Four and a quarter stars.
The four Reluctant Bride Collection novels, jaunty in tone and virtually chaste, provided a great introduction to Megan Bryce’s work. Connected by theme, but not characters, each of the books in this Regency historical romance series tackles a female stereotype and features an unusual and fiercely independent heroine:
- To Catch a Spinster – The Frump
- To Tame a Dragon – The Virago
- To Wed the Widow – The Maneater
- To Tempt the Saint – The Manipulator
What I enjoyed most was that the women did not change over the course of their stories. They may grow emotionally, but their essential nature is not changed. Each one simply meets a man who is her ideal counterpart. Brava!
To Catch A Spinster
Olivia Blakesley is a self-proclaimed spinster and glad of it. Bookish, disinterested in fashion, and plain, she has a large family, her passion for painting constellations, and leads a full life. She knows marriage would curtail her freedom and wants none of it; however, there is one aspect of that state she wants to experience and she has chosen Nathaniel Jenkins to perform the task. He is an older man, “Tall, but not too tall. Handsome, but not diabolically so,”, suffering through his mother’s tedious parade of potential mates whose youth makes him uncomfortable. When Olivia proposes her own seduction, he refuses, agrees, and then finds himself desperately trying to convince her to marry him, despite promising her he would not when they planned their “transaction”. What can he offer that is worth her liberty?
To Tame a Dragon
“She swept from the room like a hurricane on a mission.”
This delightful entry was my favourite of the series, though I enjoyed all of them and when I revisited the To Catch A Spinster, I found myself pleased to be torn. Bryce’s writing is just such droll fun.
Jameson Pendrake, Earl of Nighting has, moments before the novel opens, jilted his fiancée. The reader meets him prostrate on a sofa nursing his recently assaulted wedding tackle. His best friend, Robin, is there making sympathetic noises; Robin’s sister, Amelia, is there also, but with a no-nonsense approach and offering to defray the impending scandal. The trio have known each other virtually their entire lives with Robin and Jameson having been school friends and Amelia insisting on tagging along whenever the boys went on adventures.
Amelia is an emphatically capable woman, deliciously wry and practical in her approach to the world. Jameson is irreverent, fun, and naughty in that way that can be so tempting in a prospective suitor. Not that she has ever allowed herself to think of Jameson that way. He is too good-looking by half and his exuberance leads to a lot of scrapes. Winning and adorable, he’s also got a good head on his shoulders because he comes to the realisation that Amelia is the perfect woman for him, “He shook his head, imagining himself in the role of her husband and she of his wife. The rightness of it filled him. The peace of it filled him. And what an adventure it would be. The fun of it.” Now all he has to do is convince her of that:
She sighed and took a small step away from him. “There are two problems, and you are both of them.”
“I usually am.”
“You usually are.”
Of course, she capitulates and they get married, all that’s left is for them to stop quipping at each other long enough to admit their true feelings.
The next two Reluctant Bride books feature men named George Sinclair (sin) and George St. Clair (the saint) respectively. I appreciate this on two levels:
1. as a clever play on words
2. I think it highly likely that there were a lot more men named “George” and a lot fewer men named “Logan” in historical romance than authors like to admit to, so the realism of it pleases me.
To Wed the Widow
As is the way of things, I read these books out-of-order and To Wed the Widow was my first foray into Bryce’s catalogue. The so-called maneater of this collection is someone who has been widowed five times. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose five looks like carelessness.” No one thinks she murdered the men, but their tendency to parish whilst married to her does give society pause; moreover, she has observed successively, shockingly shorter mourning periods after each husband even though she looks fabulous in black.
Lady Haywood is just too perfectly scandalous and tempting for George Sinclair. The younger brother of an Earl whose marriage has produced four daughters, George has just returned from many happy years in India to do his duty by the familial line of succession. The Earl’s wife, a lovely woman, nearly died when her last child was born and her husband has vowed never to chance a pregnancy again. The Countess is not on board with this plan and seeks Lady Haywood’s help in remedying the situation. Everyone skirmishes their way through the book towards a happy ending in spite of the Earl’s preferences and Lady Haywood’s awful brother who keeps showing up to throw a wrench into the works.
To Tempt the Saint
Bryce maintained the same clever voice as in the preceding books in the series, but To Tempt the Saint had a more serious tone and content overall. Relatively speaking, I found it the least enjoyable of the group, despite the excellent portrayal of complex characters and relationships. To Wed the Widow had a sinner, To Tempt the Saint has the opposite. George St. Clair wants to be left alone to pursue his business interests. His family considers this vulgar and wants him marry a decent woman and go into the Church. It’s what younger sons do, after all.
Precipitated by scandalous events in her youth and working with her aunt and uncle, Honora makes her living through betrothals. She becomes engaged and then forces the man’s hand into breaking the marriage contract. Suing for damages, as was the way of the era, she then moves on to a new location and another man. Like the con in a heist movie going for one last job, the trio feel they need just one more big score before they can retire. Choosing independence, even through illegal activities, Honora is in a race between getting caught and collapsing under the emotional toll of her own subterfuge.
Attending a lecture on steam power as a potential investment – her ill-gotten gains aren’t going to languish in those famous Regency Five Percents – Honora meets and annoys George St. Clair thus gaining his attention. Falling apart emotionally as a result of her machinations, she remains resolute that if she can tempt George, the reward will set her little family up for life. He is, naturally, the first man she has set her cap for who sees the real her and this complication propels the story.
As I got the first three Reluctant Bride novels free on Bookbub, I had no objection to paying full price for To Tempt the Saint. I felt that I owed Megan Bryce the money and probably a gratuity.
I have also read a contemporary Megan Bryce novel, Some Like It Charming, that I will get around to reviewing eventually. It was light, fun, and required slightly more willing suspension of disbelief than I was able to provide.