|Sometimes I think I’m too old to continue to review romance novels. I’ve been reading romantic fiction for more than 50 years and I have encountered every plot device, character, situation and setting that the genre has to offer. So my frame of reference and response are probably different from the average reader’s. Reading Barbara Metzger’s latest novel brought this home to me. Nothing in the story seemed fresh or new; everything had this quality of déjà vue. I’d seen it all before and seen it done better. In short, The Bargain Bride was a disappointment and made me wonder whether I ought to just abandon the whole project. (Fortunately the next book I read reminded me that there is still enjoyment to be found in a well crafted romance.)
The Bargain Bride is a marriage of convenience story. When she was thirteen years old, Persephone (called Penny) Goldwaite’s father had betrothed her to the younger son of Viscount Westfield. Gasper Goldwaite was a very rich banker with ambitions to rise in society. Viscount Westfield needed money. So eighteen year old Kendall became an engaged man. Thirteen years later, West, as he is known, has come to Yorkshire where Penny now lives with her grandfather, hoping to find a way out of the betrothal. Circumstances (his service in the Peninsula, his father’s and brother’s death, his need to restore the family fortune, his reluctance to wed a countrified miss) had delayed the marriage. Now, Sir Gasper (he was knighted for helping the Prince Regent with his debts) is pressing the issue. He wants a return on his investment.
Penny is no more anxious to wed her errant fiancé. Once she had thought West the most handsome dashing of men but his years of disinterest had cooled her enthusiasm for the match. When he appears at her home, she swoops in and gives him a piece of her mind. And also a fist to his jaw. Penny is not quite what West expected. But Sir Gaspar is not to be denied and he has ways of enforcing his wishes. He also has a special license in his pocket. So within a few days, Penny and West find themselves wed.
West finds himself surprisingly willing to marry his long-time betrothed. The scrawny child has become a lovely woman and she is certainly interesting. But he agrees to postpone consummating the marriage until they get to know each other better and he sets out to woo and win his bride. And Penny is eminently woo-able, given that she had fallen in love with her betrothed all those years ago and had never really gotten over him. But she is determined not to make it easy for West to conquer her heart.
I have always enjoyed marriage of convenience stories so I gave considerable thought as to why The Bargain Bride didn’t work for me. I concluded that there simply wasn’t much internal conflict to make the story interesting. West is so very, very nice and helpful and kind and thoughtful, an absolute paragon. Penny, though annoyed and a bit prickly, is clearly going to succumb. No suspense there.
There is some external conflict, related to Penny’s family and West’s immature younger brother. Her father’s social ambitions and interference, her unpleasant stepmother, her silly stepsisters, and her nasty stepbrother all come into play during the story. In fact, this is a very busy book, perhaps too busy. And, while Metzger has often written humorous stories, her stabs at humor in The Bargain Bride did not work for me.
As I indicated at the outset of this review, there was little or nothing that was fresh or new in The Bargain Bride and much that seemed derivative and stale. This is not a book I can recommend.