Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton (5 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
It's a hard life, being a book addict with picky tastes. On the positive side of things, however, the challenge makes it all the better when I find a storyline that very much appeals to me. Edith Layton's To Wed a Stranger is one of these storylines, with a marriage-of-convenience plot at it's finest. Ultimately what we have here are two people who have forced themselves to become pragmatic over the years. They marry as strangers, everything goes to hell, and - against all possible odds - they come to mean everything to each other.

The heroine is a twenty seven year old woman is widely considered the most beautiful lady in London. And that is the root of almost all of her problems. I haven't read any of the other books in the series, but the descriptions of her past seemed to suggest she was a society lady through and through, someone who was flirtatious and shallow. How she turned out makes complete sense, though. It's been reinforced all her life that her beauty is the single most important thing about herself, between what her mother's advice, the lustful glances of men, and the jealousy of other women that occurred as she grew into womanhood. As a result, she truly can't understand why the first man she had a crush for, nor the other men she's chased over the years, have never been interested in her. She goes along with the hero's proposal, presented through her father, solely to stop the gossip on why she's never married at her "advanced" age. The hero, meanwhile, chose the heroine because she seemed to be the best fit for his plans. He wants a wife who's comfortable with society so that she will be able to help his sister have a successful come out, as well as someone that can help manage the rest of his family. And he figures, if he has to marry someone, he might as well choose one of the most beautiful women he knows. Seems logical to me ;). So they marry, having only spent a little time together, and it ends up being awkward in the extreme. The hero tries to make the best of his wedding night, but with the heroine being a virgin and her feelings being unattached, she doesn't really understand intimacy and is confused more than anything else about their first attempt at sex. Needless to say, it does not go well. The next few days they are excruciating polite with each other, and it doesn't take long for them to realize that trying to force a marriage between near strangers is a very bad idea.  Almost right away, the heroine catches a virus that causes her to become deathly ill. The treatments she's subjected to wreck havoc on her beauty, which pretty much sets up the rest of the story. The heroine has to get over the shame and shock of, at least for a number of months, having drastically altered looks. Which is much more significant than it sounds, considering she basically bases her personal identity on her physical beauty. The hero is a very caring and charming companion, both when she's sick and during her long road of recovery, but it's over a similar long journey that his feelings turn from responsibility and pity to admiration of the heroine's personality and eventually love. The romance conflict starts to get angsty toward the final chapters of the novel, but it is resolved before it builds up too much steam. I was initially a bit bothered by the romance subplot resolution, but - upon reflection - I rather enjoyed the author's tenancy to express emotions with less dialogue. The final external conflict was plausible and worked out pretty well.

Edith Layton's To Wed a Stranger was a great read. It forces the reader to ponder the realities of marriage-of-conveniences and the relative important assigned to a woman's physical beauty, all the while portraying an unlikely yet meaningful romance story about a marriage gone right.

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