This year, April rather than June has become THE month to celebrate weddings, thanks to the wedding that will take place April 29 at Westminster Abbey when Prince William marries his Kate. The release of two anthologies with titles that link them to the wedding that the world will be watching offers historical romance readers pre and post-wedding reading pleasure, the best of it from the pens of established stars in the genre.
Last month Avon launched a new digital publishing romance imprint, Avon Impulse. On April 1, the new imprint released its second epublication, Royal Wedding ($1.99), an anthology that includes short fiction by Stephanie Laurens, Gaelen Foley, and Loretta Chase. One caveat: the stories truly are "short fiction," not novellas.
Laurens’s “The Wedding Planner,” set in London, 1820, features Lady Margaret Dawlish, a duke’s daughter who has used her considerable organizational skills to plan the weddings of her five younger siblings, assorted cousins, and other aristocratic brides and grooms. When she is drafted as the wedding planner for the nuptials of her youngest sister’s best friend to a prince, she discovers one member of the wedding party is a man from her past, Gaston Devillers, newly restored to his estate and his title, the Duc de Perigord. Gaston may have come to England to serve as his young relative’s best man, but he’s most interested in proving himself the best man for Lady Margaret.
I found the segmented structure of the story distracting, but I love reunion stories. And the duc is a wonderfully romantic hero. Seeing him fluster the controlled and efficient Lady Margaret with his determined courtship was a delight. 4 stars
In Gaelen Foley’s “Ever After,” the marriage of a war hero and his wife reaches a crisis against the backdrop of a royal wedding, that of Princess Charlotte of England to Prince Leopold. Eleanor Montford, Countess of Archer, has been a perfect wife to Roland James Augustus Montford, Colonel Lord Archer, managing his home, giving him two sons, and using her social skills to advance his political career. She’s made one mistake, however; she’s fallen in love with her husband, who may have followed the pattern of men of his class and taken a mistress.
I was fascinated by the premise of this story: love after marriage and what happens when one or both parties long to throw off the confines of culturally defined roles. The problem I had with it was that it was too much story for the short fiction format. The transformation of the husband from ambitious, albeit nobly intentioned, politician who is too busy to devote time to his family to one who sacrifices a key appointment for them happened too quickly for me to believe in it. 3 stars
Loretta Chase’s “The Jilting of Lord Rothwick” was the best of the trio. I was hooked by the title and by the time period. The story opens two days before the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (February 10, 1840). The plot is a familiar one: a destitute lord must marry a generously dowered daughter of a wealthy cit. But the characters are fresh and real. Barbara Findley has written to her fiancé, the Marquess of Rothwick, breaking off their engagement, and he rides ventre à terre to demand an explanation. Just when everything seems lost, she too rides ventre à terre and into an HEA. While I would love to see this story expanded into a full length novel, the focus and scope are narrow enough here to make it a satisfying work of short fiction. 5 stars
Wedding of the Century and Other Stories, HQN’s wedding anthology, which includes novellas by Mary Jo Putney, Kristin James, and Charlotte Featherstone, will be released on May 24. As is generally the case with anthologies, the quality is mixed.
“Wedding of the Century” by Mary Jo Putney (originally released in Promised Brides in 1994 and first reissued in Bride by Arrangement in 2000) is the best of the three. It is the story of Sarah “Sunny” Vangelder of the New York Vangelders and Justin Aubrey, the ninth Duke of Thornborough and a Gilded Age arranged marriage between an American heiress and an English title. Justin falls in love with Sunny when they spend an hour in a garden, but she soon forgets him in the throes of infatuation for a better-looking, less honorable aristocrat. They must overcome their inability to trust one another, the Victorian ideas about female sexuality passed on to Sunny by her mother, and Justin’s mother’s arrogance and general bitchiness before they find their HEA. Some readers may be bothered by the misunderstandings that could have been resolved with some honest conversations, but Putney’s deft characterizations persuaded me to accept them as inevitable. This is not MJP’s best work, but it is an entertaining story that offers an interesting fictional take on the Gilded American Girl/English Lord merger. 4.5 stars
“Jesse’s Girl” by Kristin James is the story of a plain, bookworm rancher’s daughter, Amy McAlister, who is saved from social ruin by Jesse Tyler her father’s most trusted ranch hand who has adored her from afar. Both Amy and Jesse are likeable characters, and their romance is a pleasing blend of tenderness, humor, and passion. However, the secondary characters verge on the stereotypical, and the ending feels rushed. I think the story might have worked better as a full-length novel that offered the opportunity for fuller development. 3.5 stars
The third novella, “Seduced by Starlight,” by Charlotte Featherstone is the only new story in the collection. It is the story of Blossom, a free-thinking, fly-fishing artist and daughter of the Duke of Torrington, and Jase, infamous rake and eldest son of the Marquis of Weatherby. When Jase learns that his younger brother and Blossom’s fiancé has eloped with a ballet dancer, he seizes the opportunity to court Blossom with whom he has long been in love. But Blossom, although tempted by Jase’s kisses, is distrustful of his motives. This was the first thing I’ve read by Ms. Featherstone, but I wondered from the repeated references to the still passionate marriages of Blossom’s parents and Jase’s parents if this were a second-generation tale. Perhaps if I had read the earlier stories, I would have found the amount of freedom granted to Blossom more credible. Not having read them, the freedom she enjoyed kept pulling me out of the story. “Seduced by Starlight” is labeled erotic historical romance, and it has its share of sizzle, although no more in quantity and no greater sensuality level than some mainstream romances. I would have preferred less sizzle and more development of characters and plot. 3 stars
Are you planning to watch the royal wedding on April 29? What’s your favorite wedding in romance fiction?
Note: This post marks a switch from Thursdays to Sundays as the day for regular weekly posts. Special posts may appear on other days from time to time.