A Christmas Bride, by Mary Balogh

>> Monday, November 14, 2005

A Christmas Bride is one of Mary Balogh's old Regencies, a book related to both A Precious Jewel and The Famous Heroine.

To please his father, Edgar Downes, a wealthy merchant, agrees to choose a well-born bride by Christmas. He picks out a suitable young lady, but then finds himself caught up in an unconsidered passion for a widow his own age. Helena, Lady Stapleton, is hiding a deeply troubled past behind a cool, seductive, cynical exterior. Edgar takes his bride home for Christmas, but all the magic of the season is necessary to bring Helena pardon and peace and to bless their marriage.
I loved this book. An A-.

I love tortured heroines, and A Christmas Bride had a wonderful one. The thing about Helena was that she wasn't torturing herself for some idiotically inane reason. Sometimes it feels as if romance heroes can be forgiven for just about everything, while heroines must be perfect and aren't allowed to have behaved badly in their pasts. So then, when an author wants to write a tortured heroine, we get women who beat themselves up for years over things that either hurt no one or were honest mistakes on their part.

Not so with Helena. What she did was bad and caused real damage to someone she cared about. We saw that clearly in A Precious Jewel. I'm not going to mention what it was, even if anyone who's read APW will know it, but suffice it to say, she's completely justified in regretting her actions.

Through her romance with Edgar, Helena finds her salvation. If Edgar hadn't shown up in her life and started caring about her and hadn't found out why exactly she felt she was so undeserving of love, and set out to help her rectify the situation, I truly believe Helena would have continued to torture herself the rest of her life. This would usually be enough to make me throw a book against the wall, but I actually found Helena's position quite understandable. Sure, she was mistaken in thinking an apology on her part wouldn't at all help the person she'd harmed and would only serve to make her feel better, but her position was quite admirable.

I just adored the romance here. I loved to see Helena change, loved to see her start caring about the people around her that she didn't want to care about. And if I enjoyed seeing the change in Helena, I also loved to see Edgar's, especially in his feelings towards his new wife. He went from being sexually obssessed with her, but not particularly liking her, to being sexually obssessed with her and grudgingly liking her, to being sexually obssessed with her and loving her and wanting to protect her and give her peace, and his actions to make this happen were wonderfully romantic.

ACB is full of characters from Balogh's other books, but it stands alone pretty well, since all these characters have a real role to play in the action and aren't just there to reassure us that they lived happily ever after. Still, the other books are all great, so if possible, I recommend that you read them all in order!

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