This sequel to 1998's The Bride Finder (reissued last month) tells the story of Anatole and Madeline St. Leger's twin sons, Lance and Val. While this is ostensibly Lance's story, his life is so entwined with his twin's that Lance's story cannot be told without Val's. Val will find his own love and HEA in Midnight Bride, which will be reissued in December.
As with all St. Legers, the twins have special, paranormal powers bequeathed to them through their Tudor ancestor Prospero who was burned as a witch. Lance's power is the ability to separate his body and his soul. He puts himself into a trance and leaves his body behind him as he wanders, appearing to any who happen to see him as a ghost. He calls this "Night Drifting" and it is a terrifying and dangerous gift; the rejoining of his soul to his body is a difficult and painful act and no one knows what might happen if he cannot return to his body before daybreak.
Lance's partial estrangement from his family occurred when Val saved his life during the late war. Lance was gravely wounded and dying, and happy to be doing so as a just punishment for what he saw as his dishonorable actions, but Val would not let him die. Val's gift is one of healing and the ability to take another's pain upon himself for a time during the process. However, something went wrong and while Lance made a full recovery, Val's leg remains severely disabled and he lives with constant pain. While Val sees it as a small price to pay for his brother's life, Lance is wracked with guilt whenever he looks at Val and his sense of self-worth is almost non-existent.
Lance was given the powerful ancestral sword of the St. Legers when he was 18 and, as the book opens, we learn that he has worn it to a party as part of a knight's costume. He was later attacked by brigands and the sword stolen. At 27, he is a cynical, bitter man who has no patience with the family legends and traditions, but even he knows that he must retrieve that sword. He is Night Drifting, searching an inn for the sword, when he meets Lady Rosalind Carlyon.
Rosalind, a young widow, is in Cornwall on a holiday, visiting Arthurian sites and indulging her fascination for the legend when she sees Sir Lancelot himself appear in his ghostly form. It is Lance, of course, but he plays into her belief that he is tragic Knight of the Round Table and they have a sweet conversation, forming an instant connection and attraction. After he takes his courtly leave of her, she finds his missing sword under the floorboards and hides it in her room. Now she is sure she'll see him again – and she does.
There is a new Bride Finder for a new generation of St. Legers: it is Effie, the previous Bride Finder's granddaughter. She is a very reluctant Bride Finder, resentful of being forced to find mates for all and sundry St. Legers. Rosalind knew Effie's grandfather and is paying Effie a visit when Val and Lance arrive. When Effie declares that Rosalind is Lance's chosen bride, he is horrified – it is Val who wants to get married, not him – and Rosalind faints to see her Sir Lancelot come to life.
How Lance makes peace with his brother, is brought back into the family fold, and falls in love with Rosalind makes for an engrossing read. Lance is so tortured, so full of guilt and angst, and so in love with Rosalind, though he knows how little he deserves her. She deserves her Knight in Shining Armor and Lance cannot resist continuing to meet her as Sir Lancelot and playing the man he truly is inside and wishes he could be again. Rosalind has had very little happiness in her life and has retreated a bit into a fantasy world of ghosts and legends. She much prefers her ghostly Sir Lancelot to the wicked libertine Lance St. Leger, even as she is sexually attracted to him. Learning the difference between fantasy and reality is a hard lesson for Rosalind, and one that Lance does not make easy for her.
As compelling as Lance and Rosalind are, though, it is Val and his pain that overshadows The Night Drifter. He is such a sympathetic and real character that he threatens to steal the book from his brother. It is a close thing, but Carroll manages to keep it from quite happening, which only whets my appetite to reread Val's story. But, we will have to wait a few months for that. Until then, The Night Drifter is well worth a read, especially if you're a fan of angsty, tortured heroes. I know I am.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, August 7, 2006