Lady Mary Farren is a sensible woman with a scholarly bent and a love of art. Sadly, she’s spent years shut up in the country keeping house for her father, the Duke of Aston, all the while trying to protect her amorous younger sister Diana from total ruin. All she has to look forward to is her upcoming Grand Tour of France and Italy. What she doesn’t expect is to be saddled with her sister, who has no taste for art. Nor does she realize that her first purchase in Calais–an unfashionable fifteenth-century painting of an angel–would draw her to the attention of two different men. One is the ne’er-do-well sixth son of an Irish peer, Lord Fitzgerald, who has few scruples in his pursuit of fortune. The other is an implacable enemy who has absolutely no scruples in his quest to attain the painting.
This book has a several things to recommend it. Mary Farren is a sensible, intelligent, and insightful heroine who somehow has an excellent eye for art, despite having been buried in the country all her life. Moreover, the setup for the mystery elements of the book is excellent, raising many intriguing questions. Who would want this unfashionable, ugly little painting badly enough to kill for it? What secrets does it contain? Is it truly the key to locating an unimaginable fortune (a tempting prospect for the impoverished Lord Fitzgerald)?
I read this book while I was sick and plagued by insomnia, and under the circumstances I found it diverting enough. But while I did enjoy it, I didn’t “buy” it. Now I find myself asking, Why not?
On the one hand, the book is hampered by improbabilities. As reviewers on Amazon have already noted, it is highly unlikely that a Duke would allow both his daughters to do a Grand Tour chaperoned only by a twenty-eight-year-old governess. This improbable choice is made doubly unbelievable because sister Diana’s presence on the trip is a punishment for sexual shenanigans. Why would the Duke of Aston change his plan to marry Diana off as fast as possible in favor of sending her to the Continent, almost unsupervised? Does he really believe that viewing cathedrals and museums will edify her into changing her basic character? And why does Lord Fitzgerald, who is again and again stated to be an adventurer who is just scraping by (sixth son, etc.) seem to have plenty of money on him?
On the other hand, too much of the story was left underdeveloped. I wish that Mary had found a way to come into her own independent of her relationship with the hero. I wish that Diana had been given more to do in the book, for she was little more than an overblown stereotype and a walking prop. Most of all, I wish that we had learned more (much more) about the book’s big bad guy, who was more compelling than Lord Fitzgerald, the hero.
The book does have a number of good moments of suspense, and there is plenty of action. The occasional sex scenes were sensual and somewhat surprising. I did not feel like reading The Adventurous Bride was a waste of time, though I regret the opportunities that the author missed.
What I will say is that if Jarrett intends for this to be the first book of a “Grand Adventuresses” trilogy–the other two to deal with Lady Diana and their governess, I presume–she has not gotten off to a compelling start. While Mary Farren was an appealing enough heroine for me to finish the book, there is nothing about Diana or Miss Wood that would interest me in their stories. This is in sharp contrast to my experience reading One Unashamed Night, which made me want to pick up both its prequel and sequel.