The Marriage Prize
Virginia Henley has been writing historical romance since the early 1980s. She continues to write the larger-than-life, old-style romance she is famous for. For this reviewer, The Marriage Prize features a potentially engaging plot that is undermined by prose that can only be described as the deepest purple, a hoydenish and defiant heroine who tosses both insults and hair every chance she gets, and exclamation points that are over-exuberant in their abundance!
Twelve-year-old heiress Rosamond Marshall finds herself all alone in the world when her brother Giles is killed. As a ward of Eleanor de Montfort, the king’s sister, she is betrothed to Rodger de Leyburn, Prince Edward Plantagenet’s steward and friend. Five years later she sees her betrothed again, and quickly bristles at the idea of becoming a wife to the “uncouth knave,” especially since she is besotted with another knight, Rickard de Burgh. When Rod aids her in reclaiming Pershore, the property she’s neglected while living at Kenilworth, she sees a different side of him than the carefree charmer she’s used to, although she still vows to cancel the wedding up until the last moment.
Their marriage eventually takes place, just as King Henry III and Simon de Montfort (Eleanor’s husband and brother-in-law to the king) are taking opposing sides in what will eventually become a war between the king (with Prince Edward leading the forces) and the barons, led by de Montfort. Rosamond, devoted to the de Montforts, cannot understand why her husband is siding with Henry and Edward, and initially returns to the home of her childhood, much to Rod’s anger. Their relationship is in peril not only because of the political situation in England, but also because of a secret Rod has kept for many years, which could prove the final straw to their volatile marriage.
Rosamond spends most of the book changing her mind. She hates Rod, she wants him, she fantasizes about him, she refuses to marry him, she marries him, she vows to remain distant, she stages a seduction a courtesan would be proud of, and so on and so forth. She is childish, hissing and snapping at everyone, including Prince Edward, once even pinching Rod hard enough to draw blood. It takes the littlest provocation to send Rosamond into a fit, or to send that golden mane of hers flying in disdain, and it made her very difficult to like.
While Rod isn’t that much better as lead characters go – he spends much time and energy vowing that he shall conquer Rosamond – at least he deserves to be commended for his patience in dealing with his betrothed, considering he’s in the middle of a murky political situation. Not to mention that if a female of any species is about to give birth, Rod’s the man to have around.
The prose is definitely purple, defiantly so, and nary a scene is spared, be it a love scene, a near death experience, or even a scene where a character is alone with his/her own thoughts. After a while, the flowery writing became as difficult to hack through as the jungles in a Amazonian rainforest. Characters don’t really talk here, they declare, with vows and exclamation marks and forced dialogue aplenty, and the fact that every other female character is named Eleanor (or a variation thereof) doesn’t help, either.
I am perfectly willing to suspend disbelief for books that have real-life historical characters woven into the plot, and The Marriage Prize features plenty of them, practically the entire cast. The war between the barons and King Henry III is a very interesting period in English history, but, unfortunately, one that is sadly wasted here.