Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29919-5
Historical Romance, 2017
Western romances are one of the few places these days to find heroes who are not loaded or superheroic, but rather hardworking good men who just want to make a living and settle down with a family of their own. I always have a soft spot for such heroes because when it is always more heartwarming when ordinary men do extraordinary things in the name of love.
Thomas Greenwood, the hero of Tatiana March’s His Mail-Order Bride is almost such a guy. He has had a cold and loveless childhood, so now, he just wants a wife to start a loving home with – one who would love him back when most people just take a look at him and think of him that this hulking, brutish lummox. Therefore, he decides to look for a mail-order bride, one that is plain enough not to expect a handsome man to wed her. He picks Ms Jackson because she is also pregnant and unmarried, and he hopes that she’d be so grateful to him that she would be able to love him back as a result. I know, I know, but I don’t blame him for thinking this way: that guy really just wants someone to give him a hug and a shag.
But the heroine! Okay, let me start from the beginning. Charlotte Fairfax is 24, which is a big deal because she is an heiress, but her late father in his infinite wisdom made a will stating that she can only receive the money when she turns 25 should she remain unmarried until then. If she marries, her money will be released right away to her husband. The trouble here is that her cousin – yes, it’s always a cousin – is a gambler way too over his head in debts, and just the week prior, he tried to force himself on Charlotte in order to make her marry him. That was a week ago and since then, she and her sisters apparently didn’t do anything because when the story opens, they suddenly realize that the cousin Gareth is planning to have Charlotte all alone with him in the house soon, no doubt for a “Muahaha, Imma Gonna Rape You Now!” marathon all over the place, so she has to flee!
Of course, the three sisters can’t flee together. Charlotte will flee, alone, while the two sisters will stay behind to no doubt find their own attempted rapists to give them an excuse to star in a romance novel. And she will flee to some place so that she can, perhaps, become a teacher or something and lay down low until she turns 25. When she turns 25, she will magically have the authority and power to kick Gareth out of her life, you see. Never mind that all these years the lawyers ignore her and are happy to let Gareth control the money as well as every inch of the girls’ lives – when she turns 25, the seas will part open, everyone will immediately submit to her demands, and she will finally, magically, be bestowed authority and independence!
Ugh, it’s pretty obvious in this situation that the best course of action is to marry someone she can trust to get her hands on the money, but you know romance heroines in substandard romance novels. They have no friends, they have no agency, they can’t even think. This moron and her sisters have years to plot and plan, and they have a week to think about what they should do after Gareth first tried to rape her, but no, it’s just panic at the last moment and Charlotte fleeing with only twenty dollars, which she naturally uses up when she’s not even halfway to her destination and hence, she is in one desperate strait after another.
Fortunately, Ms Jackson commits suicide by deliberately overdosing on laudanum on the same train that Charlotte stows away in, so when our heroine finds the dead woman, she decides to assume that woman’s identity and head over to Arizona. She immediately assumes that this Thomas Greenwood is summoning her over to be a teacher, and by that point, I’ve stopped trying to make sense of this lady’s behavior.
So, when she meets Thomas, and realizes that she is expected to put out as a wife should, she immediately tries to find excuses to keep that brutish peen away from her while at the same time taking advantage of the man’s home and more, while never telling him the truth. I suppose you can say that she’s desperate and has nothing left that she can do, but I’m hard pressed to feel sorry for her considering that it is the collective stupidity and inactivity of her and her two sisters that got her in that position. Seriously, these dumb girls have years to do something, like maybe stash money away for emergencies such as a rapist cousin on the loose, and they didn’t do anything. So here we are, a heroine who is fortunate enough to stumble into the very situation needed to keep her out of trouble, and I’m supposed to cheer for her instead of wincing at poor Thomas, who is like Quasimodo catering to Esmeralda’s every whim without getting even a pity shag in return. Given that Charlotte will also need rescuing in the obligatory “Heroine in danger!” climax of the story, the poor girl is really set up by the author to be a big bag of stupidity with a generous helping of high maintenance on top. I actually feel sorry for Thomas by the last page, because this is one heroine who will probably die of hunger, because she can’t decide on what to put into her shopping list once the husband passes on.
As you can probably guess, she is hopeless in carrying off the deception, so I don’t know who is the dumber one here – Charlotte or Thomas – for her fail-tier efforts at a charade to be as long as it is.
As for the romance, it is the same old song and dance. Charlotte feels guilty because she is lying to him, so she will never deserve his affections, but she is also offended when he acts like he doesn’t want to lie on a path of rose petals and let her walk all over his back. Repeat and rinse. In the meantime, Thomas thinks that Charlotte is the hottest thing he has ever seen, so he is certain that every scrap of affection from her will be a charity case. These two begin doing their best to outdo one another in puffing up their own chest and declaring themselves the bigger martyr of love. I’m bored.
Finally, the author sets up the next book by telling me that – here’s a shocker – the two sisters left behind are in trouble because Gareth isn’t giving up. And, of course, instead of two sisters running off together, the middle sister will make her way to her own book alone. The author just has to confirm my suspicions that it will actually be an act of divine mercy if all three Fairfax sisters die in a fiery carriage accident, so I guess… thanks?