Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-4525-8
Historical Romance, 2011
A Wedding Wager is a story fueled by stupidity – mostly on the heroine’s part, although the hero isn’t above having a “Duh!” moment or two. There are a few instances in this story where various characters ask our heroine Serena Grantley why she couldn’t come clean to them earlier and therefore spared everyone plenty of pain and heartache, and she never had a good answer. I think author Jane Feather doesn’t have a good answer as well. I am going to have to mention some major spoilers in this book to give you an idea of what I mean by this story being run on dumb, so if you want to read this book sometime in the future, you may want to avert your eyes.
Bear with me, the plot synopsis is going to be convoluted. Serena’s father was of noble blood, and when he died, her mother married a man who turns out to be a hustler of the worst kind. General Sir George Heyward gambles away everything and when there is nothing left to gamble, pulls off scams and such. His latest venture sees him and Serena back in London – the mother having croaked a while ago – where he runs an exclusive gambling den with Serena’s milkshake being used as the lure to bring all the boys to the yard. Serena plays along, but she has been secretly planning to escape one day while trying to sabotage her father’s efforts to befriend and defraud a gullible wealthy couple who wish to marry their daughter off to a titled gentleman. She soon draws in her ex-boyfriend, Sebastian Sullivan, in her plan to save Abigail, that young lady, from her stepfather’s clutches. Sebastian has his own subplot of needing to marry a fallen woman to save the family fortune (see Rushed to the Altar for more details). But that subplot isn’t really important in this one – it’s just a superficial means to tie this book and the previous one in a series.
See, I told you – the plot is convoluted. And it’s made worse by the fact that the main characters are dunderheads.
Sebastian needs to marry a fallen woman. He’s in love with Serena – a faro’s daughter of dubious reputation – despite her jilting him years ago to placate her stepfather. Serena works in a gambling den. And yet, he doesn’t connect the dots and realize that marrying Serena will solve his problems until much later on! When Serena asks him to pretend to be interested in Abigail to discourage Abigail’s parents from throwing that girl to Serena’s stepfather, Sebastian asks Serena why she can’t tell Abigail’s parents what her stepfather is up to. She has no good answer to that, but he plays along and keeps silent anyway. If he or Serena has informed Abigail’s parents of Serena’s stepfather being a villainous cur early on, much of the nonsense in the late quarter of the story could have been avoided!
On the bright side, Sebastian is a pretty decent fellow when compared to some of this author’s recent heroes. He’s a man of his time, and some readers may be stunned by the scene where he, upon realizing that there is a possibility that his beloved may had been prostituting herself all over Europe in the last few years, spends a few days pondering whether he can accept a woman who’s been shagged by so many men, even if she was coerced into such a vocation. If you ask me, though, the fact that he thinks over this and eventually asks Serena to marry him anyway actually makes his feelings for her seem more real and believable. He’s accepting her despite some possible sordid things she’d done in her past, so that bodes well for their happily ever after. It’s just that, ouch, he’s so dim at times.
Serena is even a more bizarre example of dumb fool walking. Early on, Sebastian asks her why she stayed with her father for so long when her mother had passed on and there is nothing to hold her back from running away from her stepfather. She has no good answer, and she still doesn’t have one by the last page. As a result, I don’t understand her willingness to remain by the side of a man who had once drugged her and let her be raped by a man he was heavily in debt with. In this story, she has two golden chances to escape, and she turns down each and every one. The man her stepfather wants her to sleep with offers her her stepfather’s IOU notes if she would become his mistress. This would give her power over her stepfather and the chance to kick him out of her life once and for all. And yet… she turns him down because she loves Sebastian. Okay, fine. Then Sebastian asks her to marry him. She also turns him down, despite the fact that doing so would solve all her problems. Why? Because she doesn’t want to be controlled by any man! I actually groan in dismay at that scene because Serena is so, so, so unbelievably stupid. If Mary Balogh read this book, she’d be so jealous that Jane Feather had actually upstaged her by creating the most idiotic martyr of the year.
Worse, Serena is all bark but no bite. She talks about how she’d secretly stashed away funds for that day when she is free from her stepfather, she waves this gun around at her stepfather and tells him that she’d kill him if he dares to raise his hand to her, but what do you know, when he wants to smack her, there goes his hand. By that point, I’m so disgusted with Serena’s stupidity that I get a perverse kind of satisfaction from seeing her being slapped around like that. I mean, she asked for it. It’s like that joke where a drowning man waits for God to save him, turning away a boat and a helicopter in the meantime, until he finally dies and demands to know why God didn’t save him. God would tell him that He tried – He sent a boat and a helicopter, duh. Serena is just like that idiot in that joke.
It’s really a shame that this book is powered by dumb because there are some elements in this story that break the tired formula of the genre. Abigail is far from the simple girl who follows Serena around like a puppy – she has her own wiles and she can handle her parents just fine on her own, heh. In fact, I’d say she is actually smarter than Serena. Abigail’s parents may seem like a typical ambitious mother and a happy-go-lucky father at the surface, but these two actually share the same ambition of seeing their daughter marry well, and – get this – the father completely supports his wife’s machinations and these two actually love each other. They also love their daughter, and their ambitions for her are due to a genuine desire to give her a good and secure life of her own. Their only fault is that, being Cits, they are ignorant of the ways of the Ton and, taken in by General Heyward’s charms, they assume that he and Serena are good Ton and bank their hopes of getting entry into the Ton on these two.
At any rate, while A Wedding Wager isn’t a particularly painful read, I can’t bring myself to give this book a passing score. Not when its plot relies heavily on contrived moments of stupidity from its lead characters, and the story is only as long as it is because these characters, especially Serena, are so bloody dumb so often.