The Wedding Wager
by Deborah Hale, historical (2001)
Harlequin Historical, $4.99, ISBN 0-373-29163-9


Oh, oh, oh! Champagne, everybody! A Regency historical that, for once, doesn't make me want to throw up my dinner into the toilet bowl. And a Harlequin novel, to boot. The world is definitely full of ironies. Again, champagne, somebody! I want to celebrate.

Deborah Hale's The Wedding Wager, at first glance, seems like a cheapskate carbon copy of Judith Ivory's The Proposition, but it's not. It's actually fun. It's about this silly heroine Leonora Freemantle, a bluestocking who learns that all men are untrustworthy bastards despite having little firsthand experience with them, who takes a bet from her uncle that she can transform Sgt Morse Archer into a gentleman. After all, she did say that a gentlemen is made, not born. Morse has tried to save Leonora's cousin in the war (guess which war), and while the sorry cousin croaked anyway, the father, Leonora's uncle, is grateful to him. You could say that Uncle Hugo has some motives for this bet that he didn't tell Leonora.

Morse doesn't want to be treated like some schoolboy by this surly, proper schoolmarm woman, but his leg is badly injured and he can no longer serve in the army. He also likes the idea of comfortable beds and nice food, so he plays along. But you know how things are. They have fun in the schoolroom, they have fun in the bedroom... but Leonora doesn't trust men. She doesn't want to marry. She thinks that any man who gives her a second look must be some pervert wanting to break her heart.

The Wedding Wager has all the familiar players - the heroic soldier, the bluestocking who refuses ever to be married, the buffoony uncle, but the author tweaks a little with the formula to make it very readable. I adore Morse Archer, who is a farmer's son (how much did Ms Hale bribe her editor to let this non-titled hero slip past the editor's scissors, anyway?), and I like the gentle, bubbling chemistry he has with Leonora. Leonora is more of the same annoying twitty heroine, but she doesn't go overboard with some twisted, overly rigid moral code or something, hence she is a likable - if a little bit twitty - heroine.

I finish this book feeling that maybe there's some hope in the historical Regency subgenre yet. More specially, the Ton inbreeding has't reduced all the heroines into silly, babbling, vapid, shrieky puritanical virgins - there are still some fun stories to be told, as Deborah Hale just demonstrated. A toast - I'm off to open the next Regency historical in my TBR pile. Wish me luck!

Rating: 89


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