Harlequin Historical, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-373-29625-5
Historical Romance, 2011
What you read on the cover is what you get in Carla Kelly’s The Admiral’s Penniless Bride. Sir Charles Bright, our Admiral, is 45, and his two younger sisters decided shortly before this story begins that it is time he gets married. Annoyed by their constant intrusive efforts to introduce him to women and give him a makeover that will increase his appeal to those women, he decides to arrange for a marriage of convenience. Alas, when even that woman, whom he assumes would be grateful enough to marry him and escape a life of spinsterhood, decides to bail at the last moment, he impulsively asks Mrs Sally Paul to be his wife.
Sally is a widow who is literally down to her last penny. When her husband committed suicide, it was downward spiral all the way for her. She lost her young son to cold and fever, and now, it is all she can do to make ends meet as a companion to elderly women. She spent what was left of her money to come to Plymouth, only to learn once she arrives that the old woman whom she’s to tend to had died just the day before. The woman who hired her refuses to pay for Sally’s way back to Bath, so Sally is sitting at a dining room, wondering what she should do now that she has no money left and nowhere to go, when Charles takes pity on her and buys her a meal. But their conversation soon morphs into a bizarre marriage proposal, and Sally can’t accept it… can she?
The Admiral’s Penniless Bride will be familiar to fans of this author’s works. Sally and Charles are likable characters who radiates goodness from every pore, they have a sensible yet passionate romance, and there is a touch of realism to the otherwise unrealistically wholesome proceeding. In this case, the bitter tinge of realism is present especially in the resolution of the plot revolving around Sally’s late husband.
I actually like the touch of realism, because it is a refreshing, if bitter, antidote to the idyllic luster of perfection permeating the story up to that point. The events in these chapters also allow Charles to behave in a less-than-saintly manner. Some readers are understandably annoyed by his actions, viewing them callous and even harsh, but frankly, I’m glad he shows some cracks in his perfect demeanor. Sally, on the other hand, remains a saint through and through – she doesn’t even lose her cool when she’s treated unfairly by Charles, as she’s more focused in making sure that Charles doesn’t mistreat the people she’s leaving behind under his care. Sally is a brown cow who doesn’t mind facing all kinds of ill treatment and unlucky turns of event as long as she doesn’t impose on anyone else. I find her on the dull side, because she doesn’t seem human at all, but rather, someone angling for a sainthood.
It doesn’t help that, for a long time, the story has Sally and Charles doing nothing much other than talking, bonding, and kind Sally giving the downtrodden people on the streets a better life. I’m not that enamored of Sally’s path to sainthood, so I’m bored as a result. There is early foreshadowing of how Sally’s past will catch up with her and affect her relationship with Charles, but the dramatic events take place very late in the story. Those events are rushed, and the “blink and I’ll miss it” reunion of Charles and Sally is unsatisfying because of this rushed pacing of those moments.
Carla Kelly’s prose is still top notch, but the combination of slow pacing and characters who are tad too perfect makes this one a slow and rather dull read.