A Scandalous Journey

 
The Marriage Campaign
by Susannah Carleton
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20802-1
**
I don’t mind that authors try to sell books in series. They’re trying to stay in print, and with so many romances on the shelves, there are only so many was to entice a reader. Interesting secondary characters can make a reader look forward to the next book. But The Marriage Campaign violates a basic rule of romance. It spends so much time pushing those future lead characters into the limelight that the main romance is completely obscured. In the end, I felt like I’d just sat through two hundred pages of sales pitch.

Robery Symington, Marquess of Elston, lost his father in a hunting accident two weeks ago. According to a codicil in the will, Robert has one year to marry one of the twenty ladies on is father’s list or dire things will happen. As it happens, six of the twenty are already married, but fourteen are still available, and Elston feels like a hunted man. Young lasses are twisting their ankles, losing wheels off their carriages, and sneaking into his bedchamber trying to trap Elston into marriage. Time to escape. Elston heads north.

And here the reader will realize that the author has done something very clever. The Marriage Campaign takes place in the same time frame as her previous Regency, A Scandalous Journey, in which Elston was a secondary character. Elston soon runs into the two leads from the previous book, George and Beth. A fair amount of time is spent covering events that happened in the first book. Elston narrows his choices down to a few ladies on the list, and determines to make a leisurely journey back to London, stopping in to visit these young ladies on the way.

His first stop is a disaster, but the second is to the home of the late Viscount Padbury, whose daughter Karolina is on the list. Elston remembers “Karla” as a bright, lively child and looks forward to meeting her again. He is surprised to find Karla nowhere in sight, but he does run into a young woman who calls herself “Catherine”. In truth, she’s Karla, who has been relegated to the role of governess. Eventually her stepmother is pressured into bringing Karla to London for the Season.

Into the story also trip Lady Deborah, Lady Christina, Lady Harriett, Lady Sarah, the aforementioned Beth, and a host of Elston’s friends. One can only assume these will be paired up in future books. The story is loosely centered around Karla, who arrives in London only to find herself attired in the ugliest gowns possible so as not to outshine her stepsister, Lydia. When Elston finally meets her at a soiree, he immediately figures out the ruse and decides to help her. Soon they are spending more time together, and eventually fall in love.

Much is made of Elston’s fondness for music and the six girls’ musical talents. (In fact, they dub themselves The Six.) Each of these girls needs to be featured in some section of the book, which leaves precious little time to develop the romance between Elston and Karla. In the end, I was told they loved each other, but had little sense of why. She’s pretty and brave. He’s handsome and kind. Where’s the real connection? Any sexual spark was completely lacking. Add to this the necessity of following the “scandal” plot from the previous book, and there’s little time for Elston and Karla to fall in love, anyway.

The Marriage Campaign is even more disappointing when one considers that Susannah Carleton writes well. Her dialogue is lively, her plot premise was fun, and her characters seem like real people. There are just too many of them in this book. Authors, forget about shoving all the extra characters into your stories. Make the main romance fun and engaging, and you won’t need to worry about the next installment - the readers will be waiting for it.

--Cathy Sova


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