The Wedding Duel
by Karen L King, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7413-1


"Honey, I'm not pregnant."

"Liar."

Thonk!

And so the hero dies of a concussion, our heroine, now a barnacle without a host, dies of guilt and starvation and thirst soon after, and this story ends in a jubilant note.

Okay, if the above is in this story, The Wedding Duel will be a keeper. Karen L King can do a decent beginning and ending, but she just cannot sustain a plot without having her characters reenacting a plot contrivance from hell. Plot contrivances such as this one should deserve their own circle in Hell for being so stupid.

Seriously, Sophie Farthing (now, Mrs G, it's not nice to make fun of Soapy Far... oops) and Keene Davis are morons. Keene doesn't start that way - he starts out wounding the bastard who impregnated his friend Amelia. Keene's father takes this indiscretion as an excuse to force Keene to marry Sophie for all the usual marriage of convenience reasons. Sophie of course will never marry for anything but love, she is a tomboy, but lookee here, she's been in love with Keene even before she hits puberty!

Then the crap meets the fan. Sophie is overheard announcing that she has fallen from Grace. Grace is her horse. But everyone, including Keene, believes that she is pregnant. (No, she's not pregnant with the horse's baby.) Even after she has said no, she's not pregnant, he still believes her to be pregnant, and even better, she's now lying! Of course, our noble hero will gladly accept the son that isn't his. He'll just, you know, be a little cold and distant to his wife. Sophie, naturally, is hurt and bewildered because her Love Forever Guy isn't behaving the way he should be.

In the meantime, remember Keene's pregnant friend? Amelia and George have issues too. George cannot accept his wife's kid, to the point that he won't even look at the poor kid. Amelia, naturally, suffers because it's her fault. Well, it's her fault, yes, but if you ask me, there's a limit to letting a man act like a complete ass even after you've shown enough remorse to be canonized as a female saint. If Amelia has taken a frying pan and lets it rip to that mule, this book too will be so much better for it.

I won't dismiss this book entirely as the resolution of the whole painfully contrived mess is done in a surprisingly well done and mature manner. In that, Ms King is well aware of the faults of her characters and she isn't afraid to make them grovel or admit that they have been losers and jerks. But at the same time, the women in their misguided "female virtue" let the men run amok with their antics and really, do we even need this contrived oops-pregnant-not thing in the first place? There's enough in this book to convince me that the weaknesses in The Wedding Duel are more of an overplayed hand by the author rather than bad and inept plotting. Maybe her next book will show some maturity in plotting - we'll see.

Rating: 59


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