|Most readers will tell you it's all in the beginning: who wants to
read a book that has you nodding from the start? But after forcing my
eyes to stay open for The Wagering Widow's dull opening, I'm not so sure. The second half makes up for the initial drabness and has me
really hoping Diane Gaston will be back with more.
Guy, Lord Keating believes Emily Duprey and her much-discussed
inheritance will pay off his family's crippling debts. Because of his
financial problems, he's convinced her father will never agree to the
match. Emily thinks marriage will take her away from her family's
cruelty and abuse. So when Guy asks her to elope to Scotland, she
The happy event is followed with unpleasant surprises. Guy discovers
Emily has no fortune. Because he has already deceived her once, he
feels he has no right to share their marriage bed, at least not until
he finds some way to secure his female dependents' future. If he has
to turn to the gaming tables that ruined his father, so be it.
Meanwhile, Emily learns she has traded in one abusive domestic
situation for another. Her mother-in-law is disparaging and cold, and
her husband is as much of a gambler as her father. He too prefers the
card tables to her company.
Emily decides not to put up with this situation. With a little money,
she can leave her husband and fend for herself. What quicker way to
obtain a much-needed fortune than at cards? She dons a mask and
frequents a gaming establishment. Here, she begins to collect a
coterie of male admirers that includes her apparently unfaithful
husband. But things really aren't what they seem. Unbeknownst to her,
Guy has seen through her masquerade, and for reasons of his own has
decided not to let on. With both believing they hold the winning
hand, the stage is set for a battle of hearts.
There is much to like in this novel - once you actually get there.
Unfortunately, the set-up takes too long, and because of the
characters' initially dismal and depressing outlook, it drags a bit.
It's not until we're halfway into the book that the pacing and the
mood pick up. From here, things really start rolling, and they keep
on doing so right to the end. Just when I thought I'd figured out how
Emily and Guy were going to fix their little comedy of identity,
another problem was thrown their way. Wagers, hidden secrets, threat
of scandal, and family tensions all play their part in overturning
what could easily have become a tedious and predictable read. My only
gripe with this half is the speed with which Guy's financial problems
are resolved. If all it takes several turns of the cards, it can't
have been all that bad. (Then again, I'm no gambler, and I haven't
the slightest idea of the high stakes some people are willing to play.)
A masked and merry widow suggests a lot of light-hearted fun. In
fact, there isn't as much banter, wit and flirtation as might be
expected. Instead, the mask feeds into the novel's underlying theme,
that of the disguises people wear to survive. Even before they embark
on this adventure, both Emily and Guy have long been playing a role.
He must pretend to be well-off, knowing full well his family estate
is one step from ruin. She has been hiding her emotions and happiness
under a lusterless fašade to avoid unwanted attention from her
manipulative and self-serving parents.
Oddly enough, rather than concealing her wishes and desires, Emily's
mask ultimately reveals them, much to her husband's delight. As Guy
begins to understand this part of his bride's behavior, he also sees
how similar it is to his own. Misunderstandings, bets and card tables
aside, they really are well matched after all. Likewise, its bad
beginning aside, The Wagering Widow is an entertaining, appealing and intelligent novel, after all.