The Bride Behind the Curtain
The Bride Behind the Curtain is the first of three short novels by Darcie Wilde in a series collectively entitled Regency Makeover and which are being published one a month in March, April and May respectively. Each book is slightly longer than a novella but shorter than the average category romance, and I confess that once I realized that, I was a little sceptical as to whether the author would be able to craft a satisfying and well-developed romance in such a short page count.
I confess to a weakness for “wallflower triumphs over all” stories, which is the overarching premise of the series, as three young women who have been shunned and ridiculed by society band together to stand up for themselves and say “enough is enough”. In this first story, Lady Adele Endicott, sister of the Duke of Windford, has always been eclipsed by the stunning beauty of her younger sister, Patience, who is a diamond of the first water and always the belle of the ball. It’s a shame her manners don’t match her looks, however, as Patience is selfish, vain and utterly horrible to her sister, whom she never hesitates to humiliate in front of her gang of mean girls and anyone else in the vicinity. While Patience is courted and feted by all the eligible young men of the ton, Adele is consigned to the sidelines and to her aunt’s dreadful dress sense, which favours fashion over every other consideration and which certainly don’t suit her lushly rounded figure.
While at the Christmas and New Year house-party hosted by her uncle and aunt, Adele literally stumbles into the lap of one of the guests, the handsome young Frenchman, James Beauclaire, who is the current favourite in the race for Patience’s hand. He acknowledges himself a fortune hunter, needing the money to help his family who lost everything in the French Revolution and then again under Napoleon. He makes a living of sorts at the gaming tables, and tells himself he needs to keep his eyes on the prize that is Lady Patience… even if he finds her sister to be far more enticing.
I enjoyed the first part of the story, where Adele and James skirt around their fascination with each other, James trying to tell himself that Adele is not for him while Adele keeps trying to remind herself that a gorgeous man like James can’t possibly be interested in her. There’s a nice frisson of attraction running between them, and I was really rooting for them to be together when the whole makeover thing kicks in and the story loses focus – or at the least, becomes less interesting.
Adele has become friends with two other young ladies slighted by society; Lady Helene Fitzgerald, a forthright young woman and renowned bluestocking and Madeleine Valmeyer, the very timid half-sister of a young man who is slowly bleeding her dry courtesy of his inveterate gambling. It’s Helene who comes up with the idea that the three of them need to turn their lives around, stand up for themselves and have people take notice of them for the right reasons. By this time, James has decided that Adele is the woman for him and they have spoken to each other of their feelings, but given James’ lack of funds and the fact that he is supporting his impoverished family, they can’t see a way to be together. The thing I liked about the makeover plot was that it wasn’t just Adele who was determined to change; James decided he needed to change his ways as well and instead of making his living at the gaming tables, he was going to find a way to earn money respectably and support a wife.
Unfortunately, this involves the central couple spending some months apart (although it’s not a lot of time on the page), but what happens in between their agreeing to part for a few months and their coming together again felt like so much waffle that I was hard pressed not to skim. The details of how the girls were planning their big society entrance, and James’ introduction to the world of the investor was, quite frankly, dull and doesn’t contribute much to the story overall. The final twenty percent or so tries to cram in too much in order to introduce some needed tension in the story, but it’s a case of too little, too late.
And then there’s the unsatisfying ending which isn’t (quite) a cliffhanger, but which isn’t a concrete HEA either. I imagine this is because the books are part of a serial rather than a series, and that each of the three heroines will get her HEA before the whole thing wraps up. But as the books are being published separately, each one needs to stand on its own and I’m afraid this one doesn’t. I can’t help feeling a bit cheated because something I expected to be a complete story actually isn’t, and I sense that readers are going to have to read all three books in order to be able to properly enjoy all three stories.
On the positive side, I liked the premise of The Bride Behind the Curtain and Ms Wilde makes some pertinent observations about the way Adele and her friends are regarded by their families and by society at large. James’ backstory is interesting, too, and the author again offers some interesting insight into his situation. But both protagonists are on the bland side, and while they’re sweet together, the romance is based on instant attraction and is underdeveloped. I confess, I wasn’t all that keen on what I’ve seen so far of the heroine of the next book, the rather drippy Madeleine, so I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be reading it – although I did like Helene, so maybe I’ll pick up part three when it comes out in May.