The Least Likely Bride
The Least Likely Bride is the third in Jane Feather’s trilogy about three seventeenth-century English friends who, as girls, make a pact that they will never marry. (The second, The Accidental Bride, is a Desert Island Keeper.) This wonderfully enjoyable romance tells the story of the youngest of the three, bookish Olivia Granville, who wants to devote her life to scholarship.
It is 1648 and King Charles I languishes in luxurious and respectful imprisonment on the Isle of Wight, off England’s southern shore. A freak accident causes Olivia, daughter of a powerful member of Parliament’s winning side, to fall into the clutches of a delightful, handsome, mysterious rogue named Anthony. Anthony is a pirate, a man who claims not to care in the slightest which side wins the war, and he sweeps Olivia away on a high-seas adventure. Some girls have all the luck.
Olivia takes to the swashbuckling life like a duck to water, thanks mostly to the deep and exciting rapport that springs to life between her and Anthony. When he later sees to it that Olivia gets safely home, she knows that her life has been changed forever. But there are a variety of internal and external conflicts that will keep Olivia and Anthony apart. Feather deals very intelligently with the experiences that have made Olivia wary of intimacy. There are also betrayals in Anthony’s past, which make him secretive and untrusting.
Most interestingly, we discover that Anthony is the mastermind behind a daring plot to rescue King Charles from imprisonment. I adored this exciting subplot. Anthony demonstrates several times that he’s a master of disguise, not least when he attends King Charles’s informal court, playing the role of a fawning and empty-headed courtier while passing the King instructions for his escape. Of course, since Olivia’s father’s job is to keep the king exactly where he is, her loyalties are torn.
Finally, and most ambitiously of Feather, there is the issue of wrecking. This novel opens with a beautifully-written description of a storm, during which outlaws (known as wreckers) silence the warning buoy on a dangerous reef and light a false beacon, luring a ship to its destruction. While the broken ship’s passengers and crew die in the surf, the wreckers plunder her rich cargo. Anthony is a pirate and a schemer, but he scorns the profession of wrecking as vile and ignoble. When Olivia comes to believe that Anthony is a wrecker, she is horrified that he could be capable of such base dishonor. Wrecking is not only the subject of this novel’s opening scene, it also becomes the most important issue between our lovers.
But let’s get real here, shall we? I suppose it is more honorable to attack a cargo ship than to trick it into running aground, but the results are the same: the ship is either scuttled or taken, her cargo is stolen, and people die. When you read a pirate romance you have to expect it to glorify pirates, who were in reality murderers, rapists and thieves. But this novel takes the barely-there distinction between piracy and wrecking and turns it into a vital plot point, arguing that the first is dashing and glorious while the second is wicked and vicious. This illogic is, by far, the weakest aspect of the book, and it’s the only reason The Least Likely Bride didn’t earn an A from me.
Feather’s command of seventeenth century England is excellent. (This does not extend to the laughably inaccurate outfit worn by the model on the book’s cover, but never mind.) King Charles was indeed imprisoned on the Isle of Wight and did engage in several plots to escape.
Anthony is a gorgeous hero. He’s had a horrible past, but he’s not tortured – he’s a laughing, danger-loving, unexpectedly sensitive man who reminded me powerfully of Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. Olivia, a bookish girl whose reserved nature hides an instinct for pleasure and a knack for adventure, is an equally individual and likeable character. From their first meeting, the reader feels that they need and deserve one another’s love.
For the most part, this book is just perfect: romance, adventure, history, humor, sex, and friendship, in exactly the right proportions. I didn’t like the illogical portrayal of piracy as a lifestyle to be respected and embraced, but don’t let that keep you from reading this book. I highly recommend The Least Likely Bride, and I plan to search out the other books in Feather’s Bride trilogy immediately.