The Viscount's Bride
by Wilma Counts, historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7044-6
Thirty years after the French Revolution and still unable to come to terms with the social changes as a result of the Industrial Revolution, England is now viewing its increasing number of workers with fear. Seeing their overly privileged fat necks pushed down that slot on the guillotine, the noblemen and MPs of England begin imposing draconian laws on the common people, apparently unable to comprehend that these laws make the workers even more mad.
Between the aftermaths of the Luddite upheaval and the Peterloo massacre, there are two characters that are very busy being Very Responsible Human Beings. The Viscount's Bride is their story. Hannah Whitmore, a vicar's daughter, champions the education of the children - it's all about the children! - of the mill workers. However, her finding support and funding isn't easy, but our authentic bluestocking is not going to stop until she gets the reforms she wants. Meanwhile, the new heir to the lands where her father runs the vicarage is back in town after a stint in That War. However, Theo Ruskin, when he's not doing that shaky-shaky-nite-nite-nightmare things at night, is undercover. He's posing as a common worker to gauge the extent of the perceived revolutionary spark spreading across the workers.
Filled with stereotypical characters (evil stewards and supervisors, poor oppressed workers - all they want is a better life for the children, soldier heroes with PSTD, bluestocking heroines that are so foolhardy they confront a rabble with just another female companion, both women being unarmed, and so forth), nonetheless this story manages to be an engaging read. I like some tiny aspects of this story, such as how Theo's parents are still in love after all these years and how Hannah at least is a real bluestocking who sticks to her convictions and beliefs unwaveringly.
The biggest problem about this book, though, is that Theo and Hannah rarely interact in this story. They spend almost the entire book apart, doing their own things. When they do meet each other to interact, they are more preoccupied with their respective missions. I am quite disappointed with this stingy romance because the few moments of their interactions in the last few chapters have a nice teasing ring to it. Never mind that I'm stunned as to how this love thing just appears out of the blue - wham! - I like these scenes. If there have been a few more of these scenes, I'd be enjoying this book better. As it is, a reader expecting a strong romance will have to endure pages and pages and pages of worker plight and education reform measures before the main characters finally come into close contact, and even then, the pay-off is unbelievably miserly, if you know what I mean.
So while I do find the story mildly engaging despite its mostly familiar cast of characters, I also find it hard to recommend a "romance novel" where the characters rarely even come into contact to deliver a halfway decent love story. As a historical story revolving around the plight of the mill and factory workers in those English days, this story may pass the grade easy. But if you want to read romance novel with romance in the forefront, nothing less, well, I'd think twice about getting this book if I were you.
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