by Rebecca Hagan Lee, historical (2003)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19124-9
I'm sorry, but this book is populated by morons. There are a few really good scenes here and there, but on the whole, the hero and the heroine behave like children, annoyingly obtuse children at that. Barely A Bride kicks off the author's Free Fellows League trilogy, where three men, as kids in school, make a vow to be kick(French)ass heroes that will never fall in love because women are trouble. Don't be fooled into thinking that this Free Fellows League official charter is like a more serious Oscar Wilde sonnet to the joys of buggery - one can only wish it's a Charter to Buggery.
How sad is it that grown men will still cling on to silly rules they made when they were still in that "all girls have cooties" stage? That's our hero, Griffin Abernathy. Now, he's close to being what a Free Fellow would be by enlisting to kick French ass. However, his father is not amused. He insists that the Viscount Abernathy marry in the two weeks before he leaves for the War, impregnate that lucky bride, and then go fight frogs. If Griffin fails, his father will happily sell off the lands and all those poor farmers and all will be homeless and starving. Awww. Resolute, Griffin heavy-heartedly begins to search for his bride. Meanwhile Alyssa Carrollton is Griffin's soulmate in juvenile immaturity. A typical Regency era "virtuous" heroine in that she doesn't know when to stop playing in dirt and horse dung (she wants to ride horses and be a gardener, see?) and dress up for the ball, she doesn't want to marry at all. Or she doesn't want to marry unless it's for love. Or something. You probably know these sort of ninnies. They don't know what they want, but they will scream holy until the wedding night, upon after they quickly fall in love with their husbands. It's no different with Lisa.
Lisa and Griffin really get on my nerves because they mistake selfish self-indulgence for "standing up for love". Both of them protest that they don't want to marry, but at the same time, none of them realize just how ridiculous they are when they talk about liberty, equality, and justice. Lisa is the worst. The scene where she compares her need to muck in the garden to the virtues of hard work makes me snort because oh yes, Lisa really knows hard work alright. Let's marry her off to a farmer where she can then spend her whole life working in the dirt and see if she will still extol the virtues of the working class. All Griffin and Lisa do is to lament and wail dramatically about how they are Inhibited and Shackled by their lives. It's like listening to deluded Arts undergrads whining about how the World has, by outlawing marijuana in most places, robbed them of a Deeper Meaning of Life. And what these two kids do when they are not whining only emphasize how immature and childish they are, bemoaning about how they never wanted their lives of privilege because boo-hoo-hoo, one can't play with guns and the other can't play with the garden rake. They never wanted the responsibilities! Oh, cry me a river.
It is only when Griff goes to war and these two start corresponding that the book starts showing glimmers of real emotions and genuine poignancy. Griff finds solace in the upbeat letters from his wife to help through the worst hells of the battlefield. But these scenes take place somewhere in the late third of the book. By then, I'm already two-thirds stoned to horrified stupefecation by the grating antics of these two twits. But just when I am sure that the party is finally starting, Griff comes home. The wife is all ready to greet him and make him happy, but no, he can't love. Ever! Why? Remember that stupid Free Fellows League official charter? And, of course, the same old "She's too good for me" nonsense.
After enduring pages and pages of childish and immature antics, only to be teased with the possibility of the story finally becoming good, only to then be slapped in the face with this latest and very very annoying nonsense - That. Is. The. Last. Straw. Aargh! Get out, get out, GET OUT!
Barely A Bride? I can barely abide (haw haw) this book alright. I sincerely hope Griff's other two buddies grow up and know when to ditch the charter of theirs, because right now, Rebecca Hagan Lee's the Free Fellows League is making Stephanie Laurens' Bastion Club look like a gathering of NASA rocket scientists. And trust me, this is not a good thing at all.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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