I’ve said numerous times that I don’t have too many dealbreakers as a reader because a good author can make me like just about anything. And Sweet Bea is a book that proves that true. Somehow Sarah Hegger takes a lying jerk hero, a curl-tossing and feisty heroine, and a handful of ridiculous romance plotting cliches, and turns it into a fun but also surprisingly moving story.
Beatrice of Angelsea is the member of the household least likely to be taken seriously – and it frustrates her no end. She has three broken betrothals to her name, a serious issue in those days, and no one in the family seems to think that she’ll marry well or do much of anything. However, Bea refuses to let her family’s low opinion keep her down. When she overhears a plot to discredit her father and wrest the family’s lands away from him, she does not hesitate to act. Father is in London serving King John, and since her mother’s illness and the lack of men about the place leaves all vulnerable, she must ride for London at once.
Immediately she runs into her first problem – she has no clue how to get to London. Since Bea is feisty, this doesn’t stop her. Her loyal childhood friend Tom agrees reluctantly to accompany her, and so does the mysterious new man in town who has been wooing Beatrice on the sly. Sweet, naive Bea trusts Garrett even though she knows little about him and therein lies some of the tension in the story.
Garrett (Yes, you’re reading this correctly. There really is a medieval hero named Garrett. Ugh.) lost everything as a child. When his own father ran afoul of the king, Bea’s father drove him and his mother from their home, and his mother was forced into prostitution simply to survive. Not surprisingly, Garrett has a major chip on his shoulder and he plans to get revenge by deflowering Bea, thus making the daughter of the man who destroyed his family a whore in the eyes of society. Prince of a guy, no?
The hero’s modern-day name annoyed me from the very beginning, and the feisty heroine and revenge plot didn’t give me much hope either. However, as I read, the story started to develop a certain endearing quality to it. Sure, Garrett’s a lying jerk but he also has a conscience and that conscience pricks at him the more time he spends with Beatrice on the road to London. The trials the party faces on the road show him what Bea is made of, and that in turn makes him think harder about his plans.
And then there’s Beatrice. She’s undeniably a heroine of the feisty sort, but unlike most of them, she has a certain self-awareness. She would be the first to acknowledge that she acts first and thinks later, and we see her gradually learning from painful experience as she gets herself in and out of ridiculous scrapes. She makes mistakes and says things that can be frustratingly stupid, but she learns from them. She also doesn’t make excuses for herself. There’s a scene at one point where Bea apologizes to Garrett for some of her antics. I had to read it twice just because it worked so well – and yet she’s one of the first feisty heroines I’ve seen who understands that sometimes she acts as if she is TSTL, but wants to grow and do better.
It’s touches like that which make this road romance so much fun. The characters meet many obstacles on the road that keep one flying through the pages, even as Bea also engages in time-honored historical romance gambits such as taking in urchins. Yes, urchins. It made my eyes roll, too. But then I kept reading, and as with the other normally problematic pieces of the story, Hegger makes this one work, too.
The book does have its weak points. I loathed the hero’s name, for starters, and even though Hegger largely makes things work, Bea does have some eyeroll-inducing moments. And then there’s the extremely cheerful and rather pat ending. Even so, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoyed reading Sweet Bea. Hegger tells her story with a light touch, but the history is more than wallpaper and the emotion of the love story comes through rather sweetly.