A Bride Unveiled
The first two chapters of Ms. Hunter’s A Bride Unveiled are terrific. Violet Knowlton is thirteen and growing up in the sleepy English town of Monk’s Huntley. She has three friends: her awkwardly engaging neighbor Eldie, pompous local heir Ambrose, and dashing pauper Kit. The four, under the non-watchful eye of Violet’s young governess — she’s being led astray by the bricklayer’s feckless son — bond despite their social differences. Violet, an orphan being raised by an overprotective aunt and uncle, is especially drawn to Kit. He is smart, athletic, and literally desperate to escape the future the workhouse he lives in promises. As their childhoods come to a close, I yearned to learn of the fates of the four friends.
Sadly the next twenty-eight chapters and odious epilogue are a disappointment.
As the third chapter begins, ten years have passed and Violet is recently affianced to a dreary merchant named Godfrey. She hasn’t the slightest love for him, but her now widowed aunt, whom Violet longs to make happy, feels dull mercenary Godfrey is a safe choice for Violet given her background. (Violet’s secret past isn’t revealed until the last chapters of the book and is so unstartling it’s exasperating.) At a house party hosted by the notorious Jane and Grayson Boscastle — the lovers from Ms. Hunter’s guilty pleasure The Seduction of an English Scoundrel – Violet again encounters Kit.
Kit, now famed fencing master Christopher Fenton, has beaten the workhouse odds and become a successful swordsman. (And yes, there are tons of heavy handed “sword” references in this book.) He’s gorgeous, talented, and, as soon as he sees Violet again, madly in love. All it takes is one conversation and, boom, she’s the reason he draws breath each day. Lucky for him, Violet is equally easily won over. By the end of chapter seven, Violet’s ready to dump Godfrey — if only it wouldn’t devastate her beloved aunt whom Violet loves but is unable to confess the ways of her wayward heart to — and Kit is plotting to steal Violet from her mercantile husband to be.
That’s as exciting as this book gets. Kit and Violet are a tease of a couple… so much so that I wondered if Ms. Hunter has embraced an “Abstinence Only” philosophy. Despite many mentions of Kit’s talent with his “sword,” he, with Violet, is mostly talk and little action. Ms. Hunter champions the idea of the virginal bride in this tale and it feels oddly forced. I’ve read and enjoyed books in which the hero and heroine defer consummating their love until they are wed. In those books, that choice is a natural outcome of the values of the characters. In A Bride Unveiled, chastity is abruptly and gracelessly chosen.
Mixed into the tale is a villain who has virtually no back-story, sundry sultry conversations with Jane Bocastle (perhaps Ms. Hunter, like me, missed the carnality of her earlier protagonists), and lots of actual swordfights. None of the former is particularly winning. The novel’s brightest moments occur when Eldie, Ambrose, and Winifred Higgins, the formerly naughty governess, appear. I loved the current life of Ambrose and the way he responds when his childhood pals appear again in his life. And I hope to read again about Eldie and Winifred although perhaps not as a couple.
Before I sat down to write this review, I read once more the first twenty-eight pages of this book. They are good enough to make the rest of the novel seem less than it is. I hope all the chapters in next entry in the The Bridal Pleasures Series will be as strong as the first two of A Bride Unveiled rather than as weak as its last twenty-nine.