How to Tame a Willful Wife
Christy English’s How to Tame a Willful Wife is the first in her Shakespeare in Love series, and on the whole, I would rather read Shakespeare. This was a forgettable romance – bland, insubstantial, and always, always choosing the most predictable path through the plot.
Caroline Montague, the daughter of a baron, lives in Yorkshire and understands that some day, she must marry into money. But since she’s his only surviving child, Caroline’s father has indulged her in her hobbies, which are fencing, archery and knife-fighting. Caroline wears breeches, rides a stallion, and is determined to do all these things after she marries. Naturally, she’s gorgeous, with a mane of golden hair that is referred to many times.
Enter the man her father chooses. Anthony Carrington, the Earl of Ravensbrook, is rich, handsome and determined that his wife will behave like a lady. Naturally, he and Caroline have bickerfests ending in clinches that turn her knees to cotton candy. Anthony keeps a mistress and dallies with prostitutes in a club organized by an equally debauched friend of his, but insists that his wife be an untouched virgin. Fortunately for Caroline, all her riding astride doesn’t prevent her from producing evidence of her purity on their wedding night.
Still, the course of true love never did run smooth, so Anthony constantly struggles to tame her, a process that includes grabbing her in the usual bruising grip when she goes too far. Meanwhile, Caroline constantly struggles to do all the things she usually does – going to the stables alone when the two of them are staying at an inn, speaking to a groom she finds there, hiring a man to be her secret sparring partner and so on.
A woman holding on to her identity and independence should make me want to cheer for her, but Caroline’s personality never clicked for me. She throws knives at Anthony twice when they first meet, because he behaves like a high-handed dictator, but he’s the hero, so she misses. She argues with him frequently, yet never comes up with a plan for how to make her marriage work when he forbids her to fight, fence, etc. Then she carries a dagger in her reticule when she’s presented to the Prince Regent.
Anthony claimed to have enemies among the men they would meet that night. If one tried to malign her, she would be ready.
What does this even mean? That if a man insults her, she’ll geld him?
Caroline manages Anthony’s household and estate effortlessly, such that all the servants and tenants adore her. She’s perfect, in other words, but there are a couple of major issues between them. First, although Anthony feels the usual lack of longing for his mistress now that he has Caroline, the mistress doesn’t take too well to being cast aside. Secondly, Anthony’s sister was seduced and abandoned by Viscount Carlyle, who continues to be a part of the social whirl in London, and who is charming and friendly each time he and Caroline meet.
Does Anthony breathe a word of this to Caroline? Does he silently rage with jealousy each time she talks to Carlyle, and suspect her of sleeping with him because the man is a vile seducer? Does Caroline discover the truth in the most unfortunate, humiliating way? Is there a separation? Dear readers, you already know exactly what happens in the book, down to the baby-logue and beyond.
There are a lot of sex scenes – in fact, I think Caroline and Anthony spend far more time having sex than they do anything else together. These scenes are neither a turnoff nor particularly sensual, and the rest of the writing is likewise middle-of-the-road. The only time something stood out was when Caroline says “That’s rich” about Anthony’s double standards. Did well-bred young ladies in 1816 use this expression?
In conclusion, How to Tame a Willful Wife was a disappointment. I like the idea of romances based on Shakespeare’s plays, but I will look elsewhere for them, and unless you’re a die-hard fan of Christy English, I suggest you do the same.