The Bargain

Charmed & Dangerous

The Marriage Wager

Bride To Be by Jane Ashford
(Bantam, $5.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-553-57774-3
Bride to Be, a historical novel set in the English Regency period, has a robust cast of unusual and likeable characters, a decent mystery, and crisp writing. However, like many historicals set in the Regency, it has more adventure than conversation, and not all of the plot is credible for the time period. Too often as I was reading, I found myself rolling my eyes at behavior that seemed outrageous or inappropriate and, about two thirds of the way through the book the complications of the plot had me crying, “enough, already!”

Emily Crane is the practical daughter of scandalously eccentric parents. Although born into the nobility, they long ago kicked over the traces of convention to follow their artistic inclinations. Emily’s childhood had been spent trying to bring some order to the chaotic lifestyle that is the result of their unfettered creative sensibilities. What she longs for most is the opportunity to experience a little stultifying propriety and stability.

Richard Shelton, Baron Warrington, was once a spoiled darling of the very society that Emily longs to enter. Indulged by a widowed mother who wanted to keep him close, he lived the selfish life of a man-about-town until an ocean voyage to the West Indies left him shipwrecked in the jungles of South America. His struggles to survive have changed him and he is not sure what he wants to do, or where in society he will fit now that he has made his way back to England.

Richard and Emily first encounter each other when Emily saves him from footpads -- an experience that Emily views with exasperation but no particular surprise. Richard is intrigued by her unconventional family and her own sangfroid, but neither expects to see the other again. Emily, however, is offered a season in London by her Aunt Julia, and happily places herself in that fashionable matron’s hands in hopes of finding a husband and a more settled life. She is delighted to meet Richard again as she is introduced to society, but is so careful to follow her aunt’s advice that he is convinced she is just another simpering miss.

Although much attention is paid to the difficulties that both characters have in trying to find a place in society that accommodates their uniqueness, this is a very plot-driven story. Richard has “accidents” which he feels are insignificant, but which Emily is convinced are life-threatening. Emily is determined to discover who is trying to harm Richard, and enlists a number of less than respectable friends of her family to help.

Richard is annoyed with Emily’s interference as he struggles to free his mother from her obssession with a charlatan spiritualist, while also trying to come to terms with his beleaguered bailiff and restore his depleted estates. Eventually, an engagement is forced upon them, which Emily vows to use for the sole purpose of protecting Richard, but which Richard believes is a plot by her to entrap him. More sinister accidents happen, and Richard begins to realize that Emily is right about the threat to his life and that she is genuinely concerned for his welfare.

I was with them - barely -- up until the point that Richard leaves town to escort his mother on a visit to his cousin in Wales and to visit his own tumbledown estate. Emily learns that he is in danger, takes off alone to pursue him and they find themselves being hunted by bad guys over the hills of Wales in the dark. During this fearful -- not to mention exhausting -- experience they happen upon a secluded pool which provides them with an excuse to get naked and be overcome by shattering passion before they are on the run again.

I’m sorry, it was just too much excitement for this time period. Emily and Richard had potential as characters and might have achieved it if they had spent more time in the drawing room and less time running around London and Wales. If you don’t mind outlandish adventures and find conventional Regencies a little boring, you might well enjoy Bride to Be; I found it a bit fatiguing, however, and could have done with far less plot and lots more conversation.

--Bev Hill

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