Once Again a Bride
All in all, I’m not sure what the author was trying to accomplish. But I’m not impressed. At all.
There’s a maid, a mistress, and a murder, not necessarily in that order, but definitely in that order of descending interest. The maid is one Lucy Bowman, who has been with Charlotte, Countess of Earnton, for umpteen million years. Charlotte Wylde was palmed off by her academic father to a cracked up antiques collector, Henry Wylde, a controlling old cuckoo some 35 years older than the 18-year-old Charlotte. Lucy and Charlotte are dead unhappy for a year, but lo and behold, who should pop up dead a year later but the earl himself, mugged by footpads.
Awfully convenient, eh? Well Charlotte didn’t murder him – too bad, because the story would have been heaps more interesting if she had. What actually happens is that Charlotte’s nephew by marriage, Alexander, comes along, trailed by a handsome footman, two benighted sisters and a spinster cousin. Ethan the footman has eyes only for Lucy, the only chick who hasn’t batted her eyelashes and lifted her skirts for him since he first noticed the first and embarked on the latter.
Anyway, after some shenanigans involving a weird provision of the late earl’s will, Alex’s hellion younger sister, and a calico cat from hell, Charlotte and Lucy move into Alex’s London home. All the better to fall in love with you, my dear.
A part of me wonders if the author wasn’t inspired by the recent spate of upstairs-downstairs stories in popular culture, for Lucy and Ethan get almost as much page time as their aristocratic employers, and considerable attention is devoted to a more ensemble cast than other romances are wont to do. Unfortunately, the whole endeavour feels so half-hearted that it reads like some editor’s bright idea of, Ooh, let’s do Downton Abbey! Except it doesn’t turn out nearly as trashily entertaining. The overall feeling is perfunctory at best and completely uninteresting at worst.
It’s a good thing we get Lucy and Ethan, because they’re far more interesting than Charlotte and Alex – but not by much, really. Both sets go through half-hearted motions (Lucy and Ethan with a smidgen more oomph than the other pair), but really, no one has any chemistry, commonality, or any chance of surviving successfully together. But then again, how could they when they’re made of cardboard and 2mm thick? Chuck them in the deep blue sea and the cutouts drift, get soppy, crumble to bits, then get eaten by plankton.
The verve and liveliness present eight years ago in Ms. Ashford’s is more or less completely absent, leading me to wonder what the devil happened. Time? Just needing to get her feet wet again? A really uninteresting premise? To the niche group of readers who were looking forward to Ms. Ashford’s return, I’m sorry to report that Once Again a Bride is really not worth the wait.