This book follows a House Party plot: A group of characters travel to a central location for a large event (in this case, a wedding), find themselves thrown together, and romance ensues. The focus in this novel is on two families, the Arringtons and the Wright-Gordons.
Lucy Jones is the penniless cousin of the wealthy Arrington siblings. Her uncle rescued her from the workhouse after the death of her parents, and her cousin Portia has never let her forget it. But now Portia is getting married to a much-older marquess and, after spending years cowering in her cruel cousin’s shadow, Lucy hopes that she’ll get her chance to blossom. It looks as if she will, since Lucy’s cousin Sebastian, who has always treated her kindly, has asked for her hand in marriage. There’s one stipulation, though: She must keep their betrothal secret until the time is right. Marriage to Sebastian means security for Lucy and her two younger brothers. Hiding their betrothal may prove difficult as the family journeys to Gloucestershire for Portia’s wedding, but Lucy is willing to make that sacrifice to ensure that her brothers won’t end up on the cold streets of London.
James and Anna Wright-Gordon live in Gloucestershire, near the Marquess of Almont, Portia’s intended. Raised in the lap of luxury, James and Anna have never wanted for anything. James took his seat in the House of Lords at a young age, and was initiated into London’s political and social life by Eleanor Talbot, the toast of Whig society. James and Eleanor shared a passionate affair, but Eleanor, twelve years James’s senior, declined his marriage proposal. A wounded James withdraws from society and ventures back to his family home to lick his wounds. His sister, Anna, is a bright, independent-minded young lady who seems to be the polar opposite of shallow Portia Arrington.
The initial meeting between Lucy and the Wright-Gordons is so contrived that it would normally be irritating, but the characters are so charming that it’s hard to be annoyed. Lucy is sketching a landscape when two riders come galloping by. Inspired by their horsemanship, Lucy adds them to her drawing, becoming so absorbed in her artwork that she fails to notice that they’re headed towards her. At the most inopportune possible moment, Lucy’s cloak flies upwards, startling James Wright-Gordon’s horse. James is thrown, the wind is knocked out of him, and he opens his eyes to an angelic Lucy. At that very moment, he’s sunk.
Of course, there are ample barriers to a relationship between James and Lucy, including the difference in station between “Lousy Lucy” from the workhouse and a member of the House of Lords, as well as Lucy’s secret betrothal. As you’d expect, these barriers drive the plot of the novel. While some of the resolutions are unexpectedly simple, others prove to be much more thorny. The resolution to the secret betrothal, for example, threatens the budding friendship between Anna and Lucy.
A Marriage of Inconvenience is very charming. It reminded me of older, lighter Regencies, a la Georgette Heyer, where the focus is more on the characters getting to know each other intellectually rather than physically. There are times, however, where Lucy seems almost too good to be true. She doesn’t have much of a dark side, and aside from her occasional jealousies, she’s a sunny young woman with a number of talents. James’s past with Eleanor Talbot isn’t the liability that it could be, most likely because he is honest about it.
You’d think that the lack of major dramatic moments would make this novel slow or dull, but it’s not. It’s relationship-driven, and that’s enough to keep it interesting. As I got to know the characters, I came to appreciate their quirks and passions. The ending is satisfying for Lucy and James, but not so much for Anna, whose fast-moving relationship with Sebastian takes a surprisingly dark turn. Her story is continued in Fraser’s debut novel, The Sergeant’s Lady.
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