Thanks to Wendy the Superlibrarian, Miss Bates is a category romance fan, big-time! The two Sarahs, Mayberry and Morgan, are some of her all-time favourite contemporary romance writers. Nevertheless, she’d never read one from the Intrigue line and leapt at the chance … only to fall, dejected, from her elation. There was nothing inherently wrong with Debra Webb’s Bridal Armor. It delivered, as most category romances do, in most cases. “Ah, there’s the rub,” said Miss Bates, the problem lies in the concept of category.
Miss Bates learned her lesson: “Intrigue,” in the MissBatesian sensibility of reading preferences, just ain’t her cuppa. Pretty much the same reason the detritus of her popcorn bag were more interesting than the Jason Bourne movie on the screen. If you’re a fan, however, dear reader, there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t enjoy Bridal Armor … as long as you’re not averse to reading a novel whose elements you’ve encountered countless times before. If the familiar is where you want to be, you’ll find your place here.
Webb’s Bridal Armor is the 51st in her Colby series! Wow, thought Miss Bates, and her heart sank, “I haven’t read the first 50.” As a result, the plethora of names and agencies and relationships was daunting and confusing, in spite of the the “cast of characters” list provided. Unless you’re flipping back to it constantly, you’ll be confused; Miss Bates didn’t have the time or patience for it. She was confused. She’ll forge on ahead though and give you a summary as best she can.
Thomas Casey arrives in Denver to walk his niece down the aisle at her wedding at the Glenstone ski resort. There are many many agents and family members, all spooks of one sort or another, gathered there already. An old enemy, however, is going to use the wedding to set up Thomas to take the fall for a traitorous act. A former lover, Johara de Rossi, has caught wind of the plot. Indeed, her own agency, a rival one to Thomas’s, believes he has turned traitor. She assigns herself to the case, convinced they are wrong about him and wanting to prove it. After all, the man’s a crack agent and hero, having saved his country from many a nefarious plot against its security and well-being.
She tails him through the Denver Airport and persuades him to work with her to clear his name. He goes along, but their rental car is blown up and they are forced to hole up in a cabin … much snow falls, old desires and emotions re-animate … and temptation stalks them to re-kindle an affair abandoned five years ago. Thomas’s heart had been won, but he “gave up” Johara to protect her. Of course, standard motivation in romantic suspense. Johara assumed what they shared had been an adrenaline-induced roll in the hay, although her heart was snared and she’s carried a torch for Thomas since. Presently however, their nooky is cut short by the appearance of incriminating evidence, bullet-spurting, menacing helicopters, inclement weather, necessary get-aways, and … of course, hand-slap to forehead … cell ‘phone interference. Those darn ‘phones never seem to work.
Bridal Armor delivers exactly what the category promises, intrigue, but it did not appeal to Miss Bates. All the elements of the espionage, agency, covert ops narrative are present, but so’s the paranoia that these stories are built on. The hero and heroine, former lovers and partners in crime-fighting, suffer from the trust issues that we witness in the spy thriller. Can I trust her? Will he betray me? What isn’t he/she telling me? Will he/she double-cross me? Is she out for revenge? Who is he really working for? Where do his/her loyalties lie? Paranoia permeates the espionage narrative and Bridal Armor is no stranger to it.
In the case of Bridal Armor, the conflicting loyalties and fraught scenes between Thomas and Johara are interrupted by scenes with the friends, families, other spooks and agents at the resort (and a couple who are trailing them too), helping, needling contacts, and generally calling in favours to save Thomas and ensure that he walks his agent-niece down the aisle. In the mean time, the baddie is motivated by revenge because Thomas foiled his traitorous, mercenary, baddie plans five years ago.
At the heart of Miss Bates’s moue of disappointment is how the romance of the thing suffers amidst the convoluted spy plot and numerous characters. Webb’s idea of giving the hero and heroine a past with unresolved feelings and desires was clever. Thus, she could call them up to create romantic tension, without having to describe and develop a burgeoning relationship. In the context of what Webb did within the confines of the category, her effort is adept and the writing not too over-wrought.
Miss Bates also credits Webb with a savvy use of metaphor based on her title. Miss Bates always appreciates any literariness to her romance and she likes to give credit where it’s due. The bride of the title, Thomas’s niece, Casey, has a clever response to her guests’ concerns about her wedding being derailed by a spook crisis, “I’ve surrounded myself with bridal armor chi,” she says! The idea of armor is a cool one. Armor stands for: the kind of military protectiveness all the characters feel for their country; the protectiveness they feel for friends and family; their loyalty to country, friends, and family; the way that they wear and act on their convictions as an armor against evil forces. Finally, armor is key to Thomas’s grovel when he admits to Johara, “For the job I armored my heart against personal attachments. Against love.” Aw. You can imagine what comes next as he goes on bended knee.
Bridal Armor is certain to have its readers, considering the 50 books that preceded it; for Miss Bates, however, it provided only “tolerable comfort” Mansfield Park. (Why does the woman on your cover look like a mannequin, Harlequin? The shoes are great, though!)
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an ARE they provided via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.. Bridal Armor was available as of August 20th and can be found in the usual places and formats.
Are you, like Miss Bates, a fan of category romance? If you are, is there a category you don’t read? Why not? Miss Bates loves to know these things, so drop her a line if you’re so inclined.