This week we devoured Liz Carlyle's historical romance series second, The Bride Wore Scarlet. During the Victorian era, a young woman attempts to prove that she’s worthy of joining a secret supernatural society by taking part in a dangerous mission to save a little girl in Brussels, Belgium.
Morgan: I picked this week’s Dish because I read the first book in the series and loved the paranormal elements the author put into her Victorian world.
Whitney: Based on what you told me about the series starter, One Touch of Scandal, I was expecting something a bit different.
Morgan: There does seem to be quite a shift in tone between the two. While the first one was a little more traditionally "romance-y," this one has a lot more action-adventure and paranormal elements. The “gifts” that both the hero and heroine possess are mysterious and difficult to define. Then there is the travel — *waves to Belgium* — and the bad guy with minions.
Whitney: This book is so much more than an English spy falling in love with a lady, catching a killer and living happily ever after. During The Bride Wore Scarlet, I was never sure where the story was headed at any moment. But the price of that is that I really had to pay attention to what was happening!
Morgan: Because of the story’s complexity, it does take a bit of time for the author to set up the plot, but if you stick with it the payoffs are fantastic.
Whitney: The story really doesn’t get going until our heroine, Anais de Rohan, seeks admission into the ancient society Fraternitas Aureae Crucis.
Morgan: Members of the Fraternitas seek to protect “gifted” individuals. These gifts range from foresight to mind reading, aura reading and beyond. But this isn’t some tiny operation; the group has existed for centuries and is spread around the world.
Whitney: You know who the Fraternitas reminded me of? The Freemasons. I really liked the way that Carlyle referred to the Fraternitas’ insignia throughout the story. The mentions of their symbol on people’s jewelry and hidden in a ship’s scroll work, invisible unless you knew where to look, really made the secret society come to life for me.
Morgan: Unlike many gentlemen’s clubs we read about in other historical romance novels, the Brotherhood has a real purpose. They fight against what they fear the most, the exploitation of the weakest amongst the Vateis — their ancient sect of seers — who are vulnerable because they are mainly women and children.
Whitney: These guys are such perfect hero material. If you imagine that the Fraternitas is a party, Carlyle has invited all the best people to it.
Morgan: Rance, Sutherland, Geoff and Ruthveyn are the main players in England’s Fraternitas. I have already fallen in love with Ruthveyn as he was the hero of the series first, but I had trouble keeping the rest of the men straight. This installment’s hero was slow to emerge and the men all seemed a bit similar to me.
Whitney: I did spend a little bit of time, especially at the beginning, trying to figure out who was who. But ultimately I have a hard time complaining about too many strong, good-looking men who want to fight for all that is right.
Morgan: And in this case, it’s little Giselle Moreau that they are trying to rescue. This young seer has ended up in the clutches of an evil man who wants to control her powers.
Whitney: And as much as the gentlemen of the Fraternitas would like to storm the metaphorical castle where little Giselle is being held in Brussels and whisk her away, this is a mission that is going to call for a more gentle approach … one might even hazard a guess that it needs a woman’s touch — something the all-male order does not have.
Morgan: There is a definite “no girls allowed” vibe with the Brotherhood. But that doesn’t stop our intrepid heroine!
Whitney: Anais wants to be a member of the Fraternitas and will do anything to get in. Even if it means risking her reputation by traveling to Brussels and pretending to be the wife of one of the Fraternitas members to help him infiltrate the home of Giselle’s captor and help rescue the little girl.
Morgan: It is a big risk for her, but Anais has to join the mission. She has literally been training her entire life for the Brotherhood. And when they turn her away just because she is a woman: Well, let’s just say that she has something to prove.
Whitney: Oh absolutely. One of the things I really liked about Anais is that it is clear from the start that she has a warrior’s heart!
Morgan: When she foils a robbery attempt at the beginning of the story, the mugger calls her an “Amazon” — I think that is the perfect way to describe Anais.
Whitney: So true. I really liked the way although she was also willing to adhere to Fraternitas traditions (as closely as possible). She is who she is without reservations. A brilliant fighter, a skilled wordsmith and a striking woman.
Morgan: With her progressive attitude and independent spirit, I really feel that she has the sensibilities of a 21st-century woman trapped in the Regency time. Not one to care about staying home and sewing or serving tea, Anais knows she can do anything the men can do … and sometimes better.
Whitney: Which makes her the perfect partner for Geoff. He needs someone unconventional to help him rescue Giselle. Someone who will not run from a challenge and is not intimidated by his gift, the ability to see a person’s true nature.
Morgan: I think the reason Anais is not scared of Geoff’s gift is because her true nature is always on display. She doesn’t hide who she is (unless she is on an undercover mission). Anais is unafraid to be herself. When she is happy she smiles, when she is upset she yells. This sets her apart from a lot of other historical romance heroines. She is also different because she is so upfront about her sexuality. I would love to ask the author if she named the character after Anais Nin. (Is my English Lit background showing?)
Whitney: English Lit, Schminglish Lit, it doesn’t take a degree to know that this is not a heroine who holds back at all. I mean, she propositions Geoff!
Morgan: And because Geoff so much more buttoned-up than she is, he is shocked. And he refuses to take her up on the offer.
Whitney: Which Anais is none too happy about.
Morgan: This leads to a great scene where Anais tries to talk Geoff into bed. She explains although he may not be Mr. Right, he is her Mr. Right-for-Now.
Whitney: You know, I have to say that that exchange didn’t really work for me as much as I would have liked. It felt way too contemporary for me. It was absolutely a great passage, but I wondered if an 1840s woman would really be talking about Mr. Right ...
Morgan: OK, I will admit that this didn’t have the exact ring of the Victorian era, but the story was very, very different from other books set in this time period and I just looked at this like an extension of that difference.
Whitney: It is a definite change of pace from other historical romance novels. I mean in most of these books someone is worried about whether or not they will be able to get married to the object of their affections. But in this tale, neither the hero or heroine is thinking of forever when they get together. And even though they fight their attraction, they still worry that the other isn’t interested ...
Morgan: Which is crazy since they are both so awesome. You wonder how they can be so insecure, but then you add their pasts into the equation and it makes a bit more sense.
Whitney: Wait a second, Anais has gone through a lot in her life, but none of her experiences have been really horrible. Yes, she has had an unconventional upbringing, but she remains resilient.
Morgan: Geoff on the other hand, is another matter altogether. His gift is so strong that he has used everything — alcohol, drugs, women — to lessen his visions. Finally, after years he has learned to control them, but there is something about this mission that tests him.
Whitney: Geoff is so proper. And I think that a lot of it has to do with his troubled past. He’s a man who likes to be in control.
Morgan: Yeah, that stems from when he was a kid. He grew up having visions he didn’t understand and was almost put into an asylum before they figured out he isn’t mentally ill, he is special.
Whitney: He calls his dark and tormented childhood his first “chapter." Next came “chapter two,” a period of enlightenment, when he learned to harness his gift. Then there was an era of responsibility after he unexpectedly inherited his older brother’s titled. And now, Geoff is in a bit of stasis. He even makes a comment that he has been “waiting for chapter four to begin.”
Morgan: Enter Anais!
Whitney: But it is not an easy courtship. These two are explosive.
Morgan: They do seem to fight all of the time. Both with their verbal and physical skills. Bring on the fencing!
Whitney: Ah, l’amour! They have such passion for each other underneath all of the bickering. These are two such strong- willed people that even though Geoff warns Anais that he is the boss before they even leave for Brussels, they still have arguments about who wears the pants in the relationship.
Morgan: In a way, I think the tension comes from how similar they are. These are two strong-willed people, which comes in handy on their mission. But their stubbornness goes beyond their job and enters into their personal lives as well. They are pessimistic and feel like they cannot find true happiness or love. At one point, Geoff thinks of his and Anais’ future: “Few things were perfect, and fewer still permanent.”
Whitney: But for the most part, neither half of this couple is given to languishing around and thinking, “Why me?”
Morgan: They are on a mission, which leaves them little time for romance. But then there are these small, quiet moments that just steal your heart. Like in the park when he sketches her and she thinks she looks beautiful in the drawing. Geoff tells her that’s the way he sees her. Sigh.
Whitney: Or when Geoff first learns that Anais gets violently seasick, and he helps her get some rest on the ship on the way to Brussels. It was such a touching exchange and it really was the first time that I looked at them and saw how their pieces could fit together.
Morgan: I repeat — sigh!
Whitney: So it’s fair to call this book swoon-worthy?
Whitney: For more of this swoon-worthy historical adventure, you better go pick up your own copy of The Bride Wore Scarlet!