As I said on Twitter: OH MY GOD THIS BOOK. It is utterly awesome and completely insane in terms of all the crazy shit that goes down in it. It is, in some ways, like an old school romance but without all the icky gross lack of consent stuff that usually happens in old school romance.
The book in question is Sherry Thomas’s newest, Tempting the Bride. The third book in the Fitzhugh Trilogy (I have the other two but haven’t read them yet–I don’t feel as if I’ve been spoiled for them by reading this one first, either), it features Helena Fitzhugh and David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings.
Helena has loathed David since they first met when she was fourteen years old and David has been in love with her since then–and, of course, he shows his love by being completely awful to her. Normally, I hate this because 99.9% of the time in real life the boy (or man) isn’t teasing the girl (or woman) because he likes her, he’s doing it to put her into her proper place. But I decided to roll with it and see where it went and oh, it went to delightful places.
Helena is a handful–more than a bit of a bluestocking, she’s university-educated, owns her own publishing house, and has been carrying on with a married man–up to and including sneaking off to his room in the evenings during a house party. David discovers this–because he’s being kind of creepy and watching her room and he knows he’s being kind of creepy–and tells her family but does not reveal the identity of the man. They send her off to America for a period of time and when she returns, she is chaperoned at all times. The man she’s having an affair with is warned off her and for the six months after her return, there is no contact between them.
During this time as well, David sends her–for publication–a work of erotic fiction that is extremely graphic and explicit and is illustrated as well. Helena locks it in a drawer but can’t resist looking at it every so often.
Then Helena gets what she believes is a telegram from her lover and makes plans to duck her chaperone and meet him. David manages to figure out it’s a set-up and makes it appear as if she were meeting him–and announces that they have just eloped in order to save Helena’s reputation.
And this is when the story really starts to ramp up–shortly after the announcement of the elopement but before they can actually marry, Helena gets kicked in the head by a horse and develops amnesia. And has no idea who David is and she has no choice but to get to know him without all the years of bickering between them–and she finds that she rather likes him. David, of course, is delighted by this but also knows that she will eventually remember their shared history (she is slowly recovering her memory about other people) and when she does, there is a reckoning. It’s really wonderful–Thomas is so good at characterization that I found myself rooting for both Helena and David and their relationship because it’s made clear that if they can manage to move past their history and see each other for who they truly are that the relationship will be one of equals and one that brings an equal measure of joy to both.
Another wonderful thing in this book is David’s daughter, Bea. She is David’s daughter by a prostitute and was taken in by him when she was but three months old, after her mother died of pneumonia. I would say that she is intended to be autistic and David’s care for her is just fantastic–she is more than just a plot device to make him sympathetic, she is her own person and an integral part of the story. She is never pitied by David or Helena and the text makes it clear that the reader isn’t to pity her either. David makes sure all her needs are met and that he is there for her when she expects him to be (she is very much wedded to her schedule). He paints astonishingly beautiful murals for her and accommodates her neurological differences in a way that I found really supportive of her as well as giving her a safe space to expand the boundaries of her world if she desires (David never forces her). Just lovely.
And finally, Thomas has self-published the erotic manuscript that David has submitted to Helena–it’s called The Bride of Larkspear and I found it both enjoyable and emotionally satisfying, if for no reason other than the insight it gives into David’s depth of feeling for Helena. He can’t seem to help saying awful things to her but through his actions he’s trying to tell her what he feels for her–it makes him vulnerable in a way that I think mitigates a lot of the terrible things that come out of his mouth. He knows he’s an idiot and can’t seem to get his foot out of his mouth long enough to stop being an idiot so this story is one of the ways he tries to let Helena know how he feels (there is a great scene in Tempting the Bride that deliberately and explicitly mirrors a scene from this novella).