats on his life along the way, he makes it safely to Southampton. But there is a letter waiting for him at Southampton from his only living relatives—his aunts—telling him that they have arranged for him to escort a Miss Deliah Duncannon to her home (which is in the same county as Del's family home). His aunts, of course, don't know that Del has more pressing matters on his plate. He tries to avoid the responsibility of escorting Deliah, until she quite by chance happens to save his life from a Black Cobra assassin. Because the assassin saw her, she is now at risk, and Del agrees that she will join him. Oh yeah, and Deliah is a stone-cold fox.

A lot of people complain that Laurens's heros and heroines are all the same. And... they are. But in this book, I think it works. Deliah is returning to England after seven years away in Jamaica where she was sent by her family after she had an affair with a man that did not do the honorable thing (i.e., he slept with her and refused to marry her). She's a very headstrong character who basically tells Del what he's going to do and when he's going to do it. But her sexual desires and strong personality have left her feeling like she does not fit in among polite society. When Del tells her that she is going to meet all of the Cynster wives (oh, yeah, there is totally a Cynster reunion in this book) which includes a duchess, a countess, and a lot of rich married women, she is understandably very nervous and worried about fitting in. But, because she's just like all the other Laurens heroines, it is actually a wonderful experience for her to find a group of women that see all her characteristics as strengths and not flaws. I thought that was very well done of Laurens. I also thought it was a bit of a response to her critics, as if she was saying, "There's a reason they're all the same, you know." I liked the fact that Deliah could be a strong woman who still had a lot of insecurities because it made it easier to relate to her.

Also, I gotta say, I actually liked that the hero and heroine jumped into bed with each other (not right away) with little prior thought or planning. If you've ever read a Laurens book, you know that the build-up to the nookie is often ridiculously drawn out. That was one aspect that made this book feel different than her others. All in all, this wasn't my favorite Laurens book, but it was still a fun read. In the back of the book there is a sneak peak of the next book in the series, The Elusive Bride, and I'm really looking forward to that one, too. The heroine, Emily, was with the fifth officer when he died, and she is the one that passes the evidence on to the other four men. Should be a good read!

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