Review of THE IDEAL BRIDE by Stephanie Laurens (see her website)
William Morrow, March 2004
Michael Anstruther-Wetherby has a challenge. There's an opportunity to move into the British cabinet, but only if he can do so as a married man--married to the right kind of woman. Because in 1825 England, women control society and can make or break a man's career. Michael identifies a candidate, Elizabeth, the daughter of a neighbor, and moves in. But his plans don't take into account the schemes of Elizabeth's aunt Caro. Elizabeth has fallen in love with another man and begs Caro to help her fend Michael off. Caro is willing and her plan works--sort of. Because Michael is soon convinced that Elizabeth isn't his perfect bride after all--Caro is.
Caro has never really recovered from her marriage to an aging diplomat. Although she was successful as a society hostess and made her late husband even more powerful, she has always known that he married her only for her political insights and not out of love. As a widow, Caro has a certain power--power she's sworn never to give up by marrying another. Michael may be sexy and strong, she might even consider an affair with him, but marriage--never. Of course, Michael isn't going to give up on his goals. But he'll take whatever path comes open and an affair sounds like the perfect first step. Things really get complicated, though, when Michael discovers that someone is trying to kill Caro.
Author Stephanie Laurens (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Laurens) writes a steamy-sexy story. Caro is an interesting damaged character--filled with strength but still wounded from her former marriage. Michael is a fine alpha hero, fiercely protective of his woman and forceful in his lovemaking. Fans of Laurens' books will find a lot to like here, including appearances from some of the Cynster men who were heros in earlier novels.
Several errors pulled me out of the story (note: this review is based on an early review copy. Some or all of these may have been corrected in the published volume). Although it's a minor point, the Austrian general who claims that Austria has no seacoast is living in the post-World War I world rather than in 1825 when the book is set. At that time, the Austrian empire included much of northern Italy (including Venice) and Croatia. It had a seacoast and a navy. Later, Caro refers to Michael as a 'prehistoric caveman.' That term hadn't yet been introduced. More fundamentally, I found the action-packed conclusion to be unconvincing. Surely the intelligent Caro could have come up with a smarter plan to save her love. Also, alpha heros are a matter of taste but I think Michael's decision not to tell Caro about the pellets in her horse (which almost killed her) and his plan to get her pregnant were both unattractive. In contrast, Caro is a highly likable character who's easy to identify with and cheer for as she faces her own problems and the deadly threat to her life.
If you like sexy stories set in an England where the aristocracy still reigns supreme, where manners still matter and where a woman's every gesture can be packed with meaning, you'll find a lot to like in THE IDEAL BRIDE.
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