Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-8760-9
Historical Romance, 2010
Much Ado about Marriage is a complete overhaul of Karen Hawkins’s first book, published as One Lucky Lord back in 2000 by LoveSpell under the name Kim Bennett. It has been eleven years since I last read that book and I no longer have it with me, so I can’t accurately pinpoint all the things that have been changed in this book. However, I can tell you that Ms Hawkins has rewritten the characters so that the heroine is now part of the MacLean clan that was featured in Ms Hawkins’s most recent historical romances for Pocket. That wasn’t so hard – the heroine’s original last name was Maclean, so it’s just a capitalization of the letter L, heh. This book is also tied to the author’s upcoming new series, so it is now wholly integrated into the author’s series for Pocket. In other words, Ms Hawkins wants to keep making money off this book, but she has gone the extra mile to make sure that you can’t accuse her of doing very little to make that money.
The trouble is, Ms Hawkins decides to “leave” the now rechristened Fia MacLean’s “unique spirit” intact, which is the very thing that makes both Much Ado about Marriage and One Lucky Lord an exercise in appreciating dumb behavior passed as precious cuteness in stupid romance heroines. Let me put it this way: Fia’s brother, Duncan, is worried and concerned because, as the laird, he has to make the heavy decision on whether to join his allies in rebelling against Queen Mary or remaining loyal to the puppet queen and risk fighting with his own former allies. Fia knows this, but her only concern is that her brother will marry her off to someone just to keep her safe and far away from what could be an upcoming site for bloodshed, and therefore, because she cannot marry without love, she decides to run away to England and try her hand at being a playwright there.
She bumps into the English earl Thomas Wentworth – literally – in her attempt to run away from home. Thomas is attempting to leave Duart Castle after sneaking in for some spy assignment – he was assigned to determine the loyalty of her brother – when Fia accidentally pushes him down a window ledge. He thinks her Duncan’s mistress, she thinks him a thief, and a combination of luck and farce forces them to remain together as they make their way through a marriage borne out of necessity (read: they are caught in a compromising situation), espionage, and precious heroine behavior. There is also a running gag of Thomas’s incredibly luck having run out the moment he meets Fia, although given how stupid Fia can be here, that whole gag sometimes seem tragic than funny.
Much Ado about Marriage has been cleaned up and polished, making this book a far more painless read than the debut effort One Lucky Lord had been. However, the essence of the story remains: this is a story that is very heavy in the slapstick humor department, with Thomas often falling into all kinds of trouble as a result of Fia’s antics. If you have little tolerance for Fia, you won’t be laughing here, I’d tell you that. She’s the kind of heroine who insists on bring the maid and all kinds of stray animals along with her on her merry secretive adventure in running away from home when she’s not insisting that she can do something only to start crying when she realizes that she can’t do it.
As for me, I usually detest such heroines, and indeed, Fia makes me cringe pretty often in this story. Still, there is an I Dream Of Jeannie kind of je ne sais pas infectious charm to the story. Thomas may come off as an exasperated babysitter most of the time, but he is not without his silly moments either. Both characters have some pretty adorable chemistry going on here, and their bickering and bantering often make me chuckle. The one downside to this story is the eye-rolling conflict late in the story where Thomas suspects Fia of being a spy (honestly, as if that dingbat is capable of such things), but I have to admit, Fia acquits herself very nicely in that scene by not crumpling like a victim. She may have the intelligence of a pea, but she’s not some brown cow. Thomas, though, has his reputation severely damaged by that conflict: he comes off as even more stupid than Fia has ever been in the story… except maybe Fia’s stunt after that scene.
Anyway, you should know what to expect before you read Much Ado about Marriage: plenty of slapstick antics, farcical scenes, and both hero and heroine pulling off logic-defying stunts in the name of preciousness. The humor in this book is more polarizing than most due to its reliance on slapstick and over the top silly behavior. One person may find this book funny, another person will find this book too ridiculous for words. My personal opinion of this book is that while it is not my cup of tea, I manage to get a few chuckles out of it. But don’t take my word for it: the best way to judge whether you can enjoy this book is to read the first few chapters either online or in the bookstore.