The Bedeviled Barrister

The Smuggler’s Bride
by Bess Willingham
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6690-2
The Smuggler’s Bride is one of the least satisfactory Regency romances that I have read in quite a while. Neither the characters, the plot, nor the setting worked for me. Hence, I awarding this book one of my rare one heart ratings.

Rosalind Yardley is everything I dislike in a heroine. She’s immature; she’s selfish; she’s stubborn; and, on more than one occasion, she’s too stupid to live. Yes, I watched as Willingham tried to show how Rosie changed and became a better person, thanks to her experiences. But I wasn’t persuaded. She started out acting like a bratty fourteen year old and I guess by the time the book ended 250 pages later (I counted them), she was acting like a seventeen year old. An improvement, perchance, but the author tells us she’s twenty-two. The hero found this hard to believe, and so did I.

Perhaps if I had liked the hero, I could have overlooked Rosie’s annoying habits. Unfortunately, Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing (Willingham continually refers to him in this fashion throughout the book for reasons that escape me) was not a particularly compelling hero. Five years ago his wife had died. The daughter of a duke, Annette had eloped with Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing. He had not been a worthy candidate for her hand because of his lowly title and the fact that he made his living in trade. Annette had missed her family, her father’s wealth and London society. She sickened and died and Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing has felt guilty ever since. So he became a smuggler.

Well, why not?

Rosalind meets Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing, when she slips away from her stepmother’s Guy Fawkes celebration on the beach. She goes exploring in a cave and there is Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing, unloading a cargo. So he puts her in a barrel and takes her back to his house where she pulls a pistol on him and orders him to kiss her. Which he does to such effect that the pistol goes off and Rosalind faints. He then takes her home, compelling her silence about his doings (necessary since her father Sir Sibbald Yardley is in charge of hunting down and punishing all smugglers) by claiming that she shot a man. He also proceeds to kiss her, etc., all the way back to Brighton.

Perhaps I could have overlooked an annoying heroine and an improbable hero had the plot been interesting and believable. However, the story of a secret rival’s attempt to drive Rafe Lawless, Viscount Pershing out of business and his methods strained my credulity.

Perhaps I could have overlooked an annoying heroine, an improbable hero, and an unlikely plot had the book captured the feel of the Regency era, had it recreated the mores and language of the time, had it sounded like a Regency romance. However, when we have Rosalind referring to suffragettes in 1814 or thereabouts or when we have courtesans attending a respectable entertainment in Brighton or when Rafe’s friend is referred to as his sidekick, well let’s just say that the anachronisms abounded.

Hence, I must warn readers that The Smuggler’s Bride should be read only by those who like annoying heroines, improbable heroes, incredible plots, and who don’t expect any historical accuracy at all.

--Jean Mason

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