How To Wed A Baron
by Kasey Michaels, historical (2010)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77463-0
How To Wed A Baron is the fourth and last book in the author's series about the Daughtry family, although the characters here do not belong to that family and the only tenuous connection this book has with the previous three is that the hero, Justin Wilde, is a secondary character in the previous book. Therefore, it is not too surprising that this one makes a fine standalone story, with minimal reference to previous books in the series and the characters from those books swarming the tale only late in this story.
Justin Wilde, the Bad Baron, is actually an interesting character. When he was younger, he was Society's darling, at least up to that moment when he killed a fellow gentleman in a duel. Forced into exile, he eventually ended up as one of England's more successful assassins. When the story opens, he is given a chance by the Prince Regent to be officially pardoned for his crime and to be accepted by the Ton again. All he has to do is to marry Lady Magdalèna "Alina" Evinka Nadeja Valentin, the ward of King Francis of Austria. Alina believes that this is just a political alliance to cement diplomatic ties between the two countries, and she personally looks forward to getting some degree of independence away from her aunt after her marriage to Justin. However, Justin soon learns that there is more than meets the eye in this situation. He and Alina aren't just pawns in a game involving diplomacy and trade agreements - someone is out to kill Alina, and the poor dear has no idea that she is actually a pawn in a larger-scale game of political intrigue. Can the Crown's celebrated assassin now save her from his fellow assassins?
The author's books are always very talk-heavy - her characters really love to talk - and I personally feel that her better books are those where there is a good balance between all that chatter and some action. Here, however, the scale tips very heavily towards the talking, and let's face it, talking can be just another way of telling instead of showing. In this one, I find the characters constantly narrating things to each other. It doesn't matter that, often, these guys are telling each other things that they should already know - they love to tell each other their feelings, the details of the plot, their daily schedule, their thoughts about all and sundry, and more. Even the epilogue sees the characters narrating events that have happened between the last chapter and the epilogue! Perhaps all this talking is necessary because the plot can be complicated enough, but still, this method ends up telling me more of what these characters are saying than what they are feeling.
As a result, I have no idea why Alina and Justin can fall in love with each other. The obvious answer would be that they probably talk themselves into doing so, but I don't think that is the answer we are looking for. I only know that they are somehow in love with each other and Justin, without much ado, is declaring that he's willing to die for her. That's nice, his intentions, but because I have no idea what makes him tick, I can only wonder whether he's a silly fool or a sentimental fool.
Both he and Alina are actually quite interesting characters. He is an assassin who hides his angst so well from the world behind a jovial mask that it actually takes the wife a while to realize that he's determined to atone for his sins by becoming a martyr for her. I love that scene where he tells Alina to stop trying to blame his sins on his sad past or his unfaithful late wife - it's rare to find a hero who is determined to carry the cross in a low-key and private manner. Most angst-ridden heroes tend to make a huge dramatic production out of their issues, so Justin is actually an interesting take on such a hero. As for Alina, she may seem bratty and impetuous at first, but she is actually a sharp woman who can see through Justin's mask and is mature enough to realize that the hero cares for her even if he doesn't say the L word out loud. Unfortunately, she can be too sensible, to the point that there is hardly any internal conflict in this story beyond the initial awkward breaking the ice. This normally won't be so problematic, but in this book, this only means more talking between Alina and Justin.
Reading How To Wed A Baron more like eavesdropping on a bunch of very talkative people than anything else. At the end of the day, I still have not much idea as to who these people really are or what really makes them tick. Needless to say, this is not a very memorable read.
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