Miss Kitty has a pair of irrepressible nephews who were obsessed, several years ago, with a book called Eat This, Not That. (Miss Kitty’s nephews have always been a trifle odd, but then so are Miss Kitty’s siblings, so it’s not entirely unexpected.) The book espouses giving in to your cravings, but making smart choices while doing so. One kind of burger instead of another.
Miss Kitty eats what she like (which, unfortunately, shows in her lack of a waistline), but she often wishes someone would give her advice on a book ‘diet’. In direct opposition to her waistline, Miss Kitty’s wallet is far too slim, and it could be considerably fatter if someone would direct her to read this, not that. With that in mind, here is a recommendation: read The English Wife by Lauren Willig (read AAR’s review HERE) rather than The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen.
The two books have more than a similarity of title and author name in common. They are designed to satisfy the same craving. There are some variations—part of The Darkling Bride takes place in the present, while all of The English Wife is late nineteenth Century and Willig’s book has only one central mystery with one smaller one, while Andersen’s has two major mysteries. Still, these are minor differences considering all the two books have in common.
Both novels are brooding historicals with a gothic feel. Both have cases of hidden or mistaken identity, both mysteries begin long before the books open, both contain dysfunctional families with deep secrets and haughty matriarchs.
So how does one choose? Why, that is what Miss Kitty is here for!
From the opening pages of The English Wife, readers know they are in the hands of a master. The work is well-researched without being pedantic, each character has a distinct personality that is evident in his or her words as well as thoughts, and despite the fact that the story moves back and forth between 1894 and 1899, readers never have any confusion about what the characters know when, what they are feeling when, what’s important to them when.
Although the descriptions of the countryside in The Darkling Bride are lovely, the story is not nearly as well told. The story ranges from the 1880s to the present day, with the most significant dates being 1882, 1992, and present day. Each of these dates is peopled with multiple characters who all have their own points of view and none of them are particularly well-rounded, so it becomes rather a tangled mess. It’s not merely the lack of a particularly strong line to follow, or an abundance of characters, but the fact that they tend to blend together so you can’t quite remember whose motives are what.
The plots evince similar issues. Both are High Drama in the way that all gothics are. But while Willig keeps hers contained, Andersen lets hers run wild. Which is not to say that Willig’s plot is not complex. It is. But a reader has a sense that Willig knew before she set out to write the book “whodunit” and why and how. Alas, the same cannot be said for Andersen, who seems to wander through her book, leading readers along as she goes.
Miss Kitty does not wish to advise anyone not to read The Darkling Bride. It’s quite enjoyable in a bathtub book way, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying. Take it out from the library and save your book-buying money for The English Wife.