by Madeleine Brent
Born in a mission in China, Lucy Waring now finds herself with 15 small children to feed. How she tackles this task gets her thrown into the grim prison of Chengfu, where she meets a man about to die. He asks her a cryptic riddle, and its mystery echoes through all that befalls Lucy in the months that follow, even when she is brought to England, where she discovers danger, romance, heartache, and mystery as strange events lead her to doubt her own senses. It is only when Lucy returns to China that she finds the answers to the mysteries of her past. It is there, at the moment when all seems lost, that she finally finds where her heart belongs.
Now, this was a great read! Much more gripping than any other gothic novel-- heck, any novel, period-- that I've read in a while, and with a thrilling, emotional romance that I actually cared about, for a change. Moonraker's Bride was an absolute treat to read. I could deduct some small fraction of a star for minor quibbles, but this one is easily rounded up to five stars.
Is it sexist for me to admit that I was ever-so-slightly skeptical when I learned (before starting the book) that Madeleine Brent was the pseudonym of a male author? I should never have doubted: he had far greater skill at writing romance than a great many of the female authors I've been reading, lately. I know next to nothing about the author, actually, but I can't help but picture him as one of his own characters-- Mr. Marsh.
I fear I can't go into a detailed reaction without possibly spoiling the story, so I'll save specific commentary for the next (spoiler-warned) section. Suffice it to say that the novel was a highly addictive blend of adventure, mystery, and romance, enlivened by occasional sparks of humor. I look forward to exploring more of the author's work.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
-- Though the Chinese setting was not a special attraction to me when I selected this book, I ended up finding it an interesting and well-written element of the novel.
-- "You must always remember that you are an English child, dear. That does not make you better than a Chinese child, of course, but it is right to take pride in your own country." (This seems to be an unpopular opinion, in much of the West, these days, but I agree wholeheartedly that pride in one's own country is natural and healthy and does not stop one from appreciating what's good about other countries.)
-- "One way in which I knew I was a foreign devil was that I could follow and understand a tune in the same way as Miss Prothero. To the Chinese children the melody meant nothing, and neither did the time. They simply shrieked out the words, all on the same note and as fast as possible." (I imagine that some readers are bothered by this and certain other instances that may not be politically correct. Personally, I just wonder if this is a truthful depiction of how Chinese peasant children of the time would have sung a European tune-- especially since these children were raised in an English-run mission, with daily exposure to European music-- hymns. It seems they should be as capable of singing along as the average English child.)
-- Parts of the mystery were easy enough to solve, yet there was enough uncertainty (about everything except that brass shield!) to keep me wondering for a good while exactly how it would play out. And by the time it was all perfectly clear, I was thoroughly hooked on the romance and wouldn't have dreamed of stopping reading, even if the mystery had been tidied up chapters earlier!
-- My new literary crush is Nick Sabine. I'm not sure I can pin it down precisely-- the wicked sense of humor? the devil-may-care attitude?-- but he's a thousand times more engaging and likable and real-seeming than the last dozen or so heroes I've "met". I vote "swoon-worthy"!
-- I looked up the definition of "moonraker" long before it was ever spelled out in the book. What a strange word! And a strange explanation for it, too...
-- If I had to find faults with Moonraker's Bride, they'd be as follows:
1. There are a great many coincidences... But those don't really bother me when the book is entertaining. Just heap on a little more suspension of disbelief.
2. Stereotypes? Well, yes, there are some, but they could've been much worse.
3. Though I like Lucy, she is almost too good to be true, most of the time.
4. Is it realistic that a man like Nick Sabine would be "experienced"? Yes. But I still don't love that aspect of the character... It was the one thing I would've changed about him, I think. However, that seems to be something we're supposed to expect, if not applaud, in the hero of gothic novels.
-- There are times that Lucy is just a bit too naive and slow on the up-take, but I'm happy to overlook them. Especially when they yield moments of hilarity like her answer to the question, "Do you like cats?" and her belief that Mr. Gresham has brought her to England to be his concubine. (!!!)
-- It's funny how often fiction gives us two maps to a treasure that are useless individually, but consulted simultaneously will supposedly point the direction-- or a map ripped in half so that the halves must be joined to be useful. I can't quite picture how that works... It seems that one half would have to be better than the other, if not completely sufficient.
-- This book has at least a couple of references to "spoonsful" of this or that. The word "spoonsful" just looks completely wrong to me. Possibly some people think that's correct, but I'm sticking with "spoonfuls". (And after looking it up online, I've now seen the word "spoon" so many times that it looks ridiculous-- nonsensical. Funny how easy it is to do that...)
-- "Never change." ~~swoon~~ ;o) (Yet at the same time... People do change, whether they want to or not... And it would be nice to think that someone would love you even when you do change over the years. But now I'm reading too much into something that's surely meant just to be a sweet, charming "I love you" between the hero and heroine.)
-- I didn't realize until just now that this was published in the early 1970s! I would've guessed it was written earlier than that-- maybe about twenty years earlier... (That's a compliment, by the way...)