The appearance of The Rules of Marriage creates a certain ambivalence in me. I am delighted that Zebra has recognized Wilma Counts’ storytelling talent and given her the opportunity to write the more remunerative Regency historicals. On the other hand, I regret that another fine Regency writer has been lost. The Rules of Marriage is a very good book that should appeal particularly to those who enjoy a strong historical thread in their romances.
The story is set against the Peninsula Campaign of 1812-1814. In the prologue we meet the heroine, Rachel, an orphan of not quite seventeen who lives with her aunt and uncle and helps in the inn they own. Her relatives view her as a burden and when a handsome recruiting sergeant pays her attention, her aunt is perfectly delighted to marry off her niece and get her out of the way.
Four years later, Rachel Brady finds herself in Spain with Wellington’s army. Her marriage has not met her youthful hopes, but she has made a life for herself working with the wounded, assisting the army surgeon who knew her doctor father. At the siege of Badajoz, she encounters a badly wounded major who at worst seems likely to die and at best to lose a leg. The desperation of his men to save their leader convinces Rachel
to try to help and thanks to her care and unorthodox treatment, the major survives.
Lord Jacob Forrester is the brother of a marquess. He has been in the army since, as a young man, the girl he loved chose his titled brother over the younger son. He is an excellent officer, loved by his men and valued by Wellington. Jacob finds the lovely young woman who saved his life an interesting paradox. Though the wife of an enlisted man, her education and speech suggest a different background. He is attracted to
her, but realizes that she is not for him, especially since her husband objects the care she has given him.
Edwin Brady is not a good husband. He had married Rachel because that was the only way he could have her. But as she has grown from a girl to a woman with a mind of her own, he comes to view her as an unpleasant encumbrance. So he decides to force her into a poor man’s “divorce,” and to sell her to the highest bidder. Fortunately, Jake hears of the sale and rescues her. But now Rachel finds herself neither a wife nor a free woman and alone in Portugal under the protection of a man she admires and perhaps loves.
Rules of Marriage is Rachel’s and Jake’s love story, played out against the rigors of war. It is also a soberingly realistic portrayal of the unhappy situation of a poor, unprotected woman during this era. Rachel had no recourse against her husband’s despicable actions. She has no way to earn a living. She has, through no fault of her own, become a social outcast.
Fortunately, Jake is a truly heroic hero. Unlike many of his class, his army experiences have taught him to value people for who, not what they are. Rachel’s intelligence, spirit, kindness and bravery attract and ensnare him. But what kind of future can they have?
B>Rules of Marriage may not be for readers who prefer that history serve merely as wallpaper for the romance. Nor will it necessarily please those who want the story to focus almost totally on the heroine and hero. Jake and Rachel are separated for a good part of the story as Counts sets up the situation and as the vicissitudes of war intrude.
Nor is this a feel-good book; rather it shows quite clearly how the “rules of marriage” favored husbands and could oppress wives.
However, readers like yours truly, who appreciate a well-drawn historical setting and a realistic portrayal of a world vastly different from our own, should enjoy Rules of Marriage.