REVIEW: Almost a Bride by Jane Feather
Dear Ms. Feather:
I admit to being totally befuddled at the title as it appears to have nothing to do with the book at all. After all, the heroine becomes a bride and a wife and is never an “almost” anything.
Jack Fortescu, Duke of St. Jules, ruins Frederick Lacey, Earl of Dunston, in a game of cards. Frederick bets everything, every possession, on one lasthand. Jack, of course, wins. Once Frederick loses, he shoots himself in the head. Jack’s desire to own everything of Lacey’s includes the possession of Frederick’s half sister, Arabella Lacey. She either accepts Jack’s proposal for marriage or will have to end up being a charity relation. She chooses marriage. I didn’t understand why marrying Arabella was so important until the marriage settlements are negotiated. Then, the reasoning behind it becomes very clear and I thought it made a lot of sense.
After they become married, Jack and Arabella go off to London. This is where the story really gets moving. You’ve always done a very good job of portraying people and their interactions in society, making the era alive. Almost a Bride is no exception. Feather provides detailed descriptions of clothing and society rules. Her characters act and speak (for the most part) as I would imagine characters of that era would act and speak. Jack had a very domineering and austere manner which befitted a duke – very Wulfric, in my opinion. The French Revolution plays an important role in the story and it wavered between feeling that it was well integrated (as a source of Jack’s anger toward Frederick) and ham fisted (i.e. Arabella conveniently becomes attached to assisting french emigrees).
The other thing that you excel at is the development of a romance between two adult individuals. Jack and Arabella are drawn to each other from the beginning but they are not in love. Their love grows as they interact. They hurt, they mistrust, and they learn from those mistakes. Jack is forthright in his arrangement with Arabella. He tells her that he has a mistress and has no intention of discarding her but he needs a wife to beget legitimate heirs. Arabella comes from an impeccable lineage. She enters the marriage with her eyes wide open. She actually bargains with Jack for a measure of financial independence as well as the right to lovers after the heirs are born.
Of course, it is a romance so Jack and Arabella fall in love and live happily ever after. The interaction between Arabella and the mistress bring the right amount of tension into the story. There is also a clever mirroring of Jack and Arabella’s situation in Arabella’s championing Princess Caroline in light of the much flaunted affair the Prince of Wales had with Lady Jersey.
I know that some readers felt that the hero was very cold, particularly in his treatment of Arabella and his mistress. I appreciated that he wasn’t going to demean anyone or make anyone out to be the villian. He had a longstanding liason with his mistress and he didn’t want her to suffer publicly because his affections were no longer engaged. I felt that the heroine understood and believed in his ultimate love for her even though Jack never utters those words. And once he marries Arabella, he never does visit his mistress’s bed again. He becomes too attached, almost against his will, to Arabella.
God dammit. He felt as if he’d been cut loose from his moorings. Lilly entranced him, he had always enjoyed her, and counted the price he paid in settling her gambling debts worth every penny. But not this afternoon. The brittle artifice that varnished their liaison had lost all allure.
All that Jack was capable of at the time he had met Arabella was a superficial and soulless relationship he had with Lilly, the mistress. Once meeting Arabella, his heart was touched in a way that he had not been and therefore the superficial began to show its wear, losing its glamour and its appeal.
It was the slow realization of both characters that their hearts were engaged that made this truly romantic for me. I did feel that Jack’s reluctance to clarify his feelings toward his mistress lingered a bit too long. B+