Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-57314-6
Historical Romance, 2011
Six years ago, 18-year old Serena Donovan and her identical twin sister Meg went to London to make their debut. It was glorious, it was wonderful, and… it ended with tears and recriminations when Serena were caught in an unmistakably “compromised” situation with her beau Jonathan Drake. Worse, her lover gave her the cut in public, disavowing any association with her, and Serena was sent back home to Antigua, her reputation in complete tatters, along with her sister. Alas, just as they were about to reach home, a freak accident happened, sending Meg off the ship into the sea. Poor Serena, she was distraught… to put it mildly.
We then cut to six years later, when Serena realizes that her mother has cast her in a plot that is straight out of a melodramatic stage play. Because Antigua is not exactly down the road from England, Serena’s mother has simply decided that nobody that matters in England would find out the truth if she let it be known that it was Serena, the ruined daughter, who had died that day at sea. Since the family is pretty much bankrupt, Serena’s mother had in the last few years kept up correspondence (by pretending to be Meg, of course) with Meg’s beau, William Langley. Will had finally made his fortune by serving the Navy, and now, he feels that he can finally make Meg his bride. He proposed by mail, and “Meg” happily consented to be his blushing bride. Guess who is now headed off to London to walk down the aisle. It gets worse: guess who is going to be William’s best man.
Confessions of an Improper Bride is an odd story. It’s a story that is set up to be an emotionally charged read, but it is instead purely driven by external conflicts piled on like a pancake buffet or something. Serena, Jonathan, and William all come off as rather underdeveloped characters who are going through the motions, which is not good considering that this is a story that needs people to be waving fingers and exchanging harsh words to work. There are some plot holes in the fundamental set up, as well. For example, I can’t imagine that the author believes that it is fine for William ask Jonathan, the man who ruined his future bride’s sister beyond the pale, to stand in as the freaking best man in his wedding. Here, William tells “Meg” that he believes that Jonathan is an “almost reformed” man. Dude, that man drove Serena out of the country with his callous abandonment of her and “Serena” died on the sea voyage home. A glib “It’s okay, baby, I know your sister died as an indirect cause of my best friend’s cruel asshole treatment of her, but he’s a nice guy, so I’m sure you’d be cool with him standing next to me on the happiest day of our lives!” kind of justification is just… cold, man, really cold. And then there is Jonathan, who spends the bulk of this book telling himself that he should stay away, but he ends up stalking Serena everywhere she goes. He comes off like an unhinged creep.
These characters need to talk. No, not just talk. There are many negative assumptions and bitter recriminations, especially on Serena’s part, between her and Jonathan, and there has to be, if not a heart to heart talk, then plenty of screaming and throwing things or something, anything that will let all that anger, hurt, and bitterness out to be exorcised. The author instead has these characters reconnect by forcing them together using external conflicts. She also introduces subplots that further estrange Jonathan and Serena, as if their initial break-up wasn’t already stormy enough, only to neatly wrap everything up in a happily ever after parcel by the last page. Worse, the author ends up going through melodramatic and unrealistic extent to reveal that Jonathan didn’t really betray Serena six years ago. He was only guilty of a sin typically shouldered by romance heroines: he was, still is, a stupid martyr. In this story, he has to be forced very late in the story to reveal to Serena the true extent of his non-betrayal of her; if he has his way, he’d have carried those secrets to the grave while wailing sadly that Serena refuses to trust him despite mounting evidence that he is an untrustworthy liar. That’s why the author’s reliance of external conflicts to keep the story moving is a fatal flaw – Jonathan never really learns to open up to Serena by the last page, and therefore, things do not look promising for these two’s happily ever after.
I also wish that the author had allowed Jonathan to be a heartless cad who reforms due to love, because by having him to be merely a spineless martyr, the author ends up invalidating Serena’s actually reasonable stance about how it is not right to follow your emotions and recklessly ignore the more pragmatic aspects of a relationship in a time when the illusion of propriety is important. The take home message here is that it is okay to put out to the first handsome man that says pretty things into your ears as he is unfastening your bloomers because you know in your heart of hearts that he really loves you. This message is also emphasized in the subplot involving Serena’s idiot sister who spreads like peanut butter for the first pretty face she sees, only to be rewarded by being in the right… despite the fact that the man is penniless, has not much prospects, and has not demonstrated any ability to give her a stable life. But who cares? They are in love… everything will be fine because we all know love is the answer to everything that is wrong in our lives. God, I hope those stupid wretches die in a road accident before they have to learn the harsh facts of life the hard way.
So, anyway, Confessions of an Improper Bride has an intriguing premise, but the author decides to play it safe and in the process shortchanges me of much of the potential emotional intensity of the story. Yes, they have plenty of issues, but it’s fine, because they save the day and realize that true love is really everything, the end. I’ve come across greeting cards that are more believable than this story.