by Adrienne Basso, historical (2005)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7625-8
There really isn't much of a story in The Wedding Deception so to pad the pages, the author happily piles up the skanky scenes (including a rape scene) involving very unpleasant characters. A romantic comedy story with a ridiculous set-up turns into a ridiculously skanky and unpleasant story towards the end. "Ridiculous" is the key word here.
Okay, please bear with me, readers, as I try to explain the plot. Historical accuracy purists may want to drink something strong to steel themselves first since I suspect that the premise of this story may not stand up to scrutiny. Claire Truscott is living a happy life in Wiltshire, although her life could have been happier if she can get that squire Richard Dorchester off her back. When Jason Barrington shows up and they become friends, she doesn't find it so hard to agree to his proposal of a marriage of convenience. He claims that he wants to get the matchmaking mothers in London off his back and she therefore agrees to cooperate with her, since this will also get Squire Dorchester to focus his unwanted attentions somewhere else. Claire has been in love before and she doesn't think she will ever love again once her sweetheart died in the war. Then again, I have to wonder: what kind of sane woman would actually agree to such a plan? What if she happens to want to marry again for real in the future?
The plan is that Claire will live peacefully in Wiltshire while Jason will live... well, wherever he pleases. Unfortunately, Claire's great-aunt Agnes now pays her a visit and insists on meeting her husband. Claire reluctantly takes off with Great-Aunt Agnes to London to find Jason. She hopes that Jason will understand why she has to barge in on him. However, the man that looks like Jason turns out to be Jasper, Jason's twin brother. To make things even more complicated, it is Jasper's name who is written on the marriage certificate, which means that there is a possibility that Claire is married to Jasper.
A lawyer is hired to sort out this mess and speed is crucial because Jasper is supposed to announce his engagement to a proper lady of the Ton. Alas, his mother decides that she knows what is best for her son so she asks the lawyer to delay releasing his discovery that the marriage is not valid so that Jasper and Claire will fall in love. I have to love these mothers and other relatives who can immediately deduce that someone they have met for five minutes is the perfect spouse for Jasper. By this point, I don't think I am spoiling things if I reveal that the whole mess is perpetuated by Jason as a matchmaking scheme for his brother. I would think that a family so open-minded and progressive as to see nothing wrong with our Lord Fairhurst marrying a nobody from the country will see nothing wrong with Jason inviting Claire over for dinner so that he can introduce her to Jasper instead of resorting to this unnecessarily complicated and unorthodox form of matchmaking!
Claire feels vaguely guilty about causing Jasper to delay his engagement announcement but she at the same time is more than happy to go around town seeing the sights. Now, I'm not fond of heroines who blame themselves for every single thing that goes wrong around them but Claire on the other hand merrily intrudes into Jasper's life and lets Society talk about them when she knows that he wants to marry another woman. Gee, Claire is actually coming off as pretty callous and selfish here! But it's hard to feel bad for Jasper when he magically decides that he is attracted to Claire. There is no build-up towards this attraction, just an announcement and a kiss out of the blue. The other woman is not to be gotten rid off easily, however, and the Squire will not let Claire off so easily either. Both predictably combine forces, forming a team of sociopathic team to do all kinds of unpleasant things in this story.
Jasper and Claire are a boring couple because their internal conflicts are often silly (and Jasper jumping into wrong conclusions about Claire's feelings for Jason) and solved easily soon after they are introduced. The bulk of the conflicts come from our skanky duo of villains. Even the person who ends up getting rid of the duo is a person of questionable sanity. To top it off, I am not sure whether to snort or be morbidly amused that our saintly main characters believe that Squire Dorchester forced to leave the country with his reputation ruined is an adequate punishment for his sociopathic actions in this story while the person who has the most reasonable cause for being crazy and homicidal is killed off with extreme prejudice.
The author is aware of how unnecessarily convoluted the initial marriage farce between Jasper and Claire is because several characters commented on that. However, Ms Basso still goes ahead with the plot nonetheless and when her main characters end up being so perfect for each other that the story could have ended after a hundred or so pages, she then liberally adds in unpleasant villains running wild to pad the story. A story can be ridiculous or it can feel heavily padded but a story that is both ridiculous and heavily padded - with unpleasant antics of villainous people, of all things - is a too much of an overkill if you ask me.
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