The Wedding Gamble by Julia Justiss

Posted by Mrs Giggles on March 23, 1999 in 3 Oogies, Book Reviews, Genre: Historical / 6 Comments

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The Wedding Gamble by Julia Justiss
The Wedding Gamble by Julia Justiss

Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29064-0
Historical Romance, 1999

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Julia Justiss won the Golden Heart Award in the Regency category, the promotional blurb says on this book, and I’m not surprised. This is an excellently written romance. Ms Justiss has the Regency period down pat, from the nuances to the dialogues. Her style is so masterfully vivid that it’s like watching a tapestry of the era unfold. I can fancy myself feeling the evening air as I ride in my phaeton, or listen to the musicians as I walk down the grand staircase to the ballroom.

Sarah Wallingford’s late wastrel father has left her family deep under the hatches and her family holdings are about to parceled off among the creditors. In desperation she launches herself into Society, hoping to marry a rich man. She does this by taking the post of chaperon to her spoilt friend Clarissa. She finds herself attracted to Clarissa’s fiancé Nicholas Stanhope, Marquess of Englemere. He finds her a refreshing change from the other Society women, and when he hears of her financial situation, steps in and marries her. The rest of the book deals with their adjustment to marriage life and their developing affection for each other.

This book starts with a wonderfully moving prologue that describes how Nicholas watches in horror and is too late to do anything as his beloved brother dies in a fishing accident and the subsequent aftermath. I sat comfortably in my chair and anticipated a jolly wonderful and tear-jerking read. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned, the writing is very good, and I will put Julia Justiss in my to buy list – she shows lots of promise.

But I must say the two lead characters are distant and so prim and proper that I have a hard time mustering any enthusiasm for them after the prologue.

In fact, I wonder why this book is called The Wedding Gamble. These two characters are ruthlessly logical and practical, and I doubt any of them would do anything spontaneous. Marriage for each of them is dissected in several paragraphs, each pro and con weighed. Their marriage isn’t a gamble, it’s more of a decision taken after there is no other alternative to be considered.

Miss Justiss has also stayed true to the Regency period in her characterization. Nicholas thinks nothing of keeping his mistress even after the marriage. He has an awful first wife (don’t they all?), and is unwilling to concede that Sarah may be different and worthy of his affections. He is cold because he shuns affection, preferring cordiality and distant friendship in a marriage.

Indeed, both characters step into wedded bliss with no illusion of romance. The husband will keep a mistress and the wife turns the other cheek. Love is never mentioned. Only, Sarah increasingly finds it difficult to contain her growing dissatisfaction with the scheme of things.

Sarah is a character in the vein of true Regency wives – submissive, proper, virtuous. I find it puzzling that as she easily disparages her worth and beauty, she expects to land a wealthy husband in the Marriage Mart. Her primness is so thick you can lay it out on a pavement to cover potholes. It isn’t proper to confront dear hubby about his mistress, so she bottles every growing jealousy and anger inside her until it is a miracle that she doesn’t get a coronary. Indeed, most of the problems in this book is caused by this unwillingness to discuss things. Why? It isn’t proper.

I also find it rather disturbing that Sarah is always putting herself down and is always pathetically grateful that Nicholas marries her. Hence she puts Nicholas’ wishes above her own. Her old flame comes to visit her, and my eyes roll upwards when she tells him she only accepts him because her husband never forbids her too. Even at the last page she is putting Nicholas’s wish above hers. It’s what Nicholas will want… it’s what he expects… a good wife must not disappoint her husband… Nicholas will want me to… It is a good thing Nicholas is a kind (in an aloof manner) man. This woman has backed herself in a corner, and with the wrong man, will willingly make her life a living hell.

Oh, there are small glimpses of Sarah’s steely persona. There’s one scene that demonstrates the latent embryo of a fiery woman in her, a scene where she discovers her husband’s unfinished letter to his mistress. Fury mounting in her heart, she grabs a porcelain piece on the table and flings it hard against the wall, watching in satisfaction as it shatters to pieces. Yet that is the extent of her mutiny, and the next hour she is donning her calm, placid facade before her husband. I feel totally exasperated after a while. Woman, just tell him, for goodness sake!

But a good wife shouldn’t even know that her husband has a mistress, should she? Poor Sarah.

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Cantankerous muffin who loves boys that sparkle, unicorns, money, chocolates, and fantastical stories.


6 responses to “The Wedding Gamble by Julia Justiss

  1. Angel

    I just found similar kind of girl in popular manga. They are similar kind of couple. But the boy has no other female interest. He is emotionally frigid and her first romance was with possibly a user (he shows up as villain to another lead. It is shocking how much anger these girls must be storing inside them just so they can get the security (in this girl’s case it was also illusion of love). I can never understand the amount of low self esteem joined with pragmatism that must force them to act this rigid way. The girl is still putting his needs above her while she faced abandonment issue at hand of guy (he was not ready to do but was persuaded blah blah blah). Both couple are piece of work but the author raked them through burning coal individually like nobody’s business. I am still waiting for catharsis which hopefully will come through. Sorry I know it was not related to your review but I just remembered it.

  2. Some Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern or Presents authors are like that too. They make no secret of the fact that they think their characters are unreasonable, cruel, or insane, and some have fun raking these characters through coals too. but because they are writing for a line that adheres to strict rules on how the hero and heroine should behave, they can’t deliver the catharsis. Instead, they have to eventually validate these characters’ antics.

  3. Angel

    This author openly sides with the girl. He has alienated lot of fans for her by showing the warts of her love interest. The guy is very popular lead and she is side character/his love interest. It hasn’t been easy journey for author. She has PTSD case from time of her abandonment and the guy has gone on another quest. They have communication issue and no love scenes and they have lived together for more than few month and both seem to have fond memory about it. The guy does super sweet things when he realizes his mistakes which is sadly so often but he never tells her he loves her. I want to throw this manga on wall but I can’t.

  4. Well, if the manga isn’t specifically a romance, maybe the relationship is meant to be viewed by the reader as a toxic one, who knows.

    One thing I have to say: as much as I don’t always like such relationships, I won’t want to see the asshole hero trope zapped from the genre. That will remove elements of diversity from the genre. Not to mention, there are many traditionalist women out there who like to read about stories where men play the more dominant role in a relationship, while others view the taming of an alpha male as an enjoyable power fantasy. Sure, I don’t necessarily like them, but there will be readers who do, and they deserve to get enjoyment out of the genre as much as any reader.

    Just a random thought – not reacting to anything you’ve said, by the way 🙂

  5. Angel

    You are awesome. You answered my question.

    The manga caters to Japanese audience who are traditional I believe. This romance is very popular in all non English speaking country where it is read. When I did panel analysis, some of the stuff the guy did for the girl turned out to be lovely. He came across as more vulnerable (I realized he is meant to be 19-20 years) than really bad. The story does have some level of toxicity but not as much as I feared. Each time the guy goes wrong the author has someone close to him let him know that he is hurting the girl and boy asks for her forgiveness with or without prompt. And at some point when he realized, he actively tried to straighten things out without any input. He is not alpha though. More like a guy who has fallen for someone he didn’t expect to fall for and who still needs to learn to respect said person’s feelings (he is aware of it and told her he will try his best to change).

    I am still waiting for those three letter word but in last few chapters author went all hog. The guy placed her above everything including his life and duty, told her that he would do anything to keep her safe and happy and not just because she is a friend and that he wouldn’t do the same for anyone else. The author had them trying to commit suicide at same time to save each other, there is lovely mourning panel where you get to see how much her companionship means to him, the boy went berserk when he thought she was dead, went on his knees before her when he realized she survived, it is hinted he was planning to do a spell by which her memory of his would fade away from her mind but she will not feel abandoned (depression almost cost her life.) in case he died and she survived (they are in middle of war), she was uppermost in his mind throughout the war, he even spoke dreamily about her before his friends(he is super shy), took burnt of vicious attack for her and told her she is HIS at the end and that he cares (? no idea what HIS means). Does all this count for love or are three letter words important?

    There is some issue with all romances in this manga as it is shonen that caters mostly to young male readers. The worst romance in this manga though is the one favored by lot of female fans while male fans call the man “manipulative” and “dangerous”. The girls are seduced by fact that guy says I love you to his love interest while they ignore the fact that he lives with another younger girl (we are given slight glimpse of how close they are) and pushes away his love interest in name of saving her from his darkness while she refuses to believe he can do anything wrong. Apart from the fact that he has killed a person and was instrument of evil till he came back to himself, I am not sure where to begin why last thing he needs is cheerleader which is pretty much what this romance is. The girl cheers on sideline without pom-pom and the guy goes woo-bie in her presence. The only saving grace is they are hardly together and the fact the girl has a life of her own which saves me from bursting my artery.

    I sometime wonder what is important to readers – the words or action?

  6. The allure of the bad boy isn’t easily broken down into his words or actions. It’s in how he reacts to falling in love with the heroine.

    A big part of the appeal of the wicked man is what some people call a power fantasy. The man is a terrible creature, untamed by everything… except for his love of the woman. To that woman, the fact that he loves her and does things for her that he will never do to anyone else – this is her power over him. The bigger and badder the man, the greater is the power she holds. If he then decides that he must let her go for her own good, why, that is the confirmation of her power over him.

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