Review of MIDNIGHT BRIDE by Sophia Johnson (see her website)
Zebra, October 2007
With her father desperate to have her married and with her rich dowry, men have lined up to marry Netta. But Netta spurns all of them, pretending to be pregnant, biting the tongue of any who dare attempt to kiss her, or refusing to bathe until they can't stand her. When she gives her latest beau a heart attack when he sees her in the tub, her father vows to marry her to whomever next walks through the castle gate. That man, Mereck of Blackthorn, is Netta's worst nightmare. Half-Welsh, half-Scots, Mereck is a bastard and a baresark (berserker).
Because Netta first sees Mereck in his Celtic war paint, she doesn't recognize him when he offers to bring her friend to Scotland to seek out a husband, and Netta plots to go along, posing as her friend's maid. Her maid act is unconvincing, but she doesn't realize that Mereck is her Baresark and intended until he has her in a Scotish castle. There he vows to woo her, win her, and protect her.
Unfortunately, Netta's rich dowry attracts another suitor--one who vows to prevent their marriage or, if that isn't possible, to make Netta a widow.
Author Sophia Johnson (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Johnson) creates a wonderful tortured hero in Mereck. With his family history and his certainty that any woman he loves can only be destroyed by his baresark nature, Mereck fights falling in love even as he attempts to charm Netta. Johnson attempted the difficult task of making her heroine, Netta, a comedic figure. Netta's naiveté about sex, her impulsive decisions, her ignorance about how a servant should act, her lack of basic biological knowledge, and her inability to carry a tune add some amusing moments. Sometimes, however, the humor didn't quite work and I ended up wincing rather than laughing.
It seemed to me that Johnson left a few loose ends. Johnson planted the seeds for a conflict between Netta and Mereck over her inheritance--something he desperately wanted. This conflict never emerged, however, and Netta never learned the role her dowry played in Mereck's interest. Likewise, the faked bloody sheet when Mereck held off on lovemaking after their marriage until he gained Netta's trust could have resulted in some interesting complications but simply didn't. Finally, I had a hard time really believing that the scrawny English Roger could really be much of a threat to Mereck.
I was glad to see the Norman Conquest period being used again in historical romances.
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