Marian's Christmas Wish
by Carla Kelly, historical (2011, reissue)
Sweetwater Books, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-59955-953-7


Marian's Christmas Wish is a reissue of the traditional Regency novel of same name that was previously published by Signet back in 1989. Normally, I would avoid stories of this nature, since they are not my cup of tea, but I have enjoyed some of those by this author in the past. what's the harm in trying this one, right?

Well, this one is a very disappointingly generic story, so much so that it is the textbook example of a well-written collection of clichés. On the heroine's front, we have an impoverished estate, an older and actually quite useless brother who shows up only to catalyze the "marry a rich bloke now or we will all suffer" plot, a prettier sister who generally just as useless and serves only to be the silly romantic foil to the heroine, and a younger brat of a brother who is also just as useless other than his role to introduce hair-brained schemes into the story.

The heroine Marian Wynswich is, predictably, plain-looking (or so she thinks) and is determined never to marry because she claims to have seen how falling in love addles one's mind. She is, of course, said to be outspoken, but not fond of frivolous activities that plague other shallow inane females out there. She loves her father dearly despite the fact that he was the idiot who wasted all their money on his personal pleasures before dying and leaving them all in this mess. Oh, and don't forget, there will be a scene where she sneaks off into the library for a moment of peace, only to stumble upon the hero there. He will marvel at her oh-so-unusual interest in the classics, recognizing at once that Marian, despite being only 16, is immediately special and amazing.

Our hero Gilbert Collingwood, Lord Ingraham, is a diplomat who is involved in some mild intrigue that will only come up to haunt him later in the story - we need something to generate some excitement once the couple is done holding hands and inspecting each other's tonsils, after all - and he shows up at Marian's home as a guest of her brother Percy. Percy also brings home a fat and obnoxious guy who is rich enough to qualify as a bridegroom for Marian's pretty sister. Never mind that the sister in question is too busy making eyes at the local vicar who is a church mouse is every way - someone has to rescue the family for their impending penury, and heaven forbid that Percy sacrifices his own arse at the sacrificial altar.

Marian knows that this Christmas may be the last one for all of them, what with the debt collectors about to descend and all, but alas, it seems like there is no shortage of pandemonium at the Wynswich homefront.

In a way, I don't blame Marian for turning out the way she does. She seems to be the only sane person in the family, apart from Percy. The younger brother has already been expelled from Eton and he is determined to be as useless as possible. Ariadne, the pretty sister, is also useless, and let's not even mention the mother. These are all stock Regency romance characters, nothing new here, but their collective uselessness places a great burden on Marian's shoulders. The thing is, Marian is only 16, almost 17, and she acts like it. The trouble here is that, she thinks that she knows everything, but that is not always the case. Therefore, this story is one where the heroine is more often than not wrong, and she is also dragged in all directions by her family members. I don't blame the poor darling for being immature, considering her age, but she is stuck in a role where she tries to play the grown-up only to often flounder or be manipulated by other people, and I end up feeling tad sorry for her.

As for Lord Ingraham, he is 28. His relationship with Marian is hard for me to believe, because Marian is and acts 16. Am I to believe that this fellow, who has far more experience about the world than Marian can ever dream of, will actually marry this sheltered and naïve young girl for love? The maturity gap between them is too wide and he treats her more like a big brother than a boyfriend. I can see him marrying her for practical purposes, such as for money, but for love? I don't know.

Marian's Christmas Wish is a well-written book, but then again, Carla Kelly always has a nice way with words. It's just that, this time around, nice prose can't make up for the very clichéd characters and story, and the situation is worsened by a romance that never rings real to me.

Rating: 66


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