Leisure, $4.99, ISBN 0-8439-4750-0
Historical Romance, 2000
The Marriage Bargain is like a circus sideshow of clichés. It is entertaining in a very bizarre way for a while, but the ultimate cliché – the hero who just won’t believe in love to the point of hurting the heroine badly – soon turn the whole affair into something really painful on my nerves.
I’m not too sure how to write a synopsis of the story, because the plot is, well, like a pathchwork of all the familiar elements of a romance novel. Let me try.
Isobel Hampton flees when the evil Henry Lummox, er, Lennox murders her guardian in an attempt to force her to marry him. As she runs, she trips and – oh! – lands in a feminine swoon onto the London gutters.
Our hero Lord Beckett Thornby finds our heroine lying like a waifish, unconscious Éponine, and is struck by her state of undress. (I don’t know how she loses her clothes, maybe she throws off the fripperies of her clothes to run faster.) Or maybe it’s just her air of innocence and vulnerability. Or something.
He brings her home, but not for the reason you may think. He wants to take care of this poor lady, but – ta da! – he has no female servants, so hey, he can strip her and bathe her with a clear conscience. Then, somehow, he sleeps in the same bed with her, and his mummy discovers them together in the morning.
Beckett, meanwhile, has to marry or lose his fortune, so hey, let’s just marry this woman. Isobel, struck by the feel of the hero’s hand on her bre- I mean, his kindness and sensitivity, agrees. But the evil Lummox Lennox won’t leave them in peace.
Of course, instead of asking Beckett’s debauched friends or connections to do the Lummox in (I’m sure they’ll come cheap) and throw that fat carcass into the Thames, Isobel, for the sake of the hero, flees. Flee, flee, Isobel! Beckett chases after her. Go, Beckett!
Then, out of the blue – maybe they want to change scenery, or maybe they realize they are stuck in a really lousy script – they decide to go to Barbados. There, they battle evil pirates, brave natural cataclysms, befriend a magical cat (don’t ask), and – wait, here comes Lummox!
The characters are minimally done, the romance is tepid, the action scenes are badly done, and the villains remind me of a redneck version of Yosemite Sam. It’s too badly plotted and badly developed to be seen even as good campy fun.