The Officer's Bride
by Merline Lovelace, Deborah Simmons, and Julia Justiss; historical (2001)
Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83465-9

I know the Regency subgenre can get pretty involved when it comes to the heroine's virtue. Chastity, charity, and fidelity. But the three heroines in this anthology pretty much jump off the cliff where virtue is concerned. It is one thing to be a stickler of propriety and honor of vows, but these women are happy enough to be martyrs for the smallest causes.

Maybe the sniggering critics are right: women are more dumb-dumb back then.

Merline Lovelace's The Major's Wife eats the moron cake. Marianne married Charles right before the latter rushed off to play hero in the Crimean War. Now Charles is back, a war hero (of course), and Marianne insists that he divorces her.

Why? Apparently because they married because she was to give him kiddies. Now, after a miscarriage, she couldn't bear any kids anymore. So, she can't fulfil her part of the bargain. He must divorce her! And find someone else!

Naturally, Charles is appalled. Does this woman know the repercussions of divorce on a woman? He wants her, he loves her, why can't she see that? But no, Marianne wants a divorce. She wants one and she wants it now!

I really have to shake my head at this one. It is one thing if Marianne has a clear idea of what she is doing. She doesn't. She says that her charity work (*sigh*) and her memories of Charles, whom she loves, will sustain her to the bitter end. Oi, twit, for a woman who works 24/7 on helping orphan babies, Marianne seems oblivious to the fact that should she be divorced, no charity would want anything to do with her.

So the story has Charles trying his best to coddle Marianne. "Come on, darling, let's not divorce... let's play pumpies instead!" And after all Charles does for her, Marianne blinks and asks Charles, "But... why do you want to marry me?"

Me? I'm all for Charles tossing this mad woman onto the streets, so that she will die happy. But since he insists on keeping her, I have only one thing to say. Charles, feed your wife gingko biloba before her brain shrivels up completely.

Next, Deborah Simmons' The Companion. Best of the lot, brainiest heroine of the bunch. Chloe, a poor relation, is tricked into playing companion to war hero Kit Armstrong. Kit is Tortured. How do I know? He has a limp leg. He may be limp in his third leg too. Maybe. Kit thinks (rightly) that Chloe is a pawn in his overbearing mother's matchmaking machinations, and tries his best to drive her away.

Chloe is a stereotypical heroine: thinks nothing of giving her all to a selfish father whom she thinks the world of, thinks nothing of doing the same for overbearing aunts and handsome but bad-tempered growly men. But Deborah Simmons' story is fun, although I wonder why Chloe can't just pack up and sell her literacy skills as a tutor in more hospitable environments. Then again, Regency heroines. What do they know, eh? Put them in one place, tell them not to move, and they'd probably starve at that same place waiting for you to come back and collect them.

And finally, Julia Justiss' An Honest Bargain. This one takes the Most Twisted Heroine Award. Audra, a widow, is in dire straits. Her gambling-mad husband has croaked, leaving her with a pile of debts. The debtors insinuate that she pays them with what's between her legs. Audra immediately clams her legs shut and shrieks, "No way!" But stuck in a war camp with no funds to go back to England, what is she to do?

Her husband's friend Bryan offers her money.

"But, what will people think?" she shrieks.

Woman, you need money to get out of here. Priorities, please. Take the freaking money.

Bryan offers to marry her. No big deal. He's always in love with her.

"I'm marrying you not because you are a titled man!" she declares. (He isn't anyway.)

Here, my forehead hit the table with a loud thunk.

Hey, I know Audra is a good woman. No need to trumpet it to me at the strangest of times. And can we deal with reality here? Audra has no money. She needs to get out. Bryan offers money. If she's suspicious, I'm okay with that reaction. It's human. But here is Audra fretting over what people in England or in this camp will think.

The story moves on all four tranquilized legs on a predictable course. Bryan thinks she is still in love with her late husband and will not force his attentions on her. Audra thinks he doesn't want her because he doesn't touch her and now she feels bad at forcing him into marriage with him. He thinks she is definitely mad at him for forcing her into marriage when she withdraws from him. And she thinks she is right when he pulls away farther, and starts whipping herself even more.

And of course, the story makes no sense. How could Bryan not know that Audra's husband Jeremy was a wastrel? They're friends. Or is this a case of the author making to put in as many plot contrivances as possible, logic be damned? Oh, and Jeremy is lousy in bed. Didn't see that one coming, didja?

Frankly, if I want a story like this one, Jane Ashford did it much better in her full-length The Marriage Wager. Or heck, Marjorie Farrell's Red, Red Rose.

And Audra is not human. She is a robot programmed to squeak and behave according to some Virtue Agenda, regardless of whether it is logical or not. Her priorities are definitely screwed up: desperate, in need of money, facing threats of rape from unsavory colonels, and she still wants to make sure that she marries for love. Idiot? Me thinks definitely.

To conclude, the three heroines in this anthology are not human. They display no survival instincts, and act in a preprogrammed manner according to the Stupid Rules, even if adhering such rules will make them lemmings rushing towards the sea. I know some readers - many, maybe - love this sort of thing. I could - but I'm not so petty as to read stories just to feel superior to the idiot females in this story. I do wonder though, don't these authors' critique partners, especially Ms Lovelace's, actually take time to point out how the heroine is behaving stupidly?

Technically, these stories are superior. They are readable. But apparently the agenda here, apart from romance, is to put idiot martyr melodrama back in style. Again, let me say that The Officer's Bride is better off retitled The Officer's Loyal Doggies. It is a sad day, but I really can't see the difference between these heroines and loyal spaniels. Feed these women well, guys, because I doubt they can fend for themselves.

Rating: 62

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