Rant, Review

Review: The Bittersweet Bride by Vanessa Riley (2018)

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Heat Factor: Everything is very proper; the door is firmly closed.

Character Chemistry: Ewan is too obtuse to have chemistry with anyone. 

Plot: Dueling flower farms + Widow must protect her child + First love back from the dead + Battles over an inheritance + Newspaper advertisements for a husband

Overall: I haven’t been this angry about a hero in a long time.

Before I start ranting about Ewan, I want to make it clear that I would read another book by Vanessa Riley. She writes historical romances about Black women in England (from what I can tell, her books are mostly interracial romances, but I’m not positive) and her portrayal of multicultural England in the early 19th century in this particular book is beautifully nuanced. She portrays a slice of life that I don’t frequently see in Recency romance, and I loved that. The prose is unusual—I would say it’s mannered, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this book “read” differently. I didn’t hate it, but if you like your books to go down like popcorn, this may not be the book for you. 

Ok, on to the important stuff: the bits that made me RAGE. 

For background, the plot is kind of complicated. Theo and Ewan were going to elope six years ago, but Ewan’s father found them and made a deal with Ewan: if Ewan would spend a year in the military, then daddy would give his blessing to the union. Unfortunately, Ewan was severely wounded and reported as dead; when Theo found out, she married someone else. Now Ewan is back in England, and Theo is a wealthy widow who now owns the flower farm adjacent to the one owned by Ewan’s family. There are kurfluffles happening over the water rights, and hurt feelings about the inheritance of the house that Theo lives in (it was meant to go to Ewan, but, remember, he died, so he was written out of the will), and also Theo has a son who is going deaf who she is desperately trying to protect from the awful man who has been named her son’s guardian.

My irritation with Ewan began the first time he appeared on the page: he and Theo run into each other by happenstance, she gets all flustered about how she thought he was dead and she’s seeing a ghost, and he’s angry at her for not waiting for him. 

WHAT?!? SIR. She thought you were dead. You know that everyone thought you were dead because your own uncle wrote you out of his will. What is wrong with you???

Then, Ewan threatens Theo (water rights, family, conniving female who can’t be trusted, blah blah blah). Immediately after being a total dickweasel to her, he thinks this:

With a little poignant teasing, he could get Theo to relent about the water rights and not have to ruin her new name. She was family now, after all. He chuckled to himself, contemplating the joy of wearing her down. 

WTF. Poignant teasing?!?!? You do not get to “poignantly tease” a woman who you just threatened. Theo has made it clear to you that she does not want to see you. Maybe work on yourself a bit before you start stalking her. 

He does not work on himself a bit before he starts stalking her. Instead, he continues to harass her, until her son has a medical emergency and Ewan is (finally!) barred from her home. His first thought? That Theo must not be the virtuous widow she’s pretending to be—she’s been sleeping around since her husband died and must be pregnant!

My dude. She was married for five years. Maybe, just maybe, she had kids with her dead husband? 

“OF COURSE she can’t have had kids with her dead husband,” thinks Ewan. “She never introduced me to her children!”

Maybe it’s because a) you have been threatening her or b) she doesn’t let you inside the house or c) her kids are really young and who introduces random men to their five-year-old? Can you common sense, please????

And so it continues. It really all boils down to: I don’t think I’ve ever read a hero who is more obtuse. When Theo and Ewan first met, there was a huge power differential between them. Remember: Riley writes about Black women. Furthermore, Theo is the bastard daughter of a prostitute. She has no last name and no family to support her. She is an illiterate flower-seller. Ewan is the son of a lord (second son, but still). Their dynamic is that he pursues and she demures. He brings levity and poetry to the relationship; she brings pragmatism, not because she wants to, but because she fucking has to.

When they are reunited, they are still not on equal footing, despite Theo’s newfound fabulous wealth. Ewan can’t see all of the ways he and his family can (and do) hurt her, but rather is so focused on his own hurts, on finding it in his heart to forgive her: for loving another man, for not telling him about his son, and so on and so on and so on. There’s a side plot with letters they’re writing to each other (Theo is looking for a husband via newspaper advertisement, Ewan’s brother responded but Ewan is Cyrano-ing the letters), and Ewan uses the letters as a test to get Theo to reveal the secrets and regrets that she won’t share with Ewan

TLDR: Ewan is both a dumdum and a fucking fuckwad. Theo was 100% correct in keeping her son a secret from him. If you’re interested in multicultural Regency romances, maybe try a different one of Riley’s books. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

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