Dorian Camoys watched his mother go mad and die of an incurable brain disease. When he begins to develop the same symptoms, Dorian believes he is not long for this world and tries to shut himself away, but a tragic accident that kills his entire family leaves him as the sole heir to an earldom. As such, he is expected to produce an heir of his own, even though he would rather live out his final days in peace.
Gwendolyn Adams is the cousin of Dorian's best friend, Bertie, and a highly unconventional miss. She is an aspiring doctor who is absolutely fascinated with medical mysteries and wants nothing more than to open her own hospital. When Gwen is asked to marry Dorian, she sees it as an advantageous opportunity for both of them. At first, Dorian is reluctant, but Gwen's spirited nature quickly wins him over and she proves to be a very capable healer as well. Dorian and Gwen find themselves easily falling for one another, and offer loving support for the other's hopes and dreams, as Gwen races to find a "cure" for Dorian before his impending madness takes him from her forever.
A couple of years ago, I read and loved Loretta Chase's incomparable Lord of Scoundrels, but the next two of her books I read, definitely did not catch my fancy. Because of that, I went into reading The Mad Earl's Bride with a bit of trepidation, but this little novella has put Ms. Chase back on my watch list. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of the plot and characters.
Dorian, the hero believes that he is dying of the same incurable brain disease that apparently killed his mother, but not before making her go mad. He is tortured both by the knowledge of his impending madness and demise, as well as by ghosts of the past which haunt him. His grandfather tried to control the entire family, but I admired Dorian for standing his ground and not allowing the old earl to get the best of him even though it meant living in near poverty and performing menial labor for years. Dorian has a very acerbic wit that I enjoyed too. I loved Gwendolyn, the heroine. She has untamable red hair and isn't particularly attractive by the standards of the time. To make matters worse, Gwen is a woman aspiring to be a doctor in an era when that wasn't allowed, but she is a far more talented healer than most of the trained doctors they encounter. She is a total geek who absorbs medical knowledge like a sponge and can get really wrapped up in her studies, but she also has a lovely bedside manner, treating Dorian with the utmost care and concern. I thoroughly enjoyed Gwen's spunkiness and no-nonsense manner about everything, and how her passionate nature matched Dorian's measure for measure.
The interactions between these two are full of humor and refreshing honesty. Gwen admits right up front that she wants to marry Dorian to realize her dream of building a hospital, and he boils his acquiescence to marry her down to wanting sex after a year-long, self-imposed celibacy. I love how they both seem to intuitively understand each other, and a large part of their dialog was very snappy and witty. The geek in me can't resist citing this quote from Dorian to Gwen: "I spent hours yesterday talking of little but medical symptoms and insane asylums. And you listened as though it were poetry and all but swooned at my feet. It is too bad I don't have any medical treatises about. I'm sure I need read a paragraph or two, and you will become ravenous with lust and begin tearing my clothes off." There was another similar passage, both of which showed an understanding of classic geekiness at it's best, and made me totally LOL. In spite of some great dialog, there were a few places that it was a bit sluggish, and there were some narration heavy areas of the story that I thought also slowed the pace. I did figure out what Dorian's malady was fairly early on, but his mother's mysterious death kept me guessing.
Overall, I really liked The Mad Earl's Bride, mainly for it's unusual storyline, but also for the exploration of medical and psychological conditions in a historical setting, which fed my own geeky fascinations. The Mad Earl's Bride is the fourth story in a group of books usually known as the Scoundrels series. It is preceded by The Lion's Daughter, Captives of the Night, and Lord of Scoundrels, and followed by The Last Hellion. Gwen is a cousin of Jessica and Bertie Trent, and another unconventional granddaughter of Genevieve, all of whom first appeared in Lord of Scoundrels. The amusing, dim-witted Bertie plays a big part in this novella, and Dain the scrumptious hero of that book makes a cameo as well. After reading The Mad Earl's Bride, I am now finally looking forward to finishing the series. This novella was originally published in the anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss, and was later reprinted in the anthology Three Times a Bride.
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