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I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.

The Highwayman's Bride

The Highwayman's Bride - Jane Beckenham

Tess Stanhope has been ruled by her violent and controlling uncle since her parents' death and she's had just about enough of it. An avid reader, she devises a scheme straight out of one of the novels she devours, and although it fails, it does lead her to a way out in the form of the handsome and mysterious Aiden. 

 

Aiden Masters, Earl of Charnley, has been betrayed one too many times and is hell-bent on revenge. His heart has turned bitter by heartbreak and though intrigued by the beautiful Tess, he doubts that their uneasy alliance will amount to much.

 

Though Tess and Aiden are hesitant to trust one another, they can't deny their mutual attraction. Will it blossom into true love?

 

 

I was really torn about how to rate this book. One one hand, I loved the story. I totally bought the romance, although Tess and Aiden's stubbornness definitely frustrated me at times, and I was desperate to find out what happened to them, which meant that I finished the book in about five hours because I simply couldn't put it down. However, there were some details that bothered me, which I'll explain. They distracted me from the story and detracted from my enjoyment of it. So, ultimately, I decided to give it three and a half stars, because while I really liked the story, the book was only okay. 

 

I suppose I'll start with the characters themselves. Tess is a strong-willed woman who wishes for nothing more than independence - it's what leads her to Aiden in the first place. She's seen her aunt and uncle's unhealthy marriage and when she sees a similar one in her not-so-distant future, she bolts. I really loved how she took her future into her own hands and did whatever was necessary to ensure her happiness, even if it wasn't always ethical. She turned out to be a passionate, loving, sweet character and she truly brought out the best in Aiden. She was definitely a likeable protagonist and I cared a great deal about her story. 

 

I'm a bit more ambivalent towards Aiden. On one hand, he's got a great sense of humor, he's mysterious, he's cocky without being overly arrogant, and he's a literary character who you can't help but be attracted to. So that's all great. But he's also got a streak of cruelty. He's not a cruel person, per se, but he's suffered from a lot of hurt in his past and it makes him distrustful of Tess, which was forgiveable, given his experience. Far less forgiveable was his treatment of his son Alexander. Their relationship is a bit unconventional - I won't go into details out of concern for spoilers - and I think that his feelings toward Alexander are understandable, given his situation. But at the same time, Alexander is just a little boy and the circumstances are through no fault of his own, so I felt that Aiden's treatment of him was inexcusable. I adore children and even though Alexander's just a literary character, Aiden's treatment of him really made me like him less. Everything worked out in the end, though :) One thing I did like about Aiden was that he sort of reminded me of a badass Mr. Darcy. Tess is very hesitant to trust him because of an assumption she makes about him when they first meet, and he seeks to destroy the man who hurt his sister, Mary. Beckenham's hero is much more sexual and driven to act on his emotions than Darcy, though ;)

 

Various aspects of Tess and Aiden's relationship are completely unbelievable, and this hugely contributed to my hesitance to give this book a higher rating. To some extent, the reasons for its not being believable are simply because it's a romance novel and they do tend to be less realistic than other genres. Tess and Aiden are extremely hesitant to act on their feelings. The explanation is clear: they're too jaded by their various life experiences to trust one another with all of their hearts. However, their refusal to make an attempt at a loving, lasting relationship really annoyed me, especially in Tess' case, since Aiden gave her what she most wanted - freedom from her uncle. There's no reason why she couldn't have been completely happy with Aiden, especially given how attracted they are to one another, but for a long time, Tess refused to even try. Aiden's reasoning is more understandable, but it still annoyed me. I  blame this fault on the genre itself, not Beckenham's plot/character development - it's typical in romance to make the characters hesitant to fall for one another in order to build anticipation for the reader. I still didn't like it, though. 

 

Another thing that annoyed me, but is typical of the genre, was that the story centered entirely on the romance with little plot/character development beyond that. Again, I know that this is typical of the romance genre, and so it did not play a role in decreasing my rating, but it's still not ideal and I do wish that there had been a bit more of a purpose to the story than pulling two characters together. 

 

Some plot points were completely and inexcusably unbelievable. These included: 

 

      • Tess's proposal - I highly, highly doubt that a woman in the nineteenth century would ever consider proposing to a man, especially through blackmail, no matter how desperate or independent she was. What's even more unbelievable is how quickly Aiden agrees, especially given his history. I suppose that this is necessary as a plot device, but it still was not convincing and I wish that a more believable method had been used to unite these characters. 
      • The spat at the altar between Tess and Aiden - that's right, in the middle of taking their vows, Tess learns that Aiden is an earl and they have a fight right then and there about him not revealing his true identity AND Tess casually refers to him being a highwayman without anyone reacting at all. Aiden stops her from actually saying the words "highwayman," but she makes a comment that he "only steals from those not of his station," which surely would have merited a remark from someone. Tess' reaction to this new information about her future husband is natural, but I guess I just can't believe that the conversation was entirely carried out in public. 
      • At the wedding, Tess drinks a bit more than intended and gets tipsy/full-on drunk. Then, on the way home, what comes across as only an hour after she's finished drinking (although no specific time frame is mentioned), Tess gets hungover. The passage of time between these two stages was too short to be believed. 
      • The whole deal with Mirabelle's Musings came across as random. On one hand, I thought that the snippets from it at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch and I liked the influence that they had on Tess' development as a character. However, the persona of Mirabelle does not seem compatible with Mary's character. Her announcement to Tess about Mirabelle's true identity was predictable, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it didn't seem to serve a true purpose to the story. I suppose it shows that Mary has started to move on from the tragedies in her life and is developing a new purpose in her life, but I feel that this is sufficiently expressed in the improvement in her mood from her introduction to the end of the book. 
      • And finally, in his letter to Aiden, Jasper speaks of a new life in the "colonies," but the story is set in 1813, and at this point, the United States had already been formed and thus would not have been referred to as the colonies. At first I thought that maybe he was talking about some of Britain's other colonies, but then later we learn that Jasper has indeed left for America. As a history major, this anachronism annoyed me. 
(show spoiler)

 

I know this reads as quite a list of flaws, and these things, among others, led me to give the book a lower rating. I think that these flaws definitely could have been improved with a bit more editing or feedback from more beta readers. However, I can't emphasize enough that in spite of all of these flaws, I genuinely enjoyed the story and I would read it again in a heartbeat. I rooted for Tess and Aiden the whole time, even when Aiden was being a royal jerk, and I was so happy when things finally worked themselves out in the end. As stated previously, the story in this book is worthy of at least four stars. Its construction and some plot details kept me from giving this story a rating that high, but I still liked reading it and I will be looking for more from Jane Beckenham in the future. 

 

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from Entangled Publishing, but in no way did this influence my review.