The Admiral's Penniless Bride
Carla Kelly has long been a favorite among AAR staffers and readers, but a relatively hard to find one if you do your primary reading out of libraries and used book stores, as I do. I did manage to get my hands on the much acclaimed Beau Crusoe, which I enjoyed but which was a victim of its own praises– I expected so much, that a very good story wasn’t quite as good as I expected. With Carla Kelly’s new book, The Admiral’s Penniless Bride, though, I could read it and enjoy it without other people’s opinions in my head– and enjoy it, I did– very, very much so.
Our two main characters are a bit unusual. Admiral Sir Charles Bright is recently retired from the Royal Navy after 35 years of service, at forty-five. He never thought he would survive the war, and has spent so much time on a ship that he missed much of life’s experiences– including marrying, which his two older and widowed sisters are insisting he do. In order to escape their nagging, he agrees to find a bride. He didn’t expect it to be Mrs. Sally Paul, though. He encounters Sally, a widow on the verge of the poor house, at a hotel dining room where she is having one last cup of tea. Impulsively, he proposes, and with so me hesitation, she accepts.
Much of the book is these two people, strangers in many ways, trying to figure out how to live together and have a “marriage of convenience” when each is beginning to fall in love with the other. To add some drama, there is also the matter of Sally’s secret: her husband, who committed suicide, had been sentenced to death by the Naval Admiralty for a crime he didn’t commit. She had been living under her maiden name, and never revealed her husband’s identity to Charles.
This is essentially the reason this book didn’t get a DIK rating. I thought Charles overreacted. (I hope this isn’t too spoilery– you know it’s got to happen, right?) It was dramatic and emotional, but out of character. I could understand how he would treat strangers, or subordinates, that way, but he loved his wife– one would think he’d give her the benefit of the doubt.
But aside from that, the book was lovely. Truly. Charles was a fascinating character, and the book made me think about that it means that he was at sea for 35 years — how much he’d missed, what he’d risked, and what it means to be on land. His interactions with Sally were delightful, full of banter and wit. The romance between them was palpable.
Carla Kelly has a gift with language. There’s something very authentic about it, starting with the Britishisms, and going straight through to unusual turns of phrase or expressions. It was also refreshing to take a few steps away from the ton. Charles is wealthy in his own right, and a ‘sir,’ but there’s something much simpler about their lifestyle, and they’re much more relaxed. It was nice.
This book made me think about how romance novels are marketed, often to their detriment. The tagline, title, and back cover summary — “Will they enjoy their marriage night at leisure?” — reduce this story to an overdramatic simplification of the relationship that is truly in this book. The Admiral’s Penniless Bride is much, much better than that. Trust me.