Scene 1: A 26 year old man falls in love with a 16-17 year old girl after watching her from afar (and only talking to her twice) and since he’s one of her father’s favorite students he procures an approval to proceed with a wedding after his love interest rashly agrees to wed, even though the nuptials have to be done ASAP since said man is taking a diplomatic post in Vienna.
Scene 2: It’s five years later and the young girl, perhaps a little older and wiser, has been banished all this time to the estate in Surrey (after a disastrous wedding night), keeping company with her husband’s 19 year old step brother (who has failed his finals at Oxford).
Scene 3: The “diplomatic” husband has returned and is coerced by his “wife” into visiting his ailing father-in-law, all while pretending he’s a doting spouse.
This is the premise of The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett. Since this is a Regency Romance, the ending is a foregone conclusion, although it’s the path the author takes which determines the level of reader enjoyment.
I have mixed feeling about this book. Some parts were brilliant, especially any scenes featuring Caroline’s father, Reverend Matthew Fleetwood, the Bishop of Essex Other sections, often featuring Caroline and John (Viscount Welford), tended to be repetitive. My advice – the reader only needs to hear the backstory once. In this book, first the characters dwelled on past events, then they discussed them (on more than one occasion). Maybe discussed isn’t a strong enough word, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they dissected past behaviors.
For a diplomat, John was kind of dense. He was pig headed, judgmental, and just plain mean on more than one occasion, often incorrectly interpreting Caro’s (and half brother Ronnie’s) reactions. While he also blamed himself for the situation, this didn’t stop him from berating Caroline on far too many occasions. For a gentleman, it bordered on emotional battering. Caroline reacted like an abused wife, afraid to confide in her husband for fear of verbal retribution or a cold shoulder. Her main fault (after her youthful indiscretion of running away on her wedding night) was in trying to maintain an image of perfection to her father through elaborate machinations so she would not disappoint him. Wisdom won out over foolishness – but there were two hundred + pages of nonsense to wade through prior to the final resolution.
So my main complaint is the leading characters weren’t very likable. However the surrounding characters bolstered the story and made it more readable. The villain, Sophia, went a little too much over the top in her actions, but she was a necessary evil to advance the plot. In the end, it was easy to transfer our dislike of the protagonists onto her when everything ended happily despite her ministrations.
To wrap up, my advice is to have the basic premise of the book a little more believable (five years is a little too long to carry a grudge), create protagonists who are likable, show don’t tell, don’t belabor the same point in thoughts, words, and deeds, and give your readers some credit that they can figure things out without you explicitly explaining all in repetitive detail. FYI – I like to guess what is going to happen next or figure out various motivations with just a few clues from the author along the way prior to the big reveal at the climax of the story. I’m sure others agree.
Still, this novel was not without it’s charm and I’m glad I spent some time “getting to know” Caro and John. Perhaps there’s a future story for the impetuous, self-centered cousin Sophia and the lovable but childish half brother Ronnie. I definitely want to hear more from Bishop Fleetwood and his twin brother Geoffrey. Three stars.
A thank you to Netgalley for proving this ARC in exchange for an honest review.