Sixpence Bride is a delightful romp of a book, a work which makes the most of its time travel theme. Readers may stumble across an occasional historical inaccuracy but none serious enough to interfere with their enjoyment.
Jocelyn Tanner is on a bus tour of Britain, a tour that was supposed to be her honeymoon, until her fiancé decided to call the marriage off. One of the reasons that she picked this particular tour was because it included a reenactment of a 1797 wife sale…also known as Divorce, 18th Century Style. When she signed up for the tour, however, she hadn't expected to be traveling alone, and she certainly hadn't expected to draw the short straw when they picked the woman to play the part of the wife being auctioned off.
Reluctantly, Jocelyn goes along with the joke and changes into period costume, but as she nears the auction block, she begins to feel faint. She sits down on the auction block a moment before she blacks out briefly. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself being shoved up onto the block by the most grossly dirty, disgusting man she has ever seen.
As Jocelyn stands on the block, bewildered, an old woman tugs on her skirt and says, "Don't fight it, luv…. It ain't goin' to be easy, but she that's took yer place will have a worse time of it than ye." Before Jocelyn can ask the old woman any questions, the woman is gone.
At that point, Jocelyn sees another of the tourists in her group, mounted on a horse, on the edge of the crowd, and realizes that he must have been assigned the role of her purchaser. Relieved, she gives him a dazzling smile. Garren Warrick is not a fellow tourist, however. He is the genuine article, an 18th century gentleman searching for a wife. Three weeks earlier, Garren seduced Lady Melody, a recent widow -- or was seduced by her. Since Garren refused to marry the lady, his father gave Garren an ultimatum: marry someone within a month, or he would arrange the marriage, willy-nilly.
So far Garren has had no success recruiting a bride from his class; his reputation is too unsavory. This morning, badly hung over, buying and marrying the dirty young woman on the auction block seems like the solution to his dilemma. He will then leave her at his estate of Spenceworth and return to London to resume his life. He pays his sixpence and rides off with Jocelyn.
At first Jocelyn is relieved to be rescued by a handsome young man and believes that the marriage ceremony that follows her sale is part of the reenactment. (I did wonder - how did they marry so quickly? The banns weren't read, and there was no mention of a special license.) However when Garren tosses her back up on his horse and rides out of the village, she is panic-stricken.
Her panic deepens when she finally realizes that not only has she traveled back in time, but she has swapped bodies with another woman. This body is several inches shorter and more than a few pounds heavier than Jocelyn's modern version was, her hair is now blonde, and her voice has become huskier. She has a lot of adjusting to do.
Farmer exploits her time travel theme fully to maximize the fun. Jocelyn is used to 20th century privacy…she is unwilling to allow a servant to bathe her or dress and undress her. When asked to mount a horse, she remembers how movie cowboys do it and mounts astride, then wonders where the other stirrup is. She uses language and metaphors that won't make sense for another 200 years. Garren thinks she's mad but not so mad that he isn't attracted to her. As for Jocelyn, she classified Garren as a "hunk" the first time she saw him.
Included in Sixpence Bride is a subplot involving the spurned Lady Melody and another concerning Garren's father, but the romance between Garren and Jocelyn is the mainspring of this delightful story. Not only will the reader enjoy the time spent with these two but, like me, may come away wondering what happened when 18th century Nelwina finds herself in the body of a 21st century tax accountant. I hope Farmer gives us the opportunity to find out.
--Nancy J. Silberstein