The Bride Finder, by Susan Carroll

>> Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Susan Carroll's wonderful Faire Isle trilogy sent me running to get her backlist. And since everyone recommended the St. Leger books, those were the first ones I got.

The first entry in the St. Leger series is The Bride Finder.

Chosen by the Bride Finder, a man blessed with amazing insight, Madeline Breton has come to Cornwall to meet her new husband, the enigmatic Anatole St. Leger. But her dream of happiness soon diffuses in his overpowering shadow.

Anatole knows only too well the legacies that to him have been more curses than gifts. But as Madeline embarks on an odyssey both otherworldly and undeniably real, she and her husband fall hopelessly in love--until she sees a haunting vision of murder and a terrifying enemy emerges to threaten both their lives...
The Bride Finder is a paranormal with a gothic feel, and a very nice romance. A B+.

The book introduces the St. Leger family, descendants of a famous 16th century wizard and all possessed of psychic talents. They're also possessed of some strange legends, one of which is that members of the family aren't allowed to choose their brides and grooms themselves, but must rely on the Bride Finder, a person whose special power is to be able to see who the right partner for a St. Leger will be. The legend states that if a St. Leger marries someone not approved by the Bride Finder, he or she will fall under a curse and will meet a horrible end.

That is exactly what happened to the parents of the current head of the family, Anatole St. Leger. His father fell head over heels in love with a woman and married her, without ever telling her about his strange legacy. Anatole's mother just couldn't handle the scary things happening around her, including the fact that her son was, according to her, a freak who could do things like make objects fly through the air, and died not long afterwards, after rejecting her son.

Anatole grew up to be a bitter, moody man. He lives in his gloomy castle and never stirs from there. When the time comes to look for a mate (yet another St. Leger tradition... there comes a time in which they feel the need for a mate arise inside them, and being alone then becomes unbearable), Anatole calls for the current Bride Finder, Reverend Fitzleger and, despite the man's protests that his gift just doesn't work that way, gives the man a list of characteristics his bride needs to have. Anatole wants a strong, sturdy bride, one who won't be afraid of him. She needs to be outdoorsy and not intellectual, and most of all, since he's been having visions of a red-haired woman approaching him and bringing great danger, his bride must not have red hair.

Of course, as anyone who's ever read a romance novel is probably expecting, the Bride Finder's choice, Madeline Breton is small, delicate, afraid of horses, a great lover of books and, worst of all, red-headed (and the scene when they first meet is hilarious). But well, since the good reverend is adamant that she's the one, and Anatole isn't ready to wait more months before someone else can be found, they marry.

And unlike what yet another St. Leger legend predicts, their marriage isn't immediately blissful, basically because Anatole fears Madeline's rejection if he were to reveal his psychic gifts to her. So even as their attraction grows, Anatole keeps drawing away.

There is an external plot here, involving family conflict, but the most interesting aspect of the book is the relationship between Anatole and Madeline. Anatole can come across as a bit over-the-top tortured, but Carroll establishes the roots of his lack of confidence well, and I loved the way she wrote his increasing vulnerability, the conflict between his desire to protect himself from a further rejection and his need for someone who loves him.

Madeline was really the perfect partner for a man like Anatole. She's calm and sensible to Anatole's broodiness and irrationality. Nothing fazes Madeline, and her reactions when she finally found out about all those pesky family legends and her new family's gifts were pitch-perfect.

From what I've heard, it took Carroll a while to write the next two books in the series, so in a way, I'm glad it took me so much time to discover her. I can just go and read The Night Drifter and Midnight Bride immediately!


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