REVIEW: The Reluctant Bridegroom by Shannon Farrington
Marriage for any reason but love was once unthinkable to Maryland councilman Henry Nash. But when an innocent encounter with a criminal puts Henry’s reputation in jeopardy, he’ll make any sacrifice to maintain custody of his orphaned nieces. And an alliance with a powerful politician’s daughter could secure the little girls’ futures. As long as gentle Rebekah Van der Geld never hears the rumors surrounding her new groom…
Refusing her father’s choice of husband wasn’t an option for dutiful Rebekah. But Henry’s kindness is a happy revelation, and she’s quickly falling for his adorable nieces—so she allows herself to hope this unconventional arrangement could become much more. But can it survive a shattering revelation that puts their new family in danger?
Dear Ms. Farrington,
This is the fourth book in this series that covers the wartime years in neutral Maryland and I truly appreciate the use of a different setting for these Civil War books. Finally the war is over, Lee has surrendered and the nation is ready to welcome peacetime. The people of Baltimore are especially hopeful to possibly see the end of the Federal occupation of their city. As a border state, Maryland has seen sons fight for both sides – and I think it’s cool that Henry was in the balloon corps, families be divided and politics become contentious with some supporting Lincoln and others having voted and spoken against his actions even if they didn’t support secession or slavery. Now elected officials begin the delicate and cynical task of recasting themselves and shifting their alliances and allegiances to stay in office and – in some cases – out of jail.
Rebekah is used to her father using his family for political purposes. They arrive in church early so as to be seen there by his constituents. She and her mother grace gatherings in their home, pouring tea and coffee though never voicing any opinions. But this time her father has arranged a marriage for her in order to cement his political future. Still, she’s been raised to smile and accept whatever father dictates. She desperately wants to break free and defy him but what choice does she have in a world in which she can’t support herself. But after meeting Henry Nash and seeing him with his nieces and how he treats his servants, she’s hopeful that he will at least be a kind man whom she can respect.
Henry initially balks at his father’s insistence on this marriage despite the fact that he could use help taking care of his orphaned nieces. He suspects his father would pack them – the children of his daughter and her rebel husband – off to a foundling home in order to rid the family of the taint of Confederacy. After meeting Rebekah, Henry realizes she’s as much a pawn as he is and that under her quiet façade there might be a woman with intelligent opinions and hopes.
The meeting Henry has might be innocent but the criminal is far from it and soon Henry and the nation are plunged into mourning for the assassinated President. Henry’s also sweating bullets because of the fact that his duties as a councilman took him to the Branson boarding house and due to his slight acquaintance with John Wilkes Booth. What were innocent encounters are now grounds for suspicion in a town where anyone with even the connection to Booth is being thrown in jail and presumed guilty. Henry also worries about his nieces’ being shunned in the future should he be imprisoned or even associated with the assassination.
And so the marriage begins with both sides hiding their true feelings but you just know it will all come out sooner than later. Sure enough, Rebekah learns the less than romantic reasons Henry agreed and he sees how cowed she is by her father. With each step forward, the relationship takes another one or two back. As Henry feelings begin to change about Rebekah, hers harden against him. It’s going to take something drastic to break through the wall they’ve built between them.
Rebekah is seeing Henry as she saw her father, expecting Henry to act as her father did. She’s known religion – got paraded to Church every Sunday for show but never saw faith. Religion for her was Old Testament fire and brimstone, you are a sinner and unworthy – as beaten into her by her father. It’s kind of strange that she and Henry both went to the same Church but didn’t know each other and got such different ideas of faith. Okay, anyway after the “come to Jesus” illness that really wasn’t anything to fool around with back then, there is a quicker breakthrough to final HEA. The “other person in danger now becomes the beloved” trope. The religion rating for me would be a 8/10 with the emphasis on each person finding or renewing their own faith rather than being bashed with someone else’s.
Early in the book, there is a lot of telling instead of showing. I can understand some of it as Rebekah and Henry are thinking about their lives, the other and the possibility of their marriage. Once they’ve tried to speak to loved ones and gotten shut down, or when Henry is worried about getting arrested and has no one he can trust in whom to confide, all they can do is worry and attempt to work things out internally. But there are some times – like the scene with friends who were eye witnesses to the event at Ford Theater – that could have been far more dramatic with show instead of boring tell.
Rebekah and Henry’s change in attitude mainly comes from within – with a little encouragement – rather than religion shaming. The degree of danger from the scarlet fever is enough that I didn’t feel the quick changes in their feelings about each other were too fast. Using Lincoln’s assassination to influence the story’s events was clever and a nice use of historic fact given the setting is Baltimore. The characters from the previous books are used sparingly but well and I hope that the few dangling people might be seeing their own books at some point. B-