The Brides of London
Grade : B

The Brides of London is a combined reissue of the first two books in Vanessa Riley’s Advertisements for Love series, The Bittersweet Bride and The Bashful Bride.  If you already own both books, then naturally you won’t want to splurge on it, but for neophytes to Riley’s work this will likely be a mixed treat, with the second book being stronger than the first. Neither book provides her best work by a long shot, but they’re definitely building blocks which helped make her the author she is today.


The Bittersweet Bride

Grade: C                               Sensuality: Kisses

Theodosia – Theo - Cecil is a widow in need of a groom. Once a flower seller and made more comfortable by her late husband’s estate, the man he appointed to oversee said estate is determined to marry Theo and take her son’s inheritance for himself. Seeking to avoid such a fate, she secretly places an advertisement in a local newspaper, making it clear she’s looking for a husband.

One of the two guys who shows up is wannabe playwright Ewan Fitzwilliam, second son of an Earl, and the man who got away.  Ewan has not yet published a play because that would naturally disgrace his aristocratic family, but he cannot stop himself from writing.

Ewan and Theo were once engaged, but Ewan’s family did not approve of Theo due to her race and the class difference between them, and he broke the engagement in order to appease his father.  Ewan was then packed off to war.  When he was reported dead in battle Theo moved on and married her husband, and they had a fine, happy marriage.  Six years later, Theo is shocked to see Ewan and reluctant to open her heart to him again. Ewan, meanwhile, will do anything to get her to say yes to him – if only so his family can gain the water rights to a piece of property she owns.

The biggest problem with The Bittersweet Bride is our hero, who is perhaps the biggest D-bag that Riley has ever brought to life.  Ewan is a jerk ne plus ultra, blaming Theo for all his misfortune, his lousy family (who had a hand in obstructing her of employment before she married), and is bound and determined to make her suffer for rejecting him. Theo, meanwhile, rightfully believes Ewan left her to suffer at the hands of his family.

Ewan is a devoted follower of the Big Mis who refuses to listen to reason and does such lovely things as write a play that paints her as a villainess and threaten to publish it anonymously unless she signs her land over to him. He doesn’t seem to realize how severely this would imperil Theo and her son, so deeply entrenched is he in his pity party. He constantly shows up at her doorstep even though she’s rejected him.  And then there’s poor little Phillip, Theo’s son (who is six - do the math there), who is poorly sketched.  He is deaf, and his entire characterization boils down to his deafness, which is depicted as a horrible tragedy for Theo.  Several characters (not villains) sympathize with Theo’s deafness by expressing sorrow that he will “never be whole”,  which is a disappointed affront to the many vibrant deaf and hard of hearing people I know.  I loved Theo, and Riley’s impeccable writing skills and historical research are on full display here.  But the end result is me wanting a better life for Theo, one that doesn’t include Ewan, and that is deadly for any romance.


The Bashful Bride

Grade: B+                                Sensuality: Kisses

At the exact opposite end of the spectrum is The Bashful Bride, which features Ester Croome, an heiress whose friend, Frederica, has, in line with the series theme, placed a secret advertisement in a newspaper searching for a husband.  Ester is hopelessly shy, young and naïve, but agrees to go with her friend to meet her prospective husband.  Ester is determined not to make the mistakes she believes her mother and father made in cheating and forgiving said cheating, respectively. She figures the arranged marriage her father has put together will not guarantee her happiness, as her would-be groom is a known womanizer, and Ester will do just about anything to escape her fate.

Fortunately, Ester has had a huge crush on the sweetest cinnamon roll in the bakery for two years – the passionate Shakespearian actor and abolitionist Arthur Bex.  That he replied to Frederica’s ad and wants to be married as badly as Ester wants to be married to him is just a boon that sweetens the pot.  Arthur mistakes Ester for Frederica and soon they’re on the way to Grena Green.

Bex wants to outrun the horrors committed by his slave-trader uncle, and considers his participation in the abolition movement an important recompense.. But is real marriage – and a climb down the social scale – something Ester can endure?

Ester is a credible study in a young woman growing up and into her own, and Bex is gloriously, imperfectly perfect – one of my favorite romance heroes in many a day.  Their romance is quite sweet and has credible obstacles and ends up perfectly.  Again, Riley’s research is excellent, making this one a wonderful read.

Buy it at Amazon or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : B

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : November 6, 2021

Publication Date: 08/2021

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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