by Judith Stanton, historical (1999)
Harper, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-109787-X
It is great to read a romance that teaches me new cultures. His Stolen Bride is set in the heart of the Pennsylvania and North Carolina Moravian community and I have a lot of fun thinking up parallels in the social strictures of Moravian community with Islamic and Chinese communities. All just to pass the time, but it's a rewarding educational process. Having said that, I don't find HSB exactly compelling as a romance. Sexual tension is strangely absent.
Nicholas Blum is a giant of a hunk who wishes to marry Catharina but is prevented to do so by the Elders's vetoing of his decision based on divine guidance. Nicholas is sent to a family friend's business in Pennsylvania to be an apprentice instead. Who awaits there but sweet Abbigail Till, the shopkeeper's spinster daughter.
Nicholas wastes no time getting debauched by the Tart With A Heart Of Gold (Sadie must be earning millions guest-starring in so many Western American romances) and thus has a hard time reining in his newly awakened libido. So he rationalizes his feelings for Abbigail as lust, an overloading of testosterone. Quite proper, I thought, and it was nice that Nicholas decides to stay celibate and be faithful to Catharina.
What I don't find nicely done is the immediate Want to kiss her sweet plump lips naughty thoughts that run through Nicholas' mind three paragraphs upon first meeting with Abbigail. I also don't find the handling of Nicholas' being torn between his libidinous instincts, Catharina, and Abbigail well handled. Nicholas' thought processes are too linear in this book to give any impression apart from him being one horny toad set loose in a honky-tonk house.
I thought Catharina's story with Matthias, Nicholas' younger brother, would be more interesting, but even that story soon sinks into predictable ho-humness. Catharina seems unable to form a single thought of her own, hence making Matthias' treatment of her hesitancy ten times more cruel that it would actually be. Nothing's more irritating than a woman marrying for martyr-like intentions to a man who sees her as nothing more than a means to spite his brother. Hence they offer no diversion from the already blander than bland Abbigail's starry blinking of eyes at Nicholas.
Maybe it's just me. I was never good at following rules. Give me a rule I deem irrational or illogical and I would ask three hundred questions and offer sixty reasons why I won't obey these rules. Hence, I find Abbigail's almost blindsided loyalty to her ruthless, heavy-handed father alien in nature, and you can bet I won't have patience for Catharina.
Oh, and the villians are so one-dimensionally bad it's hilarious.
So what's there to like about HSB? The Moravian tapestry of a background is lovely and a delight, and Nicholas is a surprisingly sexy hero. A bit wishy-washy, but he is the sole sexual being in a sterile environment made asexual by religion and conventions. He's the sole color among all the characters in this story, and hence, the most interesting fellow in the pages.
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