What the Groom Wants
What the Groom Wants is the fourth book in Ms Lee’s Bridal Favors series, which contains three other full length novels and four novellas. I mention that because there is clearly a lot of backstory covered in those books which is referred to in this latest one and I often felt as though I’d missed something when reading it as I haven’t read any of the others in the series.
Radley Lyncott has spent most of the last decade at sea, but throughout all that time, has carried a torch for his best friend’s sister, Wendy Drew. When he returns from his latest voyage, he decides it’s finally time for him to declare himself and court her. But his life is about to change radically. Radley has long known that he is distantly related to an aristocratic family; his grandfather was a duke’s son who was disowned when he took a wife of which his father did not approve. But a sudden and contagious illness has wiped out almost the entire family which leaves Radley to inherit the dukedom of Bucklynde.
Wendy – a name which, incidentally, seems not to been introduced until the 1880s – has a number of qualities which make her an unusual heroine in the genre. She’s tough, pragmatic, and can actually be quite ruthless and manipulative when she has to be. A seamstress and part-owner of a very successful dress shop, Wendy also has to work at a gambling hell in the evenings in order to pay off debts incurred by her younger brother. She is determined to protect her mother and brothers from the hell’s owner, Damon Porter – often referred to as Demon Damon – who, it seems, is thoroughly deserving of that particular soubriquet. He’s devious, ruthless, and cruel and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, which is Wendy in his bed.
What develops is a kind of love/hate-triangle between Wendy, Radley and Damon, all of whom grew up together. While she knows Damon is evil personified and thoroughly dislikes him, Wendy can’t help but be fascinated by him and reluctantly sexually attracted to him. You know how they always say that the villain gets the best lines? Well, he might not have got those here, but when it came to the male-hawtness stakes, Damon outdoes Radley most of the time. Radley’s a beta hero who frequently comes across as ineffectual, and seems to bumble from one crisis to another – and there were times I couldn’t help wondering what on earth Wendy saw in him!
He was at his best in those parts of the story which dealt with his resentment at having to leave his chosen career and his bewilderment at all the social conventions which go along with such a lofty position. His bafflement was quite endearing, and when he stood his ground and refused to bow to meaningless conventions I thought that he had the makings of a decent hero; but time and again, he didn’t live up to expectations, and when it came to the final showdown, it was left to Wendy to save the day.
The not-very-heroic hero was one of a number of issues I had with the book, not least of which was the fact that there wasn’t much actual romance in it.
Radley has worshipped Wendy from afar for ten years, which might seem romantic, until you add in the fact that Wendy has hardly thought of him at all during that time. Given that, on the night of his return to England, Radley seeks her out and tells her he wants to court her, I’d have expected the novel to chart the development of their relationship, and to watch Wendy fall in love with the man who’s adored her for so long.
But no. The action of the book takes place over a short time period (less than a week) and as soon as Radley has announced his intentions, it’s more or less a given that Wendy and Radley are in love. In fact, by the end of the second day, they’re hitting the sheets and engaging in a passionate night of “everything but”! But there’s no relationship development at all and no romantic or sexual tension between them. The sex scenes themselves are well-written, but I didn’t feel there was any real emotional connection between the characters.
In fact, the word “romance” applied to this book is something of a misnomer, as it is principally the story of Wendy’s struggle to break free from Demon Damon’s unhealthy obsession with her.
Needless to say, she does find a way – quite a spectacular one, in fact – but the book’s ending was full of so much WTFery that I finished it wondering what the hell I’d just read. I wish I could explain without spoilers, because it really is one of those things that’s so bad, it’s almost good!
Oh – and one more minor issue. Why on earth did Radley chose to nickname Wendy “Wind”? For one thing, Wendy is only two syllables, so why bother? There’s a convoluted explanation of why he thinks of her as “Wind”, but I’m afraid I just found it silly. Perhaps it’s because of a strange British preoccupation with fart jokes, but the words “Come for me, Wind!” at key moments made me burst out laughing!
On a more sombre note, there are also a couple of things in the story which some readers might find distressing – the frequent reference to the disfigurement of one of the secondary characters, for example, and the scene in which Damon corners Wendy and they discuss the merits – or otherwise – of pain. We’re not into BDSM territory or anything like that, but it’s not the sort of thing one usually comes across in an historical romance.
Overall, What the Groom Wants works best when viewed as a kind of thriller with romantic elements, because it is most definitely lacking in the romance department. The first half was promising – the problems faced by the hero and heroine after his unexpected acquisition of a dukedom seemed a good foundation for a romance, but book didn’t really explore those issues in any depth. By the second half the story had become overly complicated and the ending was a ridiculous mess.