by Barbara Metzger, historical (2004)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20859-5
Other than a very predictable novella, I have never read anything by Barbara Metzger before. Wedded Bliss is her debut historical Regency as opposed to her usual traditional Regency novels, and since I've heard plenty of good things about the author, I am looking forward to reading it. I can report that while I believe that the author can write very well, if this book is anything to go by, I loathe Wedded Bliss. I hate it. I won't wish the hero on my worst enemy - ever.
Hypocritical, unfaithful, jerk, and as warm as a dead snake left in the Polar caps, Robert Rothmore, the Earl of Rockford, is infuriated when his forty-year old sister Eleanor, who has been his unpaid nanny and chateleine all this while, decides to elope with the steward. Grumbling, cursing, he goes to his estate of Rock Hill to look for that son of his, William, that is said to be missing. He doesn't even recognize William, but he is outraged when the neighbor Mrs Henning is said to have kidnapped him. He charges to the Henning household only to meet Alissa Henning, the subgenre's standard saintly martyr woman with two kids and a zillion problems that will eventually necessitate her marriage to Robert out of convenience. But Robert is so cold and emotionally stunted that she has her entire work cut out trying to make this marriage work. At the end of the day, when Robert's own callous neglect and selfishness cause her to undergo one last trial at the hands of the villains, I don't know why she even bother with that man.
Despite being a standard martyr heroine, Alissa is likeable. She knows that Robert is a jerk - that guy spends years ignoring his own children just because he suspects that they belong to his late-wives' lovers. In fact, Alissa actually sympathizes with those late wives and can relate to why those women run away. Ms Metzger, therefore is very aware of what a jerk her hero is and this story is her attempt at portraying the reformation of the disagreeable and utterly unpleasant Robert Rothmore. But by the last page, the man is still a selfish boor who believes that the world revolves around him. There is absolutely no redeeming feature to this man other than the fact that he gives her better orgasms than her late husband - he expects her to be at his beck and call while he takes her for granted and ignores her to the point that he humiliates her as well as prevents her from telling him about the threats on her well-being. It is a very bad mistake on the author's part to end this book with Robert telling Alissa that he never "intend to write", which only reminds me one last time how hateful this man is as well as how unconvincing his last-minute reformation is.
Alissa is a sympathetic heroine in that she really has no choice but to play the martyr as the author stacks the odds against her so much. To Ms Metzger's credit, Alissa tries to improve her circumstances and even when she's playing the martyr, she is always sensible and intelligent enough to make well-thought decisions with both eyes open. Robert, on the other hand, is a cold-hearted emotionally closeted and even sociopathic jerk who for too long causes Alissa as much misery as the nasty and smelly cartoon villains do in this story.
Because of the disgraceful example of a man that is the hero, Wedded Bliss comes off more like a story about an unhappy marriage of convenience in the making rather than a convincing romance story. It is easy to imagine that eventually Robert will resume cheating on Alissa, neglecting her, and treating her with contempt once the novelty of sleeping with her wears off, and worse, it is just as easy to imagine Alissa's sense of honor forcing her to try again and again to make her doomed marriage work for the sake of her children. Depressing and very disappointing, Wedded Bliss is Barbara Metzger starting off her historical Regency debut on the wrong foot. I can only hope that her next book will feature a less dysfunctional relationship.
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