by Edith Layton, historical (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-050218-5
The reader will have to be either very patient or enthralled with the characters of this book trying to upstage each other in being the Most Proper and Most Virtuous in order to enjoy this book, because frankly, if the hero and the heroine didn't get in trouble late in the story, they'd still be circling each other and lamenting about Why They Cannot Be Loved Like They Love.
Camille Croft loves Eric Ford with all the heart and devotion her virtuous and virginal heart and soul will allow. Camille is a wonderful heroine, so wonderful that her halo is radiant, shiny, and pure. Ms Layton tries to bluff me by having Camille admit that she is beautiful, but I soon notice that for every word Camille has about her self-worth, she puts out three words to depreciate herself - she is not feminine, oh my, she is not too beautiful, et cetera.
Our hero, Eric Ford, has malaria. He contracted it while fighting abroad, the usual. How can he subject Camille to a husband thus flawed, a husband whose pedigree deems him not worthy of Camille to boot?
She loves him. She wants him. But he doesn't show her any sign, so oh, what can she do but to lament in private - she loves him! As for him, the song he is playing is old and predictable.
So what happens when he rescues a prostitute named Nell (these women are always named Nell)? Nell is beautiful. Will Eric fall in love with Nell? Camille, in a fit of jealousy, decides to take Nell in so that Nell doesn't stay too close to Eric. But soon she becomes Nell's best friend and egalitarianism soon becomes Camille very much.
So there they go, like three silly puppies in a young adult novel. Camille is either in love with Eric, jealous over Eric and Nell, or bombarding me in the head with how wonderful she is because she wants Nell to wear pretty dresses and walk the doggies with her. Eric doesn't say the correct things to her, and they dance around each other again and again and again until I wish Nell will turn out to be a psycho and do a Single Brown Cow thing to liven up the story.
Late in the story when the story takes a predictable path (how do authors take the easy way out of love triangles in their story?), only then does To Tempt A Bride comes to life like a sudden gunshot after hours of dreary boredom. At least then the tedious brown cow antics come to a halt and Eric starts doing things to save Camille instead of standing around and moping. Even then, Camille remains an irritating heroine. Does she has any thought in her head that doesn't revolve around Eric? If she has, it's not in this book, that's for sure.
The most interesting character in this book is Nell. Ms Layton tries very hard to demonize Nell, but she misses the point: Nell is everything Camille isn't, and in a way, Nell is a better character than Camille if we overlook the rigid strictures of the Regency Novel Morality Codex here. "Virtuous" Camille is selfless and self-depreciative and totally self-absorbed in her infatuation with Eric that she is hopelessly bland and tiresome in her helplessness and codependency on Eric to prop her up all the time. "Evil" Nell, on the other hand, is a survivor, a woman that seizes opportunity that comes to drag herself out of her quagmire instead of waiting for Eric to come and do it for her. No matter how low Nell sinks in this story, she is still a more interesting character than Camille, and to me, I'd rather read about Nell doing nasty things than to read about Camille gasping and sighing over Eric like a simpering brown cow.
To Tempt A Bride is a good example of why I can really dislike some Regency novels: the stories come off like preachy morality tales about responsibilities of the Selfless and Humble Woman, but sometimes, as in the case of the book, the author mixes up virtuous behavior with clingy helplessness, bland self-depreciation, unrealistic selflessness, and stoic inertia because good women are too nice to do anything improper to help themselves in life. I have a hunch that many readers of Regency books will adore Camille and despise Nell, but me, it's the other way around.
Fans of Edith Layton, Mary Balogh, the usual suspects - knock yourself out. Don't mind me, I'm just the ogress commiserating about the fact that, at the end of the book, even after Camille has realized that she is worth it after her ordeal, she still insists that Eric deserves better than she. Now that kind of behavior really annoys the heck out of me. Down with these horribly self-depreciating brown cows!
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