Fortune's Bride
by Victoria Malvey, historical (2000)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-7434-0334-7

I give this book a nice rating solely on the brilliant chemistry between Alyssa Porter, impoverished fake fortune teller, and Ian Fortune, disinherited grandson of a nobleman. From the books I've read by this author, I think she can write a brilliant love story featuring characters that click so well their love story comes off as natural and so darned right. But she can't do external conflicts well, if at all, with the story eventually degenerating from an above average historical Nora Ephron love story into a very bad Road Runner show. Fortune's Bride is no different. The late third of the book is so bad in its ridiculous tomfoolery antics of the main and secondary characters that I almost stopped reading.

Yet those two lovers still manage to shine. There must be a moral in the story somewhere, really.

Alyssa Porter and her sister are cast out of their homes when their parents died and a callous relative inherited the title. Now Alyssa has to make a living as "Madam Zora", playing on the Ton's fascination with Gypsy and occult stereotypes to make a reasonable living. Now if only she could scrap enough to give her sister Calla a Season.

Ian Fortune wants to marry a titled lady (he's rich enough) and hence shows the finger to his arrogant grandfather. But he's attracted to this Gypsy with whom he finds himself sparring wits with in every ball they attend. Oh, what to do?

I really like the way these two people interact and spark. The author loses the plot soon enough, throwing in some secondary plots that go nowhere, but throughout it all, Alyssa and Ian generate enough warm chemistry to keep me reading. Even when potential Big Misunderstanding problems start brewing, these two end up allies instead of adversaries. The chemistry isn't of the red hot sexy sort, but a sort generated by two people who truly are comfortable with each other. Not a bad way to start a relationship with, I always say.

But really, the author has to keep those two separated by the most inane of reasons by the second half of the story - Ian's insistance on thwarting his grandfather by not marrying Alyssa, whom the old man approves of. Alyssa's "curses" on Ian keep coming true, to both's amusement and horror, but this joke starts to grate when the curses become more and more inane. Geese and frogs are funny, but boils? No thanks. People start doing stupid things, and I start to feel my eyelids getting heavier and heavier. If I may be so bold, I'd say the story is about 100 pages too long, these unnecessary pages filled with annoyingly silly behavior from everyone. Just get married and get it over with, for goodness sake!

Still, no matter how much buffoonery the author adds into the story - really, Ms Malvey should stop sabotaging her own story this way! - Alyssa and Ian manage to generate so much warm repartees and chemistry that it is so easy to forgive the silliness. I get this feeling that these two really like each other and both genuinely want to be in each other's chemistry. If this is a movie, I'd say it's perfect screen casting.

It's odd - I've encountered one of the most memorable pair of lovers in a story that doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a Victorian love story or a Victorian Dumb And Dumber. The romance between Ian and Alyssa seems so right and spot on that I'm seduced into forgiving the major plot boo-booes of Fortune's Bride.

Maybe I will. To Alyssa and Ian, never a finer couple to grace a page, even if the story stinks at places - it's been truly a pleasure.

Rating: 85

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