With the exception of Laura Griffin and Rachel Reid, I don’t really do multiple reviews for an author. Well, I need to add a third name to that list: Alice Coldbreath. I reviewed Wed by Proxy as it scratched an itch that I didn’t know could be scratched. I have now worked my way through most of the Brides of Karadok series and despite loving every single book (they’re all so unique in their premises and are all of a similar high standard in terms of reading pleasure) I have hit on one that begs to be shared with the world.
Sir Jeffree de Crecy is a pompous ass. He thinks he’s better than everyone else because that’s precisely what he’s been told since he was a young boy. He holds himself to the classic knightly values of valour, honesty, and chivalry, even though he hasn’t made himself a single friend. Not that he cares about friends. He cares about MORALS. His blithe confidence and lack of care for others would suggest that he’s an alpha of the old-skool model, but he isn’t popular enough for that. He’s rather unpopular despite being a very capable knight at the tournaments around the country.
Enter Sabina. This is (initially) no love match, but rather a marriage to save Jeffree’s reputation. Sabina’s sister is due to marry Jeffree’s uncle, an elderly duke. At the wedding, a relative of sorts, stands up and accuses Jeffree of trysting with Sabina’s sister. Jeffree is flummoxed by this because, again, MORALS and honesty and chivalry. Sabina stands up and says, ‘No, he has been trysting with me!’ She does this in an effort to save her sister’s reputation, but because Jeffree has famously also taken a vow of celibacy, he demands marriage to save his damaged reputation (honesty, chivalry, MORALS, etc). So it is Sabina and Jeffree that wed that day.
Sabina is a steady country woman who doesn’t think of herself as anything particularly special. She sees herself as ordinary, but to an anxiety-riddled soul such as myself, Sabina presents the highest point of enlightenment and mental and emotional tranquility. She is confident and steady and not scared to say her piece, but also not scared to admit that she was wrong. It’s an all-encompassing, whole body confidence. (That is, until she is brought to the royal court, but that’s a whole other thing) (Oh, also, until she starts falling in love with Jeffree – that confuses her a lot!)
Sabina’s journey is one of learning to trust. Her first husband was an utter wastrel and she actually ended up leaving her husband when he kept cheating on her. (Side note: he died a short while after she left him) Initially, her beautiful confidence carries her through, but as she is thrown into new-to-her settings and situations (like falling in love with Jeffree), her world shakes a bit and it takes her a while to believe that she can trust in Jeffree, and in his love for her. These two often think the worst of each other because of their own pasts, but they learn to trust in and believe in one another, and that process was beautiful to read.
This book is long. Like 148,000-odd words long. So this enemies-to-lovers story has the time to gradually slide from enemies to besotted partners. Things got a little slow in the middle when the cause of their disagreements got a little repetitive and same-y but for the most part I sailed through all of those words. My absolute favourite part of the book was how seamlessly Sabina and Jeffree get to know each other, make peace with one another, and fall in love. Yes, there are setbacks and misunderstandings, but these are inevitably overcome.
While Jeffree is pompous, he’s also genuinely baffled by close proximity with a woman. When they marry, Jeffree is a virgin, never having even kissed a woman before. Learning about sex is an awkward, endearing endeavour, but the difficulties are smoothed by a delightful candor that takes both Sabina and Jeffree by surprise. They’re faced with a situation in which Jeffree has no experience and Sabina’s experience was rather lacklustre, and so they mutually realise that if they have any hope of having a fulfilling sex life, they need to talk to each other about what they like. This dialogue of intimacy comes in many forms, but the one I enjoyed most was Sabina telling Jeffree how to woo her and Jeffree being confused but harumphing enthusiastically through it – Jeffree’s vulnerability is thinly veiled behind his generally arrogant approach to life.
Just as Jeffree is a bit flummoxed by sex, so he is a bit flummoxed by emotions and talking about them. He’s not sure how to speak the ‘words of comfort or praise’ that Sabina requests, but he does try. For example, he is smitten with her long braids, so he tells her that her braids would make a good rope. He can tell that this isn’t quite what he’s meant to say, but his earnestness makes it rather charming.
Jeffree learning to be considerate of those around him (mostly Sabina) is heartening to see. Sabina truly opens his eyes to the world he has been misjudging. The focus though is very much on Jeffree’s growing adoration of Sabina. So for the most part, any softening he shows towards others is because it will make Sabina happy. Jeffree, however, does build closer relationships with his immediate family, including his half-brothers.
I shall doubtless continue to read Alice Coldbreath books with delight. While all I’ve read so far have been lovely indeed, this one stood out as an excellent treatment of enemies-to-lovers in which the hero’s personality doesn’t so much change as it blossoms. Sabina is the kind of character that I want as a friend. Truly, a charming book.