I initially picked this book up because of its unusual setting. While Wenna provides a vivid picture of life in colonial Australia, I often found myself frustrated with both the hero and heroine. The book is well written, and definitely has some strong scenes, but much of the tension comes from a series of big misunderstandings and secrets, and those are just not my favorite plot devices.
Wenna Chenoweth is a bright, determined lady’s maid in the employ of the wealthy Brooks family. The family’s spoiled daughter, Patricia, is the bane of her existence. She’s not eeeevil, but spoiled, self-centered Patricia most definitely has an inflated opinion of herself. As the novel opens, she is at her worst because the handsome, eligible Devon Courtney has come to visit and she wants to show herself to best advantage in order to garner a proposal.
Patricia’s plan goes awry when Wenna and Devon find themselves accidentally entangled in a corridor. Given to believe their lady’s maid was throwing herself at a houseguest, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks fire Wenna on the spot. Overcome by guilt at being the cause of her plight, Devon offers to escort her from the Brooks’ country house to town. And along the way, he somehow convinces her to marry him. Devon needs an heir and also needs to sail home to Cornwall to attend to family business, and Wenna – coincidentally – wants to go to her grandparents in Cornwall. Though Wenna was born in Australia, these grandparents back in England are her only surviving family – and while she and Devon do discuss their prospective trip there, the events of the novel take place entirely in Australia.
What starts off as a marriage of convenience turns into an interesting relationship. Even though they don’t love each other (yet), the two certainly have physical chemistry together. Devon comes from an aristocratic background, but having largely turned his back on it, he lives in humble lodgings and spends many of his days as a laborer. Wenna has no idea that Devon owns the site where he is working, and he allows her to keep right on thinking that he is a somewhat unambitious manual worker. Wenna, for her part, has more than her fair share of initiative and she soon starts up a side business of her own – which she keeps a secret from her husband.
The longer Wenna and Devon are together, the more convincing their marriage appears. While it starts as a business arrangement, friendship and deeper emotion quickly begin to creep in. The author shows us a fair amount of Wenna and Devon’s day to day lives and we see them setting up housekeeping, budgeting, and doing all the mundane stuff couples do. And these daily routines start to knit them together almost as surely as the passionate moments they spend in the bedroom. I really enjoyed this portion of the story, and the colorful view into Australian society makes for interesting reading as well.
However, this romance also has one Big Misunderstanding piled on top of another. And since neither Devon nor Wenna can be entirely honest with the other, the misunderstandings just keep dragging on and on until they reach a point where one would almost have to be willfully blind not to know something is up. For instance, Devon hides his aristocratic status from Wenna. Even though Wenna inadvertently finds a letter addressed to “The Honorable Devon Courtney” and the two are invited to balls hosted by the cream of Adelaide society, she somehow keeps right on thinking that her husband is a common laborer.
I got rather frustrated with Devon keeping his true identity secret from Wenna. However, I thought the secrets Wenna kept from Devon were equally ridiculous. For those readers not as bothered by long, dragged-out secrets, you will probably enjoy this book more than I.
At its best, Wenna is an interesting story of a young couple just starting to figure out each other and their marriage. There’s something about the day to day scenes between Wenna and Devon that feels quite romantic at times. However, these two could have used a few courses in communication skills and a little honesty would have gone a long way toward cutting down on the drama. I did at times rather like this book, but not quite enough to recommend.