The Adventurous Bride
Miranda Jarrett is an author I’d forgotten about. Years ago, I read a few of her books and then glommed a bunch more, but they got lost in the bottomless tbr pile. Then I came across The Adventurous Bride and thought I’d give it a go. It’s a road romance full of unusual settings (like Calais and Venice), and though it’s not a perfect read, it’s not bad.
Lady Mary Farren is the daughter of a duke – she longs to travel and see the world. When political affairs on the continent are finally relatively peaceful, her father agrees to let her take a long trip with her governess/companion. But on the eve of her trip, there’s a crimp in the plans: her willful sister Diana must come along. Diana is more or less an English Ado Annie (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma) who, well, just can’t say no. The girls’ father knows that sending Diana abroad (instead of giving her a season) will be a punishment, and he hopes that the more staid Mary can keep her sister in line.
Mary’s secret dreams of adventure are realized almost immediately. When she arrives in Calais, she ventures out alone and finds a shop catering to wealthy, easily duped Englishmen. It’s full of worthless counterfeit artwork and “ancient” artifacts that are much newer than they look. Mary zeroes in on the one item of value – a peculiar painting of an angel. While she haggles with the shopkeeper (who initially refuses to sell the painting), a bystander comes to her aid. Lord John Fitzgerald offers to buy the painting for her, and walk her home. She refuses his assistance, but is quite intrigued by him.
The next day they meet again briefly, but Mary is quickly spirited away by her governess, and they continue their journey (heading to Paris). Before she leaves, the man who sold her the angel painting warns her that it is dangerous and she must tell no one that she has it. Later, John visits the shop and finds it in flames. He pulls the owner from the burning building, only to discover he was killed. John decides that Mary is in danger, and rides to her rescue.
What follows is a road romance, with Mary, John and company traveling through Europe and trying to stay one step ahead of the nefarious people who are searching for the angel painting. They also try and determine who wants the painting and what is so special about it. Naturally, they fall in love in the meantime, but complications abound. Mary is the daughter of a wealthy and influential man. John is the sixth son of an Irish nobleman, and must make his own way in the world. Initially, he thinks he’ll enjoy a brief flirtation (and possibly an affair) with Mary; he knows he has little to offer her, and isn’t sure he wants to marry anyone. But as they are drawn deeper into the mystery of the painting, John realizes that Mary isn’t just another conquest.
Unusual, detailed settings have always been Jarrett’s strongpoint, and this book certainly follows that pattern. If you’ve just read your fifty-millionth book where the heroine dances at Almacks and rides in Hyde Park, then this could provide a much-needed breath of fresh air. With all the artwork and (relatively) exotic European settings, it almost had a De Vinci Code-esque feeling – thankfully minus the heavy-handed religious references. But though I truly enjoyed the different settings, I also felt that the premise was a little flawed. The book is set in 1784, and England and France are at peace at the time. But I had some trouble believing that a duke would really let his daughters traipse all over Europe without a male escort. Since they do end up encountering trouble right and left, I felt pretty justified in my dubiousness.
However, much of the time I was able to suspend my disbelief, mostly because I enjoyed the characters. Mary is somewhat ordinary, but that’s kind of the point of the whole thing. Her trip and the ensuing adventure makes her less ordinary, and her relationship with her sister is also a catalyst for change. At first Diana seems both selfish and stupid, but rather than ending up flat and lifeless, Diana proves to be smart in her own way. And though I ended up liking both sister in the end, I liked John even more. He’s the type of hero who starts out somewhat immature and self-centered, but becomes a better person because of his love for the heroine. There’s a reason this is such a classic theme.
In the end, I found this book well-worth my time, and I was glad to rediscover an author I’d enjoyed in the past. If you’re looking for an historical read that’s a little off-beat, you could certainly do worse.