Oh, I do love an intellectual heroine! Janna MacGregor writes a complicated one with some rather facepalm-worthy qualities in The Bride Who Got Lucky the second in her Cavensham Heiresses series. This tale of a headstrong bluestocking and an independent earl who meet their match in one another, has faults and strengths that make for a complicated read.
Nicholas – Nick – St. Mauer, the Earl of Sommerton, victim of a lonely childhood and a chilly, terrible, self-centered father, is determined never to love a single soul again. Existing like a shadow in the social whirl of England, he is nonetheless highly intrigued by bookworm and activist Emma Cavensham, who manages to get herself into a fine heap of trouble, with Nick as an unwitting accessory. When Emma’s parents catch her sneaking back into the house after an excursion to an unseemly place in order to get hold of a rare book, they put her on a sort of social probation, banishing her to the family’s country seat during the height of the Season. Emma cares less for the sea of parties than for helping others, but she is terribly attracted to Nick.
Three years after initially meeting Nick, Emma desires to forego marriage entirely and use part of her dowry to establish a bank run by women, for women, which will benefit women in dire circumstances – and use another portion to pursue justice for her friend Lena, who was seduced and murdered by her abusive husband. Emma’s parents try to distract her from the latter notion by throwing a party, to which all of the eligible men of the ton will be invited. There, Nick – who has transformed himself into a workaholic merchant – tells her he knows she’s tried to make another excursion to Portsmouth to purchase a book – and soon becomes involved in the true purpose of her mission, trying to find Lena’s maid, who witnessed the blow that led to her mistress’ death. In searching for proof enough to bring Lena’s murderers to justice, Emma and Nick find themselves slowly changing and slowly falling in love, until one more scandal binds them together in a marriage they must figure out if they truly want.
The Bride Who Got Lucky has an engaging plot. Readers will be interested in seeing Lena’s murderer brought to justice, and will enjoy every step along the way. The romance is mostly worthwhile as well, though the book as a whole suffers from choppy pacing.
Emma is a fair example of a smart-dumb heroine; her pursuit of freedom and knowledge are both laudable and interesting character traits, but she at times acts with incredible incaution and as a result, she comes off as human but unevenly characterized. Naturally she bears all of the hallmarks of unconventional heroines throughout the ages, from being her maid’s best friend to her bluestocking leanings. The story sets her against the typical snooty airheads who are no match for her superior wit – but her brother is a redeemable rake type who might prove more interesting in the next book.
Nick has a tendency to waver between being respecting Emma’s opinions and being her biggest support to treating her like a hotheaded child and condescending to her. The narrative can’t decide who he’d like to be for the first half of the book – the classic controlling hero micromanaging the heroine’s life and complaining about her foolish schemes while lusting after her, or an adult partner who automatically values her ideas as worthy. He settles in as the latter, but repeatedly goes behind her back instead of speaking to her one on one. The author has to work overtime to make her semi-forced marriage to Nick make narrative sense, but they both become more enjoyable as characters when they’re forced to speak together in a mature fashion – which is something the book takes about half its length to deliver. Once it settles they finally become adults in a worthy relationship.
This dichotomy might be due to The Bride Who Got Lucky’s whiplash quality, which detracts somewhat from the romance. Weaving between spicy love scenes and Emma’s intense guilt over her friend’s death, combined with Nick’s angst over his father is all well and good, but MacGregor doesn’t take care to transition from scene to scene, such as when impassioned love scenes are immediately preceded by Emma detailing her beloved friend’s death in graphic detail to Nick. I was surprised that Emma could get hold of her dowry given her avowed intention not to marry, given that dowries were usually bestowed upon marriage, and there are a number of historical inconsistencies, especially in forms of address, sprinkled throughout the book. One of the plot devices is fairly flimsy; the notion that the ton would be horribly scandalized because Emma went to a navy town to buy a book seems a little outré when the real talk of the ton used to be murders and adultery.
The Bride Who Got Lucky manages to pace itself into becoming a story about two lost souls in pursuit of something important. Once the characters find their groove, it becomes a fine story about love and justice. Buckle in though. You’re in for quite a hike before you get to that point.
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