The Unexpected Wife
The Unexpected Wife has some good points, but they can’t outweigh the fact that this is an utterly insubstantial read. Yes – it’s light, cheerful, and shows Austen’s influence in its description of the English country gentry. If I’d never read a Regency Romance before, it would have fared far better, but I’ve lost my patience with the same bland plot in its gazillionth incarnation. So, I imagine, will you.
Juliet Winterton faces an undesirable match arranged by her obnoxious stepbrother. To avoid this match, she robs her brother’s safe and runs away. When she discovers that Hawkswood Manor is never visited by its rakish owner, Lord Hawkswood, she decides to pose as his rejected wife to secure herself a safe haven. Matters become more complicated when Alexander, Lord Hawkswood, does show up, and the couple decides to keep up the pretense of marriage.
Blandness isn’t the only flaw in this book; Juliet’s lack of ethics is appalling. It takes her two months to even consider that moving into someone’s home could be seen as criminal. The large amount of money she stole is ever after referred to as “her money.” There are several discussions between hero and heroine where she argues that her residence has caused him no problems because she has paid for her food and dresses herself – with her brother’s money, that is. Apparently it never occurs to either Juliet or the author that the wages for the increased staff deemed necessary for a resident lady is also theft or fraud, technically speaking.
My point of no return came when Juliet arranged a match between her undesirable suitor and one of the local misses. Up until then, the reader is told time and time again what a cad and gamester this Lord Taunton is. He is not marriage material, but is apparently good enough for mere locals, even if he would never do for the fair Juliet. Naiveté I can tolerate, but callous hypocrisy is something different.
Alexander is a bland figure. The reader is told he is a London rake, but there is little evidence of this beyond fancy clothes and heated kisses. His acceptance of the situation feels rather contrived. He could have booted Juliet from the premises and explained himself to the neighbours, or else lived up to his reputation as a rake, seduced her and set her up as a mistress. Either would have put a bit of fire and conflict into this story. As it is, we have the rake inexplicably reformed by the innocent beauty, a standard Regency plot line. Been there, done that.
Juliet’s hypocrisy torpedoed an otherwise average read for me. As the book progressed I grew increasingly annoyed at her and at Alexander’s willingness to accept her behavior. This book is the equivalent of a hamburger bun. It fills out your time, it is generally inoffensive but there is little spice and no meat.