The Ideal Bride
Having read a couple of Stephanie Laurens’ novels a while back, I figured I knew what to expect with her most recent release, The Ideal Bride. So I was surprised to find such a slow-moving and uncompelling novel from such a well-known and experienced, if predictable, author.
Michael Anstruther-Weatherby (an in-law of Laurens’ infamous Cynsters) needs a wife. Poised for promotion in the diplomatic ranks, he needs to find the perfect ambassador’s spouse, and quickly. He sets his sights on debutante Elizabeth Mollison, the daughter of a local former Member of Parliament. On his way to call on her, however, he ends up rescuing her aunt, Caroline Sutcliffe, an old friend and recent widow, from a near accident when her horse startles. He finds himself falling back into an easy friendship with Caro, whose experience as the wife of a premiere ambassador should make her the perfect advisor in winning Michael a wife of his own, especially given where his interests lie. However, as subsequent events play out, he soon realizes that Caro is as deft a politician as any, and has managed to manipulate him quite nicely. Once she convinces him that Elizabeth (who is already very much attached to Caro’s secretary, Edward) is not the experienced hostess and wife that he needs, it doesn’t take long for him to realize that the perfect woman to fill that position has been in front of him all along. Now he just has to convince Caro.
Caro Sutcliffe has a talent for being the perfect hostess, the perfect behind-the-scenes politician that any good ambassador needs for a wife, and it’s something she enjoys. But she’s already played that role once, and is determined not to do it again. Not if it means another loveless marriage to a man who wants her only for her skills as a hostess and political maneuverer. She’ll remain the Merry Widow, untouchable and untouched, forever. If only Michael would go away and let her.
Michael and Caro are basically nice people. Caro’s a little cold-blooded in her manipulation of him at the beginning, but she never intends him harm – she just doesn’t intend to let him come between Elizabeth and Edward, and their happiness. Once she gets past that, it’s only her insecurity and lack of belief that Michael could want her for more than her social skills that stand between them.
Michael was a little easier to warm up to. He wants a home, a family, and a good woman, pretty much from the start. He very quickly latches on to the idea of Caro as his bride, and not just because of her appropriate qualities and experience. He likes her, cares about her, and doesn’t hesitate to accept the fact that he loves her. They were a very nice couple, and I sincerely hoped, as I read, that they found happiness together. There simply wasn’t enough immediacy to them or the story to make me feel compelled to stick around and see it come to fruition.
In addition to the romance, there is a slight element of suspense, in that someone, for some reason, appears to be trying to kill Caro. My main problem with this is how it’s introduced, in the very beginning, when Michael discovers from his groom that Caro’s horse startling was no accident, but rather caused by slingshot wounds to the horse. In their discussion, they go out of their way to point out that it must have been an accident.
“Anyways, can’t see any likelihood of it happening again, least not to Mrs. Sutcliffe.”
“No, indeed. That would be like lightning striking twice.”
They might as well have held up a neon flashing sign that read “Attention Readers: it will happen again.” But maybe that would have been too obvious. One has to draw the line somewhere, I suppose.
After managing to bang the reader over the head so subtly with that foreshadowing, the suspense subplot promptly disappears for nearly a quarter of the book. The combined effect was that of clumsy obviousness and sloppy plotty.
All in all, the sloppiness and to some extent the pacing corrected itself in the latter half of the book, but the damage had already been done. Had I been reading the book for pleasure, chances are I wouldn’t have gotten that far. While not as heavy-handed as the foreshadowing, the suspense plot lacked, well, suspense. Likewise, the identity of the villain contained no surprise, and the danger represented seemed minimal.
While the suspense subplot fails outright, the romance is pleasant but not at all compelling. I suggest not picking this up if you want something to wow you, keep you turning pages, or involve you overly. If you want some vacation reading that won’t distract you from other fun, perhaps this would be the book. But other than that, I can’t give any ringing recommendations here.