His Scandalous Duchess

A Noble Heart

An Improper Bride by Sara Blayne
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN0-8217-6775-5
Lady Elfrida Rochelle is not only a firm believer in the Zodiac, but also fancies herself a prognosticator. Therefore, when she glimpses the dashing Guy Herrick, Earl of Shields in her great-grandmama’s crystal ball she is positive of two things - 1. He is her “karmically predetermined, astrological perfect mate” and 2. He is in grave danger! Naturally, Elfrida makes haste for London to protect him.

Shields is a man with more pressing concerns. His dear departed friend, Lord Hepplewaite, had the misfortune of turning up dead, having been found impaled with a sword and burnt to a crisp. Shields also finds himself wearying of his mistress’ company, as it has become apparent to him that she only is using him for money. Even with these concerns to occupy his thoughts, he can’t help but notice a delectable raven-haired woman following him about town? Who is this “Goddess of Beauty” and what is her motive?

If not for the fact that I had to review An Improper Bride, I wouldn’t have made it past the first chapter. The writing is so over top, that “flowery” doesn’t even begin to describe it. One expects a certain amount of period language in a Regency, but after mere pages, my eyes began to glaze over. No one drinks, they imbibe. Hepplewaite isn’t murdered, a “period is put to his existence.” Shields isn’t in danger of being killed, rather “someone wants to cut his stick.” Not to mention the repeated mentioning of astrological signs, “karmically predetermined, astrological perfect mate,” “Twin Souls,” along with the abundance of exclamation points. And the love scenes? Purple doesn’t begin to describe gems like “primordial passions,” “swollen petals,” and “male member flaccid with spent passion.”

Along with the overwrought writing, the characters further sunk this story into one heart territory. Elfrida is supposedly headstrong, intelligent, beautiful, etc. I found her flighty, foolish, and just plain annoying. Her vague visions not only show her that Shields is her “karmically predetermined, astrological perfect mate,” but also that she must never marry him. For you see, that would of course mean his certain death.

Annoying aside, I held out hope that Elfrida would become tolerable as the story wore on. No such luck. After staying awake through almost 100 pages, the couple finally meets. Elfrida is shocked to realize that Shields doesn’t recall who she is. Even though they only met once, at a party, eight years ago! How could he not remember his “karmically predetermined, astrological perfect mate?”

Shields is a bit more tolerable, except for the fact that he humors Elfrida for entirely too long, which turns out to be for the whole book. He listens earnestly as she relays her dreams/visions, he takes them as fact, and off they go searching for the truth. This of course lands them in one adventure after another, which makes up their entire courtship.

The mystery angle in An Improper Bride really isn’t half bad, but it barely held my interest, as I had to slog through pages of mind-numbing writing and a heroine who could probably add a few more definitions to the word flaky. To say I was happy when I finally read the last page would be an understatement.

--Wendy Crutcher

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