Samantha Briggeham is a 26-year-old, plain, eccentric spinster who would rather stay that way than marry a man she doesn't love. Her parents, however, have other ideas and arrange for her engagement to an uptight older gentleman who Sammie just knows would stifle her independence. She goes to the man and deftly gets him to call off the betrothal, but on her way back home finds herself abducted by the notorious Bride Thief, a masked man who rescues women who are being forced into unwanted marriages by kidnapping them and helping them start a new life elsewhere. When Sammie informs the Bride Thief that she is not in need of his services, he is stunned that for the first time in his "career," he will have to return the bride.
The Bride Thief's true identity is none other than Eric Landsdowne, the Earl of Wesley. Eric is not a fan of marriage after watching his parents miserable relationship while growing up. He also was not able to save his beloved sister from a miserable arranged marriage that turned abusive, so he became the Bride Thief to save other women from the same fate. Having to return Samantha was great for her, bringing her the attentions of many young suitors, but it was bad for him, raising the ire of local fathers who band together as the Bride Thief Posse offering a huge reward for his capture. At this rate his next rescue may be his last, as the penalty for kidnapping is hanging.
During the short time that Eric spent with Samantha as the Bride Thief, she shared some her hopes and dreams of adventure with him. Eric found himself both enchanted and intrigued by Sammie's intelligence and spunky personality and wants nothing more than getting to know her better out of his disguise, and Sammie too finds herself smitten with the handsome Earl. Early in their friendship, they had both declared their mutual disinterest in marriage, but the more time they spend together, the more it seems they may be falling in love. Sammie would never dare to hope that a man like Eric would change his mind about marrying for a plain, bookish young woman like herself, but desiring the adventure of a lifetime, she instead suggests a discreet love affair, believing she could be content with that for as long as it lasts. At first, Eric honorably refuses, but soon finds himself helpless to resist Sammie's charms. If anyone discovers their liaison though it would be a social disaster for both of them. In addition, Sammie has waxed romantic over the Bride Thief and wishes to help him in any way she can, which would place her in grave danger, not to mention, she may never forgive Eric if she learns his secret identity.
The Bride Thief was a delightful read in so many ways. It was utterly romantic, as sweet as the honey Samantha used in her hand creams, and frequently made me laugh out loud. This story was a fun, fairy-tale fantasy with an eccentric, plain-Jane spinster heroine who finds her hero in the form of a man who carries off would-be brides from unwanted arranged marriages. The Bride Thief was a charming tale that had a refreshing lightness and certain aura of innocence about it, with even the darker, more dangerous parts managing to carry some weight without being too heavy. With only one actual love scene, there isn't a lot of heat in this one, but I found that one scene to be just a little bit daring while also being sweetly sensuous. Jacquie D'Alessandro is masterful at creating a strong emotional connection and sexual tension with mere looks and gentle touches, and I've yet to find another author who does this quite as well. In addition, I absolutely love Ms. D'Alessandro's sense of humor. I found myself laughing every few scenes for the entire first half of the book. Eric being jealous of himself every time Sammie waxed romantic about the Bride Thief was hilarious, and Sammie's creative way of getting out of her arranged marriage, as well as a conversation with her three married sisters about birth control nearly had me rolling on the floor. Ms. D'Alessandro definitely has a knack for spinning tales that find a great balance between entertainment and emotion.
Eric and Samantha were two of the most wonderful characters I've read in a while. Eric perhaps carries a bit too much guilt over not being able to stop his beloved sister's miserable arranged marriage, but it's also what drives him to be the Bride Thief and makes him a compassionate and progressive-thinking hero. He has a heart of gold and treats all the women in the story with kindness and respect, even the ones who aren't as deserving of it. He is also a very understanding man who sees beyond the outward eccentricities (read: geekiness) of both Samantha and her brother, Hubert, and in fact, finds both them and their scientific pursuits to be genuinely fascinating. Overall, Eric was very kind, caring, loving and a whole host of other adjectives. I don't think there was really anything not to like about him. To say that Samantha is an unconventional heroine would probably be an understatement. She is physically plain, right down to dressing in a very ordinary way and having poor eyesight that requires spectacles. She'd much rather be observing nature, inventing things with her brother in their lab, or studying the stars through their telescope than attending balls and soirées, not to mention, she's a firmly on-the-shelf spinster. While she's OK with the idea of not marrying and doesn't believe anyone would ever want an oddball like her anyway, Sammie does keep a diary in which she writes romantic stories about the true love of her fantasies. She is also very honest and plain-spoken, and I admired her boldness in just telling Eric that she wanted to be lovers and continuing to pursue him even after he'd turned her down once out of a sense of honor. All in all, I related to Sammie very well, and can't think of anything that I didn't like about her.
The secondary characters were very entertaining and likable as well. I found Sammie's close family connections with her parents and siblings to be very endearing. Sammie is always patient with everyone including her melodramatic mother with her amusing planned fainting spells. It also went the other way with Sammie's three sisters adoring and protecting her in spite of the fact that she is their complete opposite. I also loved Sammie's interactions with her teenage brother, Hubert. They were certainly two peas in a pod, who probably understood each other better than anyone else ever could. At first it seems that Sammie is a protective, motherly figure to Hubert, but eventually the reader discovers that Hubert is equally protective of Sammie, which I thought made for a beautiful reciprocal relationship. Eric's connection with his own sister, Margaret, runs just as deep, and when she returns home after the death of her evil husband, their scenes are laden with emotion. There is also Eric's loyal stable master who is more like a father to him and is initially the only person who knows about his masquerade as the Bride Thief, as well as the magistrate, Adam Straton, who is determined to apprehend the Bride Thief but is also an honorable man who has harbored a deep love for Margaret for years. Overall, it was a very well-rounded supporting cast with personalities ranging from outrageously funny to deeply touching.
I have to admit that after finishing The Bride Thief, I had a rare moment of indecision on how to rate it. I really loved the story and wanted to rate it a bit higher, but there were a few things that I thought could have been improved. The pacing was a little slow and uneven in places, and I found a small continuity error in which Hubert's age changed from fourteen to sixteen and then back to fourteen again. There was also some repetition in details, some of which could be cute and fun like the running thread of Eric and Samantha coming up with words to describe each other that all began with the same letter, but another of which had the characters almost constantly sighing over one thing or another. Although this was a pretty minor thing and it did always fit with the scene, I just thought that perhaps a little more creativity was in order. In the end, I think the thing that bothered me the most was that Eric and Samantha began the story with a very stark honesty to their characters which I found extremely refreshing, but then the major conflict devolved into the cliched misunderstanding which was a bit disappointing. In spite of the minor detractors that kept it from just missing keeper status, The Bride Thief was definitely a solid 4-star book that was an absolute joy to read. Anyone looking for a lighthearted, escapist fantasy that is a breath of fresh air should look no further, and after two lovely reading experiences in a row from Jacquie D'Alessandro, I'm certainly looking forward to continuing my exploration of her work.
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