Puritan widow, Charity Frey, values her independence, but knows that she needs a man to protect her property and her two precious sons. In an effort to avoid an unwanted marriage to a man she loathes, Charity decides to buy a bondsman to serve as her protector. Upon arriving at the auction block, she is immediately drawn to a wild-looking man. In spite of his disheveled appearance, he stirs her blood like no one ever has before.
Rafe Trehearne was a British soldier accused of treason, but because of his noble blood he was allowed to be sold as an indentured servant rather than being executed. From the moment he saw the lovely lady, Rafe burned with passion for her. When Charity proposes that they marry for the sake of convenience, he'll take nothing less than her body and his freedom in return, but Rafe has always been unsettled in spirit and cannot promise that he'll stay with her for good.
Based on the synopsis, I really thought that The Wedding Bargain was going to be a book that I would enjoy mainly because of the unusual nature of the setting and characters. There aren't a whole lot of romances set in the American Colonial period to be found, so that alone was intriguing to me. Add to that a Puritan heroine who is struggling with a desire to be independent from her male-dominated society and a hero who is her indentured servant, and you have the makings of what sounds to be a fascinating book. Unfortunately, the setting never truly came alive for me, I had difficulty connecting with the characters, and ultimately, the book was a rather lackluster read for me.
I will admit that the author has a way with colorful words and phrases which was definitely handy for describing natural settings and changing seasons, but when it came to everything else, I felt like even though the words were English, I was reading through a cryptic haze of metaphors and symbolism that could have been a foreign language. I also have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but there were words used with which even I was not familiar and occasionally questioned whether it was a legitimate word or not. To me, it almost seemed like the author was simply showing off her knowledge of big words or maybe was randomly choosing them from a thesaurus rather than writing in an understandable way. There were significant time jumps between scenes and even within a scene a character might be one place and in the next paragraph be somewhere else entirely with no details to bridge the gap. At times, the characters might be conversing or doing something, but then their next words or actions left me scratching my head in bewilderment, wondering what I'd missed. I'm not sure if this was the case, but the story felt like one that had been over-edited without checking for continuity afterwards, leaving lots of little holes which weakened its structure.
The author's overall writing style left something to be desired as well. The narrative was rather choppy, lacking a smooth flow, with some sentences being fairly well constructed and others overly simplistic and lacking in details. The ratio of narrative to dialog was unbalanced as well. Usually, well-written dialog will help to create a strong connection between the characters, while also letting the reader in on things that they might be feeling or thinking. In this case, there was too little of it, and the dialog that existed was pretty weak in my opinion. Although it wasn't obvious from the outset and took me a while to analyze why, the narrative is also extremely passive. Overuse of "be" verbs is a sure sign of telling, not showing, and that was one problem here. The other, more difficult to identify issue was that the author assigned actions to emotions and inanimate objects rather than the character themselves, as well as an overuse of passive verbs such as "felt." I kept wanting to reach into the book and drag the characters into the action of their own story, because as written, it just seemed like they were simply being propelled along with little rhyme or reason as to what they were doing.
As I mentioned earlier, I never really connected with the hero and heroine in the way I thought I should have. Rafe was a tortured hero in both body and mind, but one had to look pretty closely to actually realize that. I just never felt an emotional link with him like I do with most tortured heroes. He seems to have some form of PTSD, but I found his flashbacks and dreams being interspersed with current reality highly confusing. Waiting for the tidbits of Rafe's past to be revealed became rather tedious, and when it did happen, those moments were usually something of a letdown. I also found it rather odd that for an Englishman, born an aristocrat, he didn't really act much like one. I have to admit that I'm still quite befuddled by precisely how Rafe came to be accused of treason and sold as a bondsman and then later, all was apparently forgiven, nor how he became friends with the Indian warrior, Tewah except that they were both being held captive at the same time and Rafe supposedly saved his life. Charity was someone I thought I would be able to relate to, but I still had difficulty figuring her out sometimes. She is a Puritan widow who is beginning to question some aspects of her faith and desires independence as a woman, but needs a man in order to protect her property and her two young sons. In my opinion, her struggles with her religious beliefs needed more depth to be truly engaging. With Charity, I was once again perplexed by a hint early in the story that she might have some fear of drunken men, but nothing was ever revealed and that possibility wasn't pursued any further. As for Rafe and Charity's relationship, I had trouble investing myself in that as well. As with most romances, there is an instant physical attraction right from the start. They then marry more for the sake of convenience with Rafe only agreeing to marry Charity if she gives him his freedom and full marital rights, but only promising to stay until he has a reason to go. That was definitely not very comforting or romantic, and at no point in the story do I recall Rafe ever saying the words, "I love you" to Charity which is an absolute must for me in a romance novel.
The secondary characters had me just as dazed and confused as the hero and heroine if not more so. Considering that many of them were Puritan colonists, I thought a number of them acted rather badly. The minister was supposedly a drunken womanizer. Some of the other men also engage in drinking, occasional cursing (even Charity's boys), fist-fighting, and lots of angry arguing. I know that even religious people aren't perfect, but I always thought the Puritans were pretty buttoned-up. I was also surprised at some of the women speaking so freely in front of the men. With the exception of Charity who was testing her independence, I would have expected them to be more submissive. All of this made their characterizations very odd indeed. The minister's sister, Leah, was nothing but mean to Charity right from the start, but about 2/3 of the way in, she too decided to follow Charity's lead. Some revelations came to light which I think were meant to make her sympathetic at that point, but it was too quick of a turn-around for me. Charity's twins, Isaac and Benjamin were cute enough, but again seemed awfully mischievous for kids who were raised by a devout Puritan father until his recent death. The circumstances of Charity's husband's demise was yet another thing that was about as clear as mud.
Last but not least there was a lot of political commentary on the state of affairs between the English, French, Indians, and colonists that could have really brought the historical aspects of the story to life, but instead it ended up being rather dull and boring. There was even a battle which was so short-lived as to be nearly negligible. Overall, The Wedding Bargain wasn't as frustratingly unreadable as some books I've tried, but it definitely left something to be desired. I could certainly see the potential in the story, but in my opinion, the plot needed to be more fully developed to fill in some of the blank spots. It also needed better character development to make their actions more understandable, and some honing and polishing of the writing style to make them a more active part of their own story. If all these things had been improved, I think it would have been a pretty good read. The Wedding Bargain was my first novel by Emily French, and while it wasn't a terrible book, it was mediocre enough to give me pause about the possibility of reading any more from her.
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