Briar Rose
by Kimberly Cates, historical (1999)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-671-01495-1


I have always been fascinated by those romances between unlikely people. These are always my favorite romances, because the romance in them are always the most impossible to attain, and when happiness is achieved, it is made sweeter by the long road they've taken to get there.

I'm adding Kimberly Cates' Briar Rose to my list. This book is simply steeped with romantic atmosphere. The hero of this book, Captain Lionel Redmayne, is a villain in a previous book, Magic. While hunting for a traitor, he is injured badly and is taken in and nursed back to health by Rhiannon Fitzgerald. Now, don't groan when I say Rhiannon has an ability to bond with animals and read human emotions. Rhiannon, while guileless and innocent, is never stupid. Indeed, she is so good and noble that when she sprouts mawkish sentiments that make Lionel want to shake her silly, I don't even wince.

Despite dipping into Pollyanna-dom at times, Rhiannon is not all sugary and sweet. Her father lost everything due to being framed by his enemy and as a result, he and Rhiannon have been traveling around and living in a caravan, Gypsy-like. Rhiannon now lives alone after his father's death. She has learned long ago not to feel anything but forced cheerfulness. She drives all her sadness and loneliness away by taking care of stray animals and mothering them in-between doing odd-jobs for people. Upon Lionel's arrival into her life, she finds herself questioning for the first time her true feelings about her life.

Lionel is her complete opposite. A man honed to feel no emotions, trust no one, and act with ruthless cruelty, he is bewildered yet terrified of the feelings Rhiannon evokes in him. He wants... feels... and he is afraid. Like Jack Seward of All Through The Night, Lionel is a trained agent of destruction, and under Rhiannon's gentle goodness, he begins to develop guilt and remorse at the creature he has become. Ultimately he begins to see how lonely and barren his existence is, and Rhiannon becomes his sole link to sanity and redemption.

These two characters, if anything, are bonded by their loneliness. Rhiannon knows Lionel would hurt her, but his inner pain and desperation keep drawing her back like a moth fascinated by fire. She is ultimately drawn to his darkness, eventually being corrupted by it, but she emerges a stronger woman for it. And Lionel, she becomes his lodestone, his catalyst for regaining a soul he'd thought long lost. His desperate love for Rhiannon really really touched my heart. He is sometimes cruel, always cold and harsh, but oh, inside he is a man in pain and in need of comfort. Poor man. Yet there is no self-pity in him. Lionel is a fine, able man whose salvation makes him the perfect man for Rhiannon.

The first half of the book takes place in a forest and oh - the atmosphere! The writing is so wonderfully graceful that I feel as if I was enveloped by a cocoon of warmth while reading this. It is so vivid, the writing, that I could almost fancy myself there amidst the calls of night crickets and feeling the cold mist on my skin. Rhiannon's developing relationship with Lionel is handled so carefully and lovingly that for most part of the book I was sniffling like an idiot into a box of tissues. This book is a keeper. An absolute keeper!

I cannot go on about how wonderful this book is without rambling incoherently. In fact, just thinking about the book gets me all choked up. It wouldn't do for a respected scientist in an university to go teary eyed before a bunch of gawking undergrads, would it?

Rating: 95


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