The Perfect Bride
Heroes and heroines face a lot of obstacles in romance novels, but failing sanity is not one that could be considered run-of-the-mill. In The Perfect Bride, Lady Blanche Harrington faces just that. This book is also somewhat unique in that the romance is based more on mutual respect than physical attraction, which is a lovely respite from the lust-crazed couples typical of the genre these days.
Blanche is the perfect English gentlewoman, refined, composed, kind, and gracious. But she knows the truth: Since the loss of her mother years earlier, she is utterly passionless. At the age of 27, she has never desired to be kissed. She doesn’t get angry because she simply doesn’t care enough to get angry. She hasn’t cried in years. She knows she will never fall in love. Nevertheless, after her father passes away and leaves complicated finances behind, she decides to get married. But her 228 suitors (an unbelievable number of which we are reminded multiple times) are all after her fortune, and she knows it. After a conversation, her friends decide that Blanche is smitten with an old family friend, Sir Rex de Warenne. They then hatch a plan, to trick her into staying with Sir Rex at his home in Cornwall.
The war in Spain left Rex damaged, both emotionally and physically. Though generally considered a war hero for rescuing his friend, that “friend” married Rex’s fiancé and claimed Rex’s child as his own. Not only that, but Rex lost his leg saving that friend. He now lives as a recluse, hardly ever coming to town and ignoring his neighbors. He hates polite society – except for Lady Blanche. He sees her as the epitome of a well-bred woman, and tries his best to treat her as such. But when Blanche comes to visit, instead of the proper, respectful greeting he would like to give her, he is reacquainted with her when she bursts into his study while he is in a very compromising position with his maid.
He is understandably embarrassed, but mutual respect for each other leads them to get past that awkward reunion. The plan put in motion by Blanche’s friends extends her visit with Rex, and friendship and attraction build as the days go by. Suddenly, Blanche feels her heart – which she thought was as smooth and hard as glass – reawaken. However, with her newfound emotions come terrifying flashbacks to the night her mother was killed. Her father always told her that her mother simply fell and hit her head, but these new, vivid memories prove otherwise, leaving her screaming and terrified. She believes she is losing her sanity, day by day, and lives in fear of never recovering from one of her episodes. So, in somewhat warped and panicked logic, she shuts herself away from all things that will cause her to feel emotion – including Rex.
The book flows easily and will sweep you along for the ride. Rex is a classic tortured hero and Blanche provides an interesting variation on the proper English noblewoman. I enjoyed reading it. However, after finishing this book and taking a step back to write the review, more and more little things that bothered me began showing themselves. The dialogue is a bit stilted, and sometimes feels contrived and slightly unnatural. Blanche’s logic that caused her to flee emotion seems flawed and difficult to understand. Rex’s feeling that he isn’t good enough for Blanche, the dominating conflict in the first third of the book, disappears without explanation. A few historical inconsistencies jumped out at me and have weak explanations. And finally, Blanche’s struggle with her sanity is never fully concluded. The book hints at a solution and a reason, but then just leaves it hanging.
That said, however, the book’s positives far outweight its flaws. This is a lovely read, and I appreciated watching a romance grow out of mutual respect and admiration rather than relying on the short-cut of lust. The physical desire and attraction is still there, but I loved that it’s admiration of each other that bring Rex and Blanche together. His support and encouragement during her “episodes” is also touching. The caring and love between them is clear.
One note: This book is the seventh in the de Warenne Dynasty series. However, with the exception of some confusion about Rex’s various siblings and in-laws, I was able to follow this book just fine, as all the information necessary is recapped.
The Perfect Bride, though not perfect itself, is a good story with a strong romance at its core. It’s definitely worth a read.