Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: To Wed a Scandalous Spy by Celeste Bradley

Title: To Wed a Scandalous Spy
Series: Royal Four
Author: Celeste Bradley
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: Feburary 1, 2005
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312931166
ISBN-13: 9780312931162

Lovely, high born Willa Trent was an orphan, raised by a local, somewhat odd family in the country, who want nothing but the best for their girl. So when she drags the unconscious man she accidentally hit with a slingshot home, they arrange a hasty marriage and pack the couple off with best wishes. Armed with a groggy husband and a new future, Willa's pie-eyed optimism has no limits...until she discovers the secret, dangerous world of Nathaniel Stonewell, Earl of Reardon, a.k.a. "Lord Treason."

Though Nathaniel is reviled by most of England for his devious plot against the Crown, he is, in reality, a member of an elite cadre of secret royal defenders on a daring undercover mission. He must keep his secrets at all cost, especially from Willa. And yet, he is enchanted...though he stubbornly refuses to surrender to his passion. Far better, he tells himself, to turn his back on love than risk everything for it. Luckily, his bride has other plans...

My rating:

Country bred Willa Trent is an orphan and jinxed. It wasn’t enough every suitor she’s ever had has ended up with an injury of some sort as soon as he stepped closer to her. Now she’s maiming innocent bystanders as well. The only excuse she has for dropping the man off his horseback is the fact she had no idea slingshots were so very inaccurate. How was she to know that the stone she was planning of springing a poacher’s trap with will end up smashing the hornets nest?

Nathaniel Stonewell, Lord Reardon, a.k.a. Lord Treason, dubbed for one infamous act, is living in isolation, rebuffed by society, exiled and rejected by his own family. The truth is he’s as much traitor as Prinny George. Nathaniel is in fact a member of the Royal Four, an elite, extremely secret, groups of royal defenders. It was his undercover mission, that he’s still on, that landed him in the Lord Treason mess.

He also appears to be the only man who cannot be maimed or mutilated by Willa’s predilection to accidents (falling off his horse doesn’t really count). After the two spend the night together, albeit he’s unconscious, the villagers, Willa’s big, extremely extended family, seize the opportunity with both hands, and after he gentlemanly offers for her, the two are wed.

Since Nathaniel is still in pursuit of a traitor, not that he has any hopes of catching him, the two quickly leave for London. Along the way, Nathaniel does his best to ignore Willa (she’s a chatterbox), fend off her increasingly demanding pursuit (she’s more than eager to lose her virginity), has to reveal the “truth” about himself and his nickname (she doesn’t believe him, of course), and make her realize why she cannot stay with him even after they are legally wed (and again, she doesn’t want to listen to reason).

Stuck with a stubborn bride, Nathaniel now must fend off the sometimes violent revulsion of the ton, juggle his triple identity (he sees himself as Nathaniel Stonewell, the spy and Lord Treason), find the traitor, and stay the hell away from Willa, since they can never have a future together. Pity his bride thinks differently on the matter.

This is the first full-length novel by Celeste Bradley I’ve read and it certainly will not be the last. I’m only sorry to have picked this one up before the Liar’s Club series, since Nathaniel’s “downfall” is described in The Impostor.

The two strongest points this book has are humor (there’s plenty of it, especially in Willa’s internal banter) and the heroine. Willa is by far most my favorite HR heroine so far.
Though you’ll be hard pressed to find a HR with a plain, shy, idiotic heroine, Willa heightens the bar. She’s funny, smart, witty, loving, fiercely protective, and she never lets others think for herself. She doesn’t have that inbred sheep instinct all the young girls of that time had, maybe because she’s grown up in the country, but mostly because she thinks with her own head, she observes, she rationalizes and she draws her own conclusions She’s known her husband for less than a week and yet she is absolutely certain every single member of the ton is wrong about him, and despite his efforts, she will not be swayed in her conviction.
She’s a charming young lady, full of life, full of love… and a mean right hook.

There is not much to say about Nate. He’s the typical male, though his vulnerabilities do shine through, especially in relation to his step-father, and, toward the end of the book, Willa. Some of his decisions are appalling, when he decides to listen to orders instead of his heart, and has no qualms in playing dirty to get Willa to leave him. He quickly repents, of course, but that aspect of his personality didn’t sit well with me. On the other hand it is understandable. He’s known nothing but rejection and insults lately, and when Willa, with her sunny optimism and her stubborn faith in him, comes along, he’s out of his element and has no idea what to do.

The first part of the book was a delightful country romp. While in the first couple of chapters the humor reigned supreme with Willa mentally calling her spouse “Idiot Male”, “Unholy Beast”, and “Hell-husband”, the focus soon turned to bitter-sweetness as soon as he confessed his darkest sin of treachery. With her eyes, head, and heart open, she adamantly refused to believe him and proceeded in making everybody see the truth of her “big marshmallow sweet” of a husband.

Quickly after their arrival in London, though, the plot shifted gears so fast I could feel the burn. There were so many villains all of a sudden, searching for an important document, there was a possible murder plot to get the inheritance, the bitterness of a woman for her life spent married to a spy (causing more doubts in Nathaniel), and last but not least a shocking revelation of Willa’s parentage and her connections to an extremely high-ranking official in Court.

And of course, the main plot’s resolution (you have to read the book to know what I’m talking about) proved just how sheep-like people really are.

Despite the patched-up-ness of the last few chapters when all the loose ends were quickly tied up in a nice little bow, To Wed a Scandalous Spy was a very entertaining read, with a rich and layered, albeit a little hole-y, plot, great humor and dialogue, and good character development.


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