Wedding of the Year
Grade : B

Victoria Malvey's Wedding of the Year is the reading equivalent of an egg cream - a mouthful of airy fizz with just enough chocolate to make it interesting, but not something to linger on the palate. While I wouldn't take this book to the Desert Isle, I might take it to Grandmother's house and while away a pleasant evening in front of the fire, snuggled in an afghan, mug of cocoa at the ready. It's that kind of comfort read. 

Elizabeth and Catherine Everley both depended on their loving, vivacious mother to steer them through the treacherous shallows of the ton,, but sadly her death has left them vulnerable to their own social weaknesses. Brainy Elizabeth is more at home replicating da Vinci's mechanical designs than making chit-chat, while bubbly Catherine is socially adept but drawn to scoundrels and dandies.

At Almack's, Elizabeth meets rakish Lord Richard Vernon, and for once manages to keep up her side of a flirtatious repartee. Elizabeth is instantly at ease with Richard, perhaps because he clearly stands outside the social rules that she can scarcely understand. For his part, Richard intuits that, like himself, Elizabeth knows what it is to be alone in a crowd. Richard is a reformed rake who has taken up an even more scandalous pursuit: he's the proud owner of a thriving pretzel factory, and fears ostracism if high society gets wind of his unglamorous trade.

When Elizabeth is frightened off by gossip about Richard's past, she ignites a matchmaking chain reaction. Her father steps in after conferring with his beloved wife's ghost (a touching connection which provides the most affecting scenes of the book.) When he declares that Catherine may not wed before her sister, Elizabeth conspires with Richard's stuffy-but-affable elder brother John to sham a mutual affection in order to placate her father until Catherine finds someone suitable. John agrees, hoping to buy enough time to bring Elizabeth and Richard together. Richard thinks that spirited Catherine may suit his brother, while Catherine thinks that John and Elizabeth could make a good couple. Got that? Though it's immediately apparent how the siblings will pair up, the setup has an engaging farcical quality.

Watching both romances play out in tandem is the greatest charm of the book, an understated but impressive demonstration of technical prowess for such a brief story (less than 300 pages). Although at first Richard and Elizabeth hold center stage, in fact John makes as compelling a hero as his brother, and receives almost equal time. Catherine is a bit underwritten, but transcends the dazzling-younger-sister Regency cliche. She's actually plainer than Elizabeth, so her social dexterity stands on its own merit, while her older sister is genuinely maladroit, not a martyr to the family cause. The characters play to one another's strengths, and both romances seem a good fit.

While the pacing is deft and the character sketches impressively lean, the plotting is merely a workmanlike series of misunderstandings and delaying tactics. Richard's secret life as a tradesman seems a very contrived obstacle; since neither he nor Elizabeth have any social aspirations beyond their family circle (who all seem powerful enough not to be tarred by association) it doesn't make sense for anyone to be as concerned as they claim. The parents' ghostly subplot (more psychological than paranormal) is compelling but very brief. The only interesting aspect of a romantic kidnapping subplot is its Jewish victim, but there's no room to explore the cultural implications of the young man's forbidden love in any detail.

Though not perfect, this is an eminently pleasant read, Wedding of the Year is not the most moving or thought-provoking romance of the year, but a deftly crafted diversion that offers a chance to while away a few pleasant hours.

Reviewed by Mary Novak
Grade : B

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : December 11, 2001

Publication Date: 2001

Review Tags: comfort read

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