While nineteen-year-old Lady Diana Fordham is waiting for her chaperone outside a milliner’s shop on Bond Street, she notices an acquaintance, a young French émigré, across the street. As she watches, two ruffians grab Miss de Vessay and pull her into the building behind her. Diana looks for help, but the only help around is the Marquis of Templeton, a notorious dandy and fop. Temple shrugs off Miss de Vessay’s plight and continues on his way.
Desperate, Diana dashes after her, only to discover that Temple has entered by a back door, rescued Miss de Vessay, and killed one of her assailants. His cover is blown; the Marquis is obviously more than the effete fool he pretends to be. Diana must acknowledge to herself that she is still in love with him, and she is determined to persuade him to love her in return.
What is notable about all this action is that it occurs in the Prologue. What more, I wondered, can happen to fill up the remaining 352 pages? All Diana has to do is tell Temple what she has seen - she was hidden in the shadows while the drama unfolded - and convince him that his dangerous trade of espionage is no barrier to their love. That should be good for another 100 pages, max.
I reckoned without Elizabeth Boyle’s ingenuity and outrageous story-telling knack. Not only did she have no trouble spinning out her tale for 352 pages, but for most part it proceeded at the pace she set in the prologue, one wild adventure after another.
The action begins again ten years after the Prologue. Diana is still unmarried and still trying to convince Temple that he should love her. Temple is still working as an agent for the Foreign Service, a job he needs to keep body and soul together. His grandfather, the Duke of Setchfield, disapproves of his occupation and has cut off his allowance. With only his meager earnings to support himself and his servant - unpaid for many a month - marriage is out of the question.
Diana is getting desperate. She is 29 and on the shelf. However, as an heiress, she has two suitors for her hand, both willing to overlook her advanced years if they can have control of her £15,000 per year. Neither Penham nor Nettlestone are attractive, but they are both socially acceptable and received everywhere. So Diana elopes with Viscount Cordell who isn’t attractive, isn’t socially acceptable and isn’t received anywhere.
Temple’s Foreign Service boss, Pymm, takes an inexplicable interest in Diana’s elopement. He hands Templeton a special license with the groom’s name left blank, and tells Temple to find Diana and see that she gets married, either to himself or to Penham or Nettlestone or to anyone else who is willing. With that, the chase is on, and pretty wild and woolly it is, too, as Diana encounters French agents, the Sheriff of Nottingham, a discarded fiancé, and a dog named Tully, not to mention the very conflicted Marquis of Templeton.
I had some problems with all this wild-and-wooly-ness. Call me a nitpicker, but when Cordell threw up on Diana, I wanted some sort of indication of discomfort on her part. Face it, that’s a nauseating experience, and most of us don’t carry on afterwards as though nothing had happened. Similarly, when Diana lands in a pile of barnyard manure, there is little mention of the smell and nastiness that must have resulted. She climbs right into a carriage and is driven away, apparently unaffected by her grimy condition.
More egregious lapses in logic affected my reading more strongly. For instance, if Temple’s father wanted to end his Foreign Service career, cutting off his allowance was counter-productive. Left penniless, Temple was forced to continue working for the Foreign Service long after he had tired of its perils. Since his grandfather objected to Temple’s risky profession because he was the heir to the dukedom, why didn’t the Duke just find him a less dangerous position with, say, the diplomatic corps?
If the Duke of Stechfield’s actions were illogical, they are as naught compared to the over-the-top explanation for why Pymm sent Temple after Diana. Here my mind boggled completely, and I decided that Stealing the Bride is a book best read uncritically. If subjected to logical analysis, it comes up short. Given that major caveat and provided you send your brain on vacation, you may enjoy Elizabeth Boyle’s romp of a book.
--Nancy J. Silberstein