I Thee Wed
Should a reviewer judge a book against the marketplace or against an author’s previous works? It would be impossible to eliminate the impressions left by earlier books, and yet, if an author has achieved greatness in the past, it’s unfair to make her achieve greatness every time. Such is the conundrum facing this reviewer at this time. I’ve read half a dozen contemporary romances by Jayne Ann Krentz and a dozen historicals she’s written as Amanda Quick. Under either name, she nearly always earns a grade somewhere in the B level from me. Her books are always witty, written extremely well, and feature lead characters I’d like to know as people. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing. . . in general. In particular, and in this instance, while I enjoyed the lead characters and the humor, and found the story as well told as usual (JAK is a master storyteller), it didn’t hold my interest. Indeed, rather than a read-in-one-sitting romance, it took me several days to finish I Thee Wed.
Lady’s companion Emma Grayson meets wealthy bastard Edison Stokes in a closet to avoid being discovered by a man who once tried to sully her. That man, and an equally unscrupulous woman begin to engage in a carnal liaison while the two are in the closet – it is to the author’s credit that neither the reader nor Emma nor Edison has to watch any skanky sex. But why is the tall, dark, and enigmatic Edison skulking around? He’s hot on the trail of a mystery involving a murder, a lost book, and the ancient civilization of Vanzagaria.
When that nasty man is murdered in Emma’s room, Edison’s quick thinking in feigning a betrothal saves her from the hangman’s noose and provides him with an assistant in his search. She manages to extract from him the promise of a huge sum of money for her work, but can’t quite get him to write the reference she thinks she’ll need after their work is done (even though she promises to write it for him).
Edison sees in Emma what she tries to hide from the world – beauty, intelligence, and the ability to find the good in those around her. Edison presents a mysterious facade; his brains have earned a fortune, his quiet stealth has made him a formidable enemy, and his studies of Vanzagaria make him difficult if not impossible to best. Each, of course, has had to make it in the world on their own, and each, of course, needs the other to provide a port in the storminess of the world.
This is the third or fourth of Amanda Quick’s romances to build a storyline around an ancient civilization, and it’s lost its allure. While it is delightful to read Emma and Edison falling in love, superficially at least – Edison’s slow burns when Emma hares off after a clue, Emma’s constant requests for that elusive reference – I simply did not remain engaged throughout the book. The period details are there, the sights, smells, and sounds of the dangerous parts of London liven things up, and the scenes involving Edison’s unforgiving and formidable grandmother are terrific. Even the various strategies of Vanza had their place. But the overall Vanzagarian effort fell flat for me. I felt like taking the author, shaking her, and shouting, “Enough with the ancient civilizations! It worked the first time, it even worked the second time, but enough is enough!”
In my review of Quick’s last book, With This Ring, I said that her writing was evolving and that I was still willing go where she wanted to take me. Now I’m not so sure. While her emphasis on the mysteries provided a reason for the lovers to be together throughout both books, this book just wasn’t as romantic. This has nothing to do with the level of sensuality, because there are actually more love scenes in I Thee Wed. It is more a sense that Emma and Edison never really bonded, to use a modern child-rearing term. They loved each other, that is clear, and even shared a sort of psychic intuition, but their bond was more intellectual and physical than it was emotional. Emma and Edison lacked a certain closeness I craved. And Edison, in particular, never seemed fully fleshed, a problem made worse in that the author never really described him. The reference to his not being a young man is made continually, but is he 35, 40, or 45?
Because it’s difficult for me to separate out all the other Amanda Quick books I’ve read in the past, a second person will be reviewing I Thee Wed, a second person who has never read Amanda Quick. That review is forthcoming. As for me, I’d rather re-read Rendezvous or Scandal, both of which feature Amanda Quick at the top of her game.