The Wagering Widow
I ended 2005 in a bit of a reading slump, but this novel pulled me right out of it. Gaston’s tale of a marriage in trouble and a plain but honorable heroine coming into her own pulled me in from the very beginning. Likable characters and the author’s gift for creating a believable world made this book a winner.
As the novel opens, Guy, Lord Keating, has eloped with Emily Duprey, a plain, quiet girl reputed to be the heiress he needs in order to bring money into his rundown estates. There is no love involved in this marriage, Emily’s groom has instead deliberately courted her for the money he believes her to possess. He intends to treat her respectfully, but no tender emotion has brought him to the altar.
As the shy, relatively plain daughter of a flamboyant and scandalous Society family, Emily is totally unaware of her new husband’s motives in marrying her. In order to distance herself from the scandalous behavior of her relatives, Emily observes the utmost propriety. When she marries Guy, Emily believed she was courted for love and had no idea her husband wanted her primarily for the fortune he believed would come with her.
The author’s way of phrasing things really makes this story and, though the novel is short, the author does a wonderful job of setting a mood – especially when it comes to the Regency underworld we visit in this novel. Gaston creates a believable and seedy world, but it’s not the caricature of evil and corruption found in other books. There are some reprehensible characters to be found, but not every gambler lacks all sense of decency.
Gaston’s main characters are also sympathetic. Guy is certainly a fortunehunter, but not without some more admirable tendencies. The reader gets to see Emily through Guy’s eyes and his changing views on his wife, as well as his inner struggle over their initially empty marriage will redeem him in the eyes of most readers. Emily also grows a great deal throughout the book. Deeply embarrassed by her scandalous family, she long ago walled herself behind a set of proper and cold manners. She begins the story with very low esteem, but the reader gets to watch her not only find reserves of inner strength, but also discover her ability to break through the cold wall she has built around herself without becoming the scorned pariah she feared to be.
Guy and Emily share the flaw of being rather hard on themselves. For example, when the reader sees Emily through her own eyes, she is often plain, unfashionable – somehow less than those around her. Yet when the reader sees Emily from Guy’s perspective, she becomes intelligent, surprising, even quietly beautiful. Gaston’s manner of showing the relationship from each character’s perspective lends the story a powerful emotional quality that can be quite moving at times. The story does drag a little in the middle, but that is my only small quibble with it.
Now you may wonder why I’ve not mentioned the “wagering widow” aspect of the story. Though it is the title of the story and the spoiler-laden back cover blurb details it to some extent, it is really impossible to describe this element of the story without treading pretty heavily into spoiler territory. So, if you’re curious, you’ll just have to read the book. And I wager you’ll be glad you did.