The Earl's Untouched Bride
The Earl’s Untouched Bride by Annie Burrows is a prime example of a whole that is less than the sum of its parts. This romance uses many ingredients I really like, but still the overall result, in my eyes, was no more than average.
In the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, Charles Fawley, Earl of Walton, has travelled to Paris and wooed a young Parisienne, Felice Bergeron. The novel starts immediately after Felice has run away with a young bourgeois, leaving the Earl’s pride, less his heart, in tatters. In this situation, Felice’s older sister Heloise proposes to the Earl that he marry her instead: His pride will be salvaged (because Heloise used to play chaperone to the Earl and Felice, no-one really knows which sister the Earl was wooing), and she can avoid being married off to a bully she despises. Mostly because Charles has a score to settle with the bully, he accepts, and they are quickly wed. Charles takes Heloise to England, and they try to settle into married life.
This is a typical marriage-of-convenience plot, with two well-meaning but clueless people who are secretly in love but don’t want to be a burden on the other. I’ve read it before, you’ve read it before, and still it can work very well. In this instance, it first does, and then it doesn’t.
I liked the fact that both Charles and Heloise are deeply flawed and insecure characters. She really has no self-confidence whatsoever, being the plain and socially awkward sister, and he really finds it impossible to deal with emotions except by hiding them behind a cold façade. Thus their countless misunderstandings and failures to communicate are in character.
But then there are too many misunderstandings. Whatever Charles or Heloise does, the other invariably puts the wrong interpretation on it, and walks out in a huff. Remarks made in the heat of the moment are given the greatest weight, and any gesture of peace or friendship is discounted. Honestly, these two are so out of tune with each other that for the greatest part of the novel they stand very little chance of happiness together. I must hand it to Annie Burrow, though, that the unhappiness she paints feels real and had me get out my hanky more than once.
The HEA is sweet, but it did not quite manage to atone for the mostly unnecessary suffering that had come before. In addition, I was not quite happy with the hero’s maturity. Charles is 35, but he appears both immature for his supposed age and rather ineffectual in taking years to patch up the rift with his brother.
If there had been more dynamic in the development of the hero’s and heroine’s relationship, I would have liked The Earl’s Untouched Bride much better. Still, Annie Burrows has the gift to move me to tears, and so I will watch out for more novels by her.