Actually I found Lynsay Sands' THE BRAT (2007) very entertaining with the right touches of sweetness, humor and a heroine's courage to keep her man safe, almost reminding me of one of Julie Garwood's sweet romances. Compared to the other Sands novel I've read THE RELUCTANT REFORMER (***), I thought THE BRAT was a quicker read consisting mostly of conversations and anecdotal, soap-opera-ish plotting. Although I was charmed by THE BRAT, I thought it lacked the settings, prose and magic of THE RELUCTANT REFORMER. Most of the time, it seemed like THE BRAT took place in empty space, and its tendency to resort to conversational diction reminded me of Julia Quinn's horrible THE DUKE AND I (*). Still, I'd read THE BRAT any day of the week, I enjoyed its offbeat, shy-yet-strong hero who fumbles around when he speaks to his heroine, and I definitely enjoyed our heroine Murie's resilience to keep her man safe. Murie & Balan enjoyed a very sweet and passionate camaraderie which seemed to resonate and easily overcome misunderstandings which mire most plots in romance novels.
THE BRAT showcases our heroine Lady Murie Somerdale's funny superstitions which, albeit annoying, always seem to ring true. I thought the book is a misnomer, and should be titled SUPERSTITIOUS or something like that. In the second chapter, we discover Lady Murie's reputation as the brat unwarranted, and she plays on the reputation so as to avoid conflict at King Edward III's court and encourage other schemers at court to leave her alone. The King dotes on his goddaughter Murie after Murie's parents pass away, and now he's given her the choice to pick her own husband when she's well past the marriageable age for the time period. Her dubious reputation aside, Murie comes with a rich dowry from her late parents and significant connections, especially the King.
The Black Plague has hit Lord Balan Gaynor and Gaynor Castle hard. Balan finds himself destitute and in desperate need of a wealthy maiden to help his people at Gaynor. He's served the King faithfully and ably in campaigns in France and now attends the King's court with his cousin seeking a wealthy potential wife to save his people. After witnessing Murie's seemingly juvenile display of crying in front of the King, Balan shudders to even consider Murie as a possible candidate for his wife.
After learning Murie isn't really a brat and it's a show she puts on so people would leave her alone, Balan also overhears of a devious conspiracy to use Murie's superstitious nature against her. The treacherous yet wealthy and handsome Lord Malculinus Aldous wishes to gain Murie's connection with the King, and plots to use her superstitious predilections so she'll pick Malculinus as her husband.
Malculinus' sister explains that on St. Agnes Eve, if a woman fasts all day or eats rotten meat right before going to bed, she'll dream of the man she's to marry. Malculinus' sister Lauda schemes to drug the rotten meat and have Malculinus slip into Murie's room so she'll see him in a drug-induced fitful sleep. Balan diverts Malculinus and Balan kisses Murie in her drug-induced sleep instead. Murie briefly opens her eyes to see Balan, a man she's never seen before.
After sidestepping many of Malculinus's schemes, Balan and Murie marry relatively early. They share some heated scenes of passion, and they grow to love each other dearly. Their interaction was very sweet we also have the trademark Sands scene having the hero and heroine caught after their passions get the better of them in compromising place (happened towards the end in this case).
Following their marriage, the primary storyline deals with attempts on Balan's life. I thought Murie & Balan's good friends the happy couple Emilie and Reginald tarried in the first half of the book too long. I also thought no one really actively investigated the attempts on Balan's life as Murie uses superstitious signs to predict the future and try to save her husband. Murie definitely shows her mettle as she rescues her husband Balan from certain death conspiracies time and time again. The book is often amusing, passionate and sweet rolled up into one relatively entertaining package.
If I didn't know for a fact Sands can do better with the prose, settings and storyline (I've seen it), I would have given the book 3 or 4 stars. As it is, the book fails to really come alive, and the plotting dealing with the attempts on Balan's life too fragmented, its resolution very weak.