As it’s nearly New Year — and as I have two romances I keep meaning to review here at Shiny Book Review — I decided to make a virtue out of necessity, which is why tonight’s 2-for-1 SBR special features the work of two highly distinct authors — Sherry Thomas and Marie Lu. Both are romances in one way, shape or form, but are set in wildly disparate milieus.
The first romance to be reviewed tonight is Sherry Thomas’ TEMPTING THE BRIDE. This is the third book in her Fitzhugh trilogy that’s set in England during the Victorian era; the previous books, BEGUILING THE BEAUTY and RAVISHING THE HEIRESS, were reviewed here. (I also reviewed four previous Thomas romances here.) BRIDE features Helena Fitzhugh, a London publisher in love with a married man, and David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings, who’s loved Helena for a long time but hasn’t been able to show it appropriately (partly due to Helena’s love for the married guy).
The main reason David and Helena don’t have a romance at the start of this novel is because David, to be blunt, was a very bratty teenager when he first met Helena and said some really obnoxious things to her. Over the years, that pattern of behavior has continued even though everyone else in Helena’s family (sister Venetia, featured in book 1, and brother Fitz the Earl, featured in book 2) has known for a long time just how deeply David’s feelings for Helena lie.
But, of course, Helena does not know this. She just thinks David is an obnoxious ass. (Which, of course, he is. Among other things.)
And, as previously stated, Helena is in a doomed romance with the very married Andrew Martin, one of her writers at the publishing house. Which means David can’t do much of anything other than snipe at her and wonder what could’ve been . . . until one day, when Helena is nearly discovered en flagrante delicto with Andrew. Quickly, David steps in and hides Andrew, then says smoothly that he and Helena have eloped and she’s the new Lady Hastings. (Helena, being no fool, doesn’t contradict him even though she has no idea why David would do such a thing.)
Then they have to go explain things to Helena’s brother and sister, which is awkward and upsets Helena. She ends up running out into the middle of the street, takes a head injury, and gets amnesia.
(I can hear you all now. “Oh, no! The dreaded amnesia plot!”)
I’m sure, thus far, anyone who’s reading this review that doesn’t know about Ms. Thomas or her writing skill is wondering why I’d bother with this, considering the hackneyed plot device employed. Yet TEMPTING THE BRIDE, far from being an irredeemable mess, is by far the best of the Fitzhugh trilogy because it focuses on David and his doomed love for Helena and shows just how good a man David really is when he’s not behaving like a jerk.
So the two get to know each other without any of Helena’s preconceived notions (as she’s lost all of her adult memories, plus most of them from her late teens), and they fall in love.
But what will happen when she regains her memory?
And what is she likely to do with that married man who’s kept her on the string all this time?
While I can’t go into any of that (or I’ll blow any of your potential reading pleasure out of the water), I can tell you that I found it to be not only plausible, but highly engaging.
Put simply, TEMPTING THE BRIDE is Ms. Thomas at the top of her game, which is a welcome thing to read indeed. Which is why if you love romances and you haven’t read any of Sherry Thomas’s books yet, you’re really missing out.
Next up is Marie Lu’s LEGEND, a dystopian romance set in what could be the very near future. The United States has broken up into disparate parts, one of them being the Republic of California (called simply “the Republic,” possibly to save steps). The Republic is a cold, cruel place that’s based off one thing: military achievement. Everyone takes a test at age ten to find out what he or she is going to be, and the top-rated thing you can possibly do is to go into the military or work in military research — nothing else need apply.
Our two characters here are June, born into an elite military family, and Day, who comes from the bottom end of the economic ladder. Both are military prodigies, but only June has been encouraged — Day was basically left for dead by the cold, cruel, corrupt elders running the Republic.
Both are in their mid-teens. Both are extremely bright. And both have many military skills that manifested at a surprisingly early age — Day’s out of necessity, June’s because she’s been pushed to become the best.
Normally these two would never meet as Day’s a fugitive and June’s already in the Republic’s military (albeit as the equivalent of a cadet). But then June’s brother Metias is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.
But there are secrets within secrets, wheels within wheels. Things are not as they seem, which is why Day and June must meet, take each other’s measure, and possibly form an alliance in order to succeed. Yet everything June’s learned has told her that Day is automatically the enemy, while Day, in turn, has learned that no one from the Republic — not even someone as young as June — can be trusted.
What will happen to these two distinct individuals, especially if June cannot shake off her early conditioning?
Overall, LEGEND is an enjoyable and quick read. It has a surprising amount of emotional depth — rare for the dystopian teen romance genre — and makes some good points about romances overall in that the best and most realistic romances occur when both people can understand one another or have similar skills and gifts. June likes how Day looks, sure, but unlike other teen dystopian romances such as Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM (reviewed here), June is far more concerned about what’s going on in Day’s mind than she is about his looks.
That’s not only refreshing for a teen romance, but it’s also extremely realistic.
Don’t get me wrong. I felt LEGEND‘s plot, overall, was plausible. The milieu was appropriately dystopian and Ms. Lu didn’t shy away from showing the worst aspects of this.
But Ms. Lu also showed that people can survive the worst things with their humanity intact — something that made Suzanne Collins’ original THE HUNGER GAMES (reviewed here by Jason) so good, but otherwise has been rarely imitated — and shows recognizable human emotions and drives throughout. I appreciated this greatly and wish more writers would emulate her example.
Wrapping up tonight’s 2-for-1 Saturday romance special here at SBR, here are tonight’s grades:
TEMPTING THE BRIDE — A.
LEGEND — A.
— reviewed by Barb