Opening Line: “The stones of the tower radiated anguish and despair.”
I’m a little surprised at the bad to mediocre reviews for The Bartered Bride because I absolutely loved it, getting completely drawn into the sweeping adventure. Although in saying that I’m brand new to author Mary Jo Putney and don’t generally read a lot of historical romances so I can’t make any real comparisons either. What I can say is that I couldn’t put this book down; I loved MJP’s style of writing, the depth of her characters, the original story ideas, the suspense, the exotic locations and the absence of any TSTL moments.
This was a couple that actually talked to each other, so that the conflict here wasn’t based on silly secrets or misunderstandings. Gavin and Alex are both adults carrying scars and they dealt with things sensibly. (i.e. they don’t jump each others bones and fall in love within a matter of days) They get to know each other, they disagree, and they have issues that need time and patience to work through.
And speaking of patience what a superb hero we get in in Gavin, he’s just, well… such a nice guy. I fell a little bit in love with him even though I prefer my heroes more on the alpha side. And without going into detail I also have to give credit to the research into the time, it felt very authentic. I even learned me a thing or two.
Alexandra Warren and her young daughter are returning from Australia after the death of her husband when their ship is attacked by pirates. Captured, separated and sold into slavery its going to be 6 months before Alex gets her first glimpse at rescue in that of Captain Elliot.
American shipping merchant Gavin Elliot has built a fortune in the Far East but his adventures are coming to en end. En route to England he has one last anchor drop before he starts a new life. Whilst being shown around the (make believe) Indonesian island of Maduri by the ruling Sultan, Gavin is appalled to see a European woman being auctioned off in a slave market. Before he can buy her freedom the sultan acquires the woman for himself, (to use against Gavin as a means of blackmail and to acquire his shipping fleet.) The Sultan then offers a wager; if Gavin can beat him in “the lion’s game” -a series of tests decided on by the role of the dice, the woman is his; if Gavin loses he gives up his fleet and ten years of his life in servitude.
The first half of this book is just awesome, I never knew what contest the role of the dice would bring next, I definitely didn’t expect “worshipping the goddess” however. And while this enters into bodice ripper territory its handled here with… can I get away with sensitivity? Yeah it’s still rape no matter how you look at it but remember Gavin is a nice guy and kinda forced into it.
Okay anyways, the second half of the book takes place in England and while very different its no less enthralling. We have a marriage of convenience, two strangers getting to know and trust each other, a forced lordship, a kidnapping, some surprising sex scenes and charges of murder.
While others have complained about the predictability of the plot here it didn’t bother me. Yeah the villains were a bit cartoonish but I found it clever how the story opens with Gavin awaiting trial in the tower of London and then makes its way back to how he got there (big surprise who he “murdered”) Towards the end of the story I had forgotten all about his fate and was then on absolute pins as he walks to the hangman’s noose, assured of certain death. His inner thoughts here were real and heart wrenching. I’m just so happy to have found a new author with such a huge backlist for me to discover. Adventure and romance await. Cheers.