Bogus Bride breaks my record of giving Harlequin Historicals at least least a passing grade. This one is an F. It takes an interesting premise and mucks it up quite badly.
It is 1842. Ten years before, Englishman Sam Jardine left home for the New World after failing to live up to his father’s wishes to succeed his medical practice. Left behind were two broken-hearted sisters. Caitryn, blond, beautiful, angelic and sweet, and Caitlin, small, cat-like, feisty, and smart. Ten years later, a letter arrives asking their father for the hand in marriage of Caitlin. A second letter is sent to the prospective bride, and though the letter begins, “My dearest Caitryn,” Caitlin believes the man she has loved for ten years has finally sent for her.
She accepts his proposal of marriage, arrives in America, and shocks Sam, who assumed he was to marry his beloved Caitryn. He marries Caitlin anyway, and she fires his blood. So begins Bogus Bride.
This is an intriguing premise, no? Somehow, author Emily French managed to lose me fairly quickly. Was it because Sam married Caitlin so easily and simply? Was it the flashback to Caitlin’s 16th birthday party when she and Sam snuck outside and she put his hands on her breasts, pulled down his pants and began giving him head? This was on page 25! Or did it happen a bit later when I realized neither of these people ever seemed to speak straight and were always lying or omitting truths? Or could it have been when the lumber sub-plot and evil lumberman started taking center stage in a convoluted sub-plot that was pretty darn dull?
While the Chinese farmer added some interesting depth to the book in his mystical ways and acceptance of Caitlin, most of the secondary characters were not developed well. They seemed there to advance the plot and fill a stereotyped purpose. The relationship between the half- breed “daughter” of Sam and a now-dead Indian woman existed, it seemed, solely to show that the evil lumberman was evil and that Caitlin was a good person. If she was there to humanize Sam, the author failed.
The only interesting sub-plot to this romance was in Caitlin’s work as a doctor. Her relationship with Sam’s father back in England was far more interesting than the lumbering lumber plot. In Sam’s mind, Caitlin was probably more the son than Sam could ever be, given that he was probably dyslexic and not at all cut out to be a doctor. It also revealed more of Sam’s inner turmoil than anything else, including his treatment of Caitlin, which varied between sex and secrets.
Although the author did try to make something out of Caitlin’s skills as a doctor, Caitlin herself was not a fully developed lead character. While Sam seemed more real, neither seemed very real to me – the author left their thoughts and motives unfinished most often, which was unsatisfying. Neither seemed particularly likeable either; Sam wasn’t the only one being dishonest about his motives.
Even the scenes of supposed excitement, when Sam is attacked or his dam is being sabotaged failed. How could this be? Choppy writing, foreshortened scenes, lack of character development, and lack of heroic behavior on behalf of both Sam and Caitlin.
I can accept a book that is poorly plotted but filled with well-drawn characters, but I cannot accept a book that has poorly drawn characters. When the characters are not only poorly drawn but not likeable, I begin to grit my teeth and wish the end were near. And when poor plotting is added into the mix, I seriously consider tossing the book on the floor and jumping up and down on it.
I started that routine fairly on into this book and it never improved. If you see this book at your local store, walk right by. It would be a bogus buy.