Midnight Bride, by Susan Carroll

>> Friday, October 06, 2006

And now, finally, the third in Susan Carroll's St. Leger series, Midnight Bride. Considering the comments left after The Bride Finder, I think many people are going to disagree with my impressions...

For generations, the St. Legers of Cornwall have borne strange talents: visions of the future, spirit walking, healing - their inheritance from the sorcerer Prospero St. Leger. For each generation there is a Bride Finder, whose gift brings to each St. Leger a love that will last forever, even through death and beyond.

To reject the Bride Finder's choice is said to guarantee tragedy. Valentine St. Leger is a compassionate doctor whose touch can perform miracles, though he must bear the pain of those he tends. Years ago Val used his talent to save his twin - and was left lame, haunted by constant pain. But his greatest burden is facing his empty future - for the Bride Finder has decreed that there will never be a bride for him.

Kate Fitzleger loves Val more than life itself and is certain they are meant for each other. So the wild, passionate beauty steals powerful sorcery, intending to bend fate to her will - even as an old enemy unleashes a treacherous plot to refashion Val St. Leger's destiny.
Can I call a book I liked very much a disappointment? In a way, that's what Midnight Bride was. It disappointed me because after The Night Drifter, I very much wanted to read kind, gentle, sweet Val St. Leger's story. The way Carroll wrote this, however, we didn't get to explore the kind, gentle, sweet man we'd met already. In terms of quality, however, nope, no disappointment, because though Carroll took the story in a direction which wasn't the one I was eagerly anticipating, it was a direction I enjoyed anyway. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that MB is thisclose to being my favourite in the series. A B+.

The whole story in this book is an off-shoot of the secondary plot of The Night Drifter, so please be warned that this review will have spoilers for that.

In TND we saw that the St. Leger sword had been stolen by Rafe Mortmain and came back to the St. Legers missing a chip of the powerful crystal embedded in its pommel. As MB starts, we find out that possession of this chip of crystal has proved disastrous to Rafe. He's sick and feels like he's about to die, and he's on his way back to return the crystal, hoping he'll get rid of some of the curse, if possible.

Also in TND, we saw Val St. Leger be disappointed when he went to consult the Bride Finder, full of hope of finding the woman for him, and was told that this woman didn't exist. Val, says Effie Fitzleger, has no chosen bride. And since family legend states that marrying anyone other than one's chosen bride leads only to disaster, this means Val is condemned to spending his life alone.

Val is relatively resigned to this, but Kate Fitzleger, Effie's adopted daughter, refuses to accept it. She's been in love with Val forever, since the very day she arrived at Effie's house from the orphanage. Kate thinks the family legend is silly, and now that she's old enough, she is determined to get Val.

Kate's plans are proceeding in fits and starts, until the night Rafe Mortmain returns. Rafe manages to get to Val's cottage, but collapses on the entrance right after handing over the crystal. Even though he has always mistrusted Rafe, doctor Val just can't tolerate to see anyone in pain, so as he always does with his patients, he uses his magic gift to take on some of Rafe's pain. But having the crystal on him sends everything out of control, and in addition to his physical pain, Val also takes in Rafe's emotional pain and mabye even some of his very soul?

The Val who wakes up the next morning without any memory of what has happened is a different man from the sweet and noble gentleman Val always was. Not only has he been cured of the crippling injury he had taken years earlier, when he was using his gift to take the pain from his brother, but he now cares nothing about the legend or about propriety, and so he doesn't hesitate to pursue Kate.

Kate, however, doesn't know anything about Rafe's visit, and since that night she was also trying out a love spell from the spell book of the St. Leger ghost, Prospero, she believes this was the motive of Val's change. Kate loves that Val seems to have changed his mind about being with her, but she's not so happy about his personality change, feeling responsible about it.

As I mentioned above, my first reaction when realizing what had happened to Val was disappointment. I had wanted to read about this truly nice guy, and instead, Carroll had magically turned him into a reckless, jealous, selfish scoundrel? Yawn... been there, done that.

But as I went on reading, I realized my first impression hadn't been exactly right. The incident with Rafe hadn't really changed Val into someone else, but had rather allowed the dark side already inside him to come to light. Rather than making the nice guy into a different person, as I had feared, Carroll was showing us the complexity of his personality. She was showing us that even though he'd superficially seemed to have perfectly adjusted to the crippling injury in his leg, and had seemingly never blamed his brother for it, deep inside his soul, a part of him was angry about it... angry because he couldn't ride anymore as he used to, angry because he had to endure pain often, even angry at his brother for being so stupid to have gone almost suicidally into battle and getting this injury. Carroll was also showing us that even though Val seemed resigned to never finding a bride, deep inside, he was angry at fate about it and completely desperate to have Kate. The guy we were seeing was Val, the real Val, warts and all, and this made all the difference. There was a danger here, though: it's all well and good that Val isn't repressing his feelings any more, but the extra pain he took on is allowing his darker side to go out of control.

Kate was an interesting character, too, even though compared to Val, she was much less compelling. I didn't much like her at first, because she initially came across as simply a reckless hellion, but she grew on me, mostly because of her reactions to Val's changes. Part of her is ecstatic at having the man she loves finally as crazy about her as she is about him, but another part hates that it's not real, that it's only happening because of her love spell. The new Val is exciting and sexy, but Kate doesn't like the recklessness and pain she now sees in him and of course, blames herself for putting them there.

As Val and Kate's new relationship develops, we also see how Rafe is faring. The night that so changed Val also changed Rafe. He not only recovered his lost health, but he also lost the years and years of emotional pain and rejection that had been poisoning him. That moment of connection brought out the darkness inside Val's goodness, but it did the exact opposite to Rafe: it allowed the goodness inside his bitterness to come out, and some of the most powerful moments in the book come when Rafe has to decide if he'll help Val, the man who didn't hesitate to help him, and risk having things go back to the way they were.

I loved the romance, but even more, I loved how MB explored the characters of Val and Rafe and who they really were.


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