Willed to Wed
Willed to Wed is one of those books that makes a reviewer want to assign two grades. In this case, an average grade for the first half of the book and a higher grade for the second half. If you had asked me what the grade would be when I was half way through this Regency Romance, I would have predicted a C+ for a book I saw as technically well written but trite. On the other hand, if I was only grading the second half of Willed To Wed, I’d make it an A or an A-. Now, a good book with a hum drum start and a smashing finish beats a fabulous start with a disappointing end any day, so the book gets a B.
Willed To Wed starts as a familiar marriage of convenience story. Matthew Cameron and Lady Sarah Longbourne must marry if she is to inherit her estate and fortune. Apparently the marriage was cooked up by the couple’s deceased grandfathers. Since Matthew desperately needs the money to make the necessary improvements to his own estate, the two have little choice.
The first half of Willed To Wed is filled with the usual forced marriage behavior that we have read in hundreds of other Regencies. Sarah fears that her husband will control the estate that she has successfully managed for years. He is sure that she is a bluestocking.
I went from slightly bored to irritated during the proposal scene. When Matthew proposes, he refrains from answering (when asked) whether he intends to remain faithful. Now, unlike some avid Regency Romance readers, I don’t find it too hard to overlook minor mistakes in clothing, food and even language. I have a problem however, when the underlying values that guided the age are ignored. Given the nineteenth century obsession with morality, I find it jarring when a young man casually lets his innocent fiancee know that adultery may be around the corner. Yes, mistresses were kept, the brothel business was booming and many husbands were unfaithful. But young men in the early nineteenth century did not sound as though they were having a 1990s conversation about “commitment.” Not only would a gentleman have refrained from speaking to his virgin fiancee in this way, a young lady would have been shocked.
But when Matthew and Sarah get married, this routine Regency takes off. The sex in this story is subtle enough for the most conservative reader, but it’s obvious that these two have a great sex life. Not only was I surprised, Michael and Sarah are surprised too. The love between them becomes palpable as does the sexual tension when they have problems. Next the author introduces some compelling reasons for jealousy on both sides. The setting of the story becomes more unique and detailed as Michael and Sarah work to build a pottery and a brewery to provide work for returning veterans. Then Michael is called back to war, leaving Sarah – whose fidelity he assumes but does not completely trust – in the London social scene. The suspicion and conflict when he returns makes a great end to the story.
Sarah is a forthright and mature heroine. She realizes early that she is in love with Michael. It terrifies her because she knows that he distrusts the very idea of love. Sarah has great business sense and she proves it to Michael by working hard and showing results. When Michael is away in the war, Sarah builds the pottery on the estate and works to make Michael’s dream come true as well.
It took me a bit longer to warm up to Michael. He initially distrusts Sarah because her mother jilted his uncle. This did not make a lot of sense to me nor did his assuming that Sarah was as faithless as his own first love. Michael keeps thinking that all women are the same, which seems a little silly for a grown man. As time goes on, Michael becomes more likable because he is genuinely kind to Sarah. He also grows to respect his wife’s opinion and ability which is far more attractive than clinging to irrational distrust
One thing that is especially nice about Willed To Wed is the way that both the hero and heroine recognize the need to resolve differences for the good of their marriage. Yes, eventually all the problems and misunderstandings are resolved. But even before that, Sarah and Michael come to realize that even when a serious problem is real and not a misunderstanding they must learn to forgive each other and go on.
This is Wilma Counts first book. It’s a great start. I’m looking forward to her future work.