Pros: Heartwarming story; plucky heroine.
Cons: Heroine can feel a little whiny at times.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Penny, a banker’s daughter, has been waiting thirteen years for her marriage to Viscount Westfield. Since neither of them asked for the match or even want to see it through, the two of them attempt to convince her father to annul the agreement. He will have none of it, and the two are wed. The more time that Westfield spends with his bride, the more he begins to realize that this arrangement might not be as bad as he was afraid it might be. But will Penny be able to move past her anger at being abandoned for thirteen years? And what will happen when the strength of their marriage is tested?
I have to admit I adore romances that follow a couple as they build a relationship together over time, and watching Penny and Westfield fall in love despite thirteen years of uncertainty and avoidance was like curling up with the literary equivalent of a decadent cup of cocoa. The warmth and humor that infuse Barbara Metzger’s The Bargain Bride make it so easy to fall in love with the characters, and the situation that they find themselves in is one that I’ve never seen before. At the same time the reader also gets to see some of the darker sides of London Society and the people that populate it; the book feels well-balanced between love, warmth, greed and social climbers.
One of the things that really made Penny and Westfield stand out to me was the fact that after they both accepted that they were getting married, they decided to make the best of it. Granted, the road to marital bliss is by no means smooth, but they both make some really sweet conciliatory gestures. Penny would get a little whiny and annoying once in a while and go back to complaining that Westfield had left her for thirteen years when she felt sorry for herself, but she would always come out of it and try to turn the situation around just before I really started to get aggravated with her. (All the same, her complaints happened a few more times than I would have liked to have seen.) Despite the occasional self-pity, she really was a strong character. I was hopelessly in love on page eighteen when she slugs Westfield in the jaw. Watching the two of them develop trust for each other was a joy to watch, and I was also fascinated to watch their sometimes differing senses of honor play off of each other. Penny and Westfield are just plain fun to watch together.
When Penny and Westfield rejoin the world of London Society after their marriage, we get to see even more interesting characters, from Westfield’s old mistress to Penny’s social climbing stepmother and half-brother and sisters. There’s also an eccentric grandfather and flamboyant Frenchman, and all of these characters lead to some truly memorable and occasionally hilarious situations. The reader gets the feeling that while Ms. Metzger is aware of the many flaws of Society, she won’t let that keep her from having fun in the time period. Her affection for the setting and characters show through in the genuine warmth that appears in some unexpected places.
I also enjoyed the conflict that arose to threaten the couple’s happiness; while I was able to figure out who was the architect behind it and why I still felt that it was proportional to the story. There were no crazy megalomaniacs waiting in the wings or overly grandiose plots; rather I thought that I could see similar conflicts going on in more than one drawing room of the time period. I also enjoyed the relatively mature ways that Penny and Westfield rose to meet their challenges. There were so many times that the plot could have devolved into a series of misunderstandings, but didn’t.
This book is a fun, warm, relaxing read. I enjoyed watching not only the development of the romance between Penny and Westfield, but how the two of them interacted with others individually and as a couple. Other characters are quirky and stand out without the reader feeling as if they’ve read about them before. The conflict and the antagonist both feel completely appropriate for the situation and time period, and I was pleasantly surprised by how mature Penny and Westfield could be in trying situations. If you’re looking for a feel-good romance, then “The Bargain Bride” is definitely worth reading.