I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Vanessa Riley writes diverse romances set in Regency and early Victorian England. As she says on her website:
Yes, Black People existed in the Regency.
In London there were over 10,000-20,000 that lived in London during the time of Jane Austen. The number has been estimated to be as high as 30,000 across England, Scotland, and Ireland. So with less than 28 dukes during that time period, who are you more likely to run into, a duke, or a person of color who found love?
Content warnings: rape, physical violence, racism
Ruth Croome Wilkey is a single mother and the daughter of a wealthy merchant specializing in fabrics. The Croome family is black. Ruth eloped to Scotland with her husband, Adam Wilkey, who passed for white. After a few days of wedded bliss, Ruth insists they return to London so she can assure her family she is well. Along the way, they are attacked and each assumes the other was murdered. Adam was sold to the Navy and Ruth was sold to a whorehouse.
Four years later, Ruth is back home with her family and her young son. Her diminishing vision and trauma from the attack have made her reluctant to venture out of the house. On top of that, no one believes her. They think she ran off with a man, was abandoned and ended up in a whorehouse. Her family and friends think Adam Wilkey is a fiction. She has no proof of the marriage because her husband took the record of the wedding out of the registry and tore it in half. Half went into Ruth’s trunk and half was mailed to his father. Tired of living in her parent’s house and living with the knowledge that no one believes her, Ruth has advertised for a husband and is on her way to becoming engaged to a barrister. Unexpectedly, the trunk she took with her on her elopement is returned with half the wedding record. Ruth decides to venture to her father in law’s house to see if he has the other half of the record. When she arrives, there is a man with a whip evicting the former tenants. That man is her long lost husband, but because she doesn’t recognize him, he claims to be her husband’s cousin.
I think Ruth is a great character. She is struggling to overcome trauma and make a life for herself and her son. She has survived almost four years of even her family thinking she is at best crazy and at worst a liar. She is down, but not out. She deserves a partner so much better than Adam, who never seems to learn the right lesson. In this case, I think the right lesson was, don’t lie to your partner about what’s happening and who you are. Adam lies to, or withholds the truth from Ruth repeatedly. When they eloped, he didn’t tell her who he really was or about his enemies. She was making decisions with out crucial information. When he returns and she doesn’t recognize him, he lies more. His lie doesn’t keep her safe, but is does inflict emotional damage. Adam insists to himself and others that he has grown and changes, that he is wiser, but mostly he seems to double down on his previous mistakes.
My issue may well not be your issue. I enjoyed Bewildered Bride enough that if secrets/secret identities don’t bother you, you should give this a read. I liked it enough that I’m interested in reading more of Vanessa Riley’s books.