A Necessary Bride
by Debra Mullins, historical (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81909-0


A Necessary Bride is a typical example of the Great Generic that Avon churns out regularly every month like literary Big Macs, but it is nonetheless a pretty enjoyable book. It's predictable, it's familiar, but the hero Justin St James is simply adorable. His ward Emily is adorable - acts her age (twelve) without being too unnaturally sage or irritatingly childish. The weakest link, however, is always the heroine, and in this case, Margaret Stanton-Lynch drives me up the wall as the unbearably perky, very contemporary Mizzie Sweet Valley High wearing a Regency era dress. Actually, I don't think I can stand the heroine even if this is a contemporary romance. She's just annoying to the extreme.

Don't believe me? Here's Mizzie Margie's advice to Justin when it comes to child-rearing (bear in mind that she's a young virginal American bluestocking): "Try talking to her, my lord. To her, not at her. You're too angry to deal compassionately with Emily right now, which is what she needs."

Somebody please take those DIY parenting psychology books away from Ms Mullins. They are making her write scary heroines.

Mizzie Margie is in England to witness her friend's wedding when she notices a devilishly handsome guest that causes people to talk in scandalized tones. That man is Justin, some Earl who is accused of the murder of his brother's wife. Mizzie Margie, our enlightened Liberty, Equality, Fratenity, Stupidity type, doesn't know him at first but is charmed by his looks. He, on the other hand, is intrigued by a woman who doesn't stare at him like he is the devil incarnate. As he investigates the truth behind the Harlot's death (trust me, dead women are never the hero's fault, they are all Harlots), our heroine starts becoming the perfect mommy to his ward and they fall in love. But he doesn't tell her he loves her, so she must never tell him back even as she happily has sex with him and then chalks it all up to her American passion for hands-on educational experiences. If you're one of those readers who cannot stand perky heroines who behave like overearnest twenty-first century American teenagers draped up in a Regency dress and running amok all over London, steel yourself - it'll be a painful ride ahead.

Justin is a nice hero. The author really succeeds in bringing out his insecurities and alienation from his peers. He may growl and bluster a lot, but he's essentially a nice and even kind man who doesn't know what to do with lil' kids and perky heroines but is willing to learn. I like him, and while his investigative methodology won't be winning Ms Mullins any awards from mystery fans, he's not so bad. But he's also a sucker for punishment - he keeps begging and begging and begging the heroine to marry him, but of course, our heroine won't! Never! Because he doesn't say he loves her (even when his actions all point towards that), so never! Besides, Stephanie Laurens made a career out of this irritating dingdong-teasing heroine antics, so probably the Avon editor straps all her midlist authors onto the pillory and force them all to write these sort of things in their books. Whatever it is, it only intensifies my irritation at the heroine.

Mizzie Margie is a mess. Sometimes she's Martha Stewart and Emily Post all rolled in one, offering advice that seems to be lifted out of a self-improvement book. Sometimes she is an unbearably perky and stupid heroine who does things that nobody with at least one brain cell will do. She's not a character as much as an irritating plot device that veers psychotically from Braindead Brat to Irritating Ingenue to Momma Materna with no rhyme or coherence to make her real. She has lots of advice for everything but her brainpower is down the drain.

At the end of the day, A Necessary Bride is an enjoyable kind of generic, but the heroine makes it really hard on me to like this book. If only a carriage has run down the heroine ten pages into the book! Now that will be a book to savor.

Rating: 75


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