The Changeling Bride by Lisa Cach
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52342-6
****
Picture this. Semi-tired reviewer climbs into bed late one night with copy of debut author's first book, intending to just read the first chapter or so to get a feel for it. Two hours later, she's still reading, husband snoozing beside her. Then she hits The Scene. The screamingly funny, I'm-gonna-howl-out-loud-but-if-I-wake-him-up-he'll-kill-me scene. Ever try to force a belly laugh into silence at 1 am? The bed shakes. At least the husband sleeps on. And thankfully, the reviewer doesn't wet the bed trying to hold back her glee.

Readers, that one hilarious scene in The Changeling Bride is almost worth the price of the book. But let me back up.

It's 1790's England. Henry Trevelyan, Earl of Allsbrook, is in financial straits. The family home is crumbling after years of neglect, and Henry has come to the reluctant conclusion that the only way to save it is to marry for money. His target is Eleanor, daughter of a wealthy merchant, and her father has agreed to the match though Eleanor is stridently against it. Ah well, she's young, only eighteen. Perhaps in time they'll come to some understanding.

Wilhelmina March is a thoroughly modern 1990's woman. She has a job she hates, but that pays off her student loans; a happily-married brother who is forever setting her up with his friends; and a Samoyed dog named Tatiana. All things considered, Tatiana is the highlight of her life. On her way home from work one rainy afternoon, Elle helps an elderly vagrant who has fallen into a wet gutter. The woman hands Elle a slip of pink paper on which is written "Good for one free husband. Redeem at will." Later, while walking Tatiana in the park, Elle impulsively takes out the piece of paper and makes a wish for a decent guy to marry.

The last thing Elle sees is a mudslide heading down the hill to swallow her up. When she regains consciousness, she's surrounded by fairies, and lying nearby is the body of a woman. It's Eleanor, dead of influenza. She's Elle's double in looks, and the fairies quickly pull a switch. Elle is now inside the life of Eleanor, about to marry Henry Trevelyan.

Elle never loses her 1990s sensibilities, and quickly figuring out what the fairies have done, she decides to go along with the planned wedding until she can find the fairy ring and try to get home. Except she doesn't really know all the rules in this society. There are these godawful corsets to contend with, for one thing. And the food is pretty strange. Finally, there's Henry.

This is the guy that Eleanor is supposed to loathe? He's not only gorgeous, but the more Elle gets to know him, the more she feels he's a truly decent guy, as well as sexy as all get out. As for Henry, he's puzzled by his new bride. She's not the termagant he remembered from their one brief meeting. She seems older than her years. Her voice is different -- the accent is strange, and even though the doctors have put that down to the fever acting on her vocal cords, there are other gaps in her knowledge as well. What's going on? And how is he going to entice her desirable body into his bed before he explodes in frustration?

What I found to be utterly charming in this story were Elle's actions as she tries to mix necessary 1990's knowledge into 1790's life. Imagine being thrown back two hundred years and having to try and come up with some form of birth control. Not to mention indoor plumbing (or the lack of it), nd those hellish corsets. There are some things a girl just can't put up with. Elle's frustration finally boils over in the dining room, in a scene that will have you in stitches too, I bet.

Henry is equally amusing. When his normal methods of seduction fall flat, he's the picture of outraged masculinity. When his wife takes him to task, he's astonished. When she won't bend to his will, he's frustrated. Yet he can't deny that she's extremely intelligent, and quite a surprise in the bedroom. Since his treatment of Elle is always decent, even when she's driving him mad, it's easy to root for Henry.

The fairy thread was a bit harder to follow. I did like the way the author handled the external conflict -- she doesn't leave it until the end for Henry to find out what's going on. And once the truth becomes known, both Henry and Elle have a decision to make.

The Changeling Bride is an excellent debut novel -- cleverly plotted, genuinely funny, and featuring two endearing leads. Lovers of time-travel romance have reason to rejoice!

--Cathy Sova


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