The Ideal Bride (Stephanie Laurens, Cynsters #11)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Definitely a disappointment…

This novel follows Michael Anstruther-Wetherby (he was tangentially introduced in Devil’s Bride, as he’s Honoria’s younger brother)during his search for the perfect political wife… someone who is passably pretty, who is a talented hostess and will help him in every step of his career. We’ve got the normal “what I think I want” vs. “what will make me happy” tension in that he originally picks a young, malleable gal and eventually sees the error of his ways, and there’s the trademark Laurens sensuality as well as the typical mystery/back story (spoilers below). The problem is… this was actually a very boring novel. Micheal is so supercilious about all-things-political that it was hard for me NOT to roll my eyes whenever we were following his thoughts…  also, because political careers are at stake, it’s all about not only social machinations, but the theories behind what it means to be diplomatic, and unobtrusive, etc, etc. It just… doesn’t have the normal depth of heat of her other novels, and is definitely a skippable-entry in the Cynster series.

Greater Detail (with some spoilers):

Michael Anstruther-Wetherby has decided that it’s time for him to marry… or rather, things have more or less been decided for him. There’s an office opening up, and though he’s an ideal candidate, everyone would be happier and his suitability would be enhanced… if only he had a wife, a helpmate to arrange the dinners, social fetes, etc that accompany the life of a rising politician.

He settles on the young daughter of his neighbor. He’s met her once or twice, and she seemed pretty enough and biddable enough, to suit his needs. Plus, she’s from his neighborhood, which means that she already knows many of his local constituents.

He heads home to secure his bride and is foiled in these attempts by Caro Sutcliffe, a young widow (and technically the aunt of Michael’s intended) who was herself a diplomat’s wife (via a nearly-arranged-marriage) and who would do anything to make sure her niece Elizabeth doesn’t suffer the same fate (a loveless marriage that focuses too much on political intrigue). Caro is determined to showcase the ways in which Elizabeth would make an inadequate bride, and though she succeeds in her original purpose, she also (quite unintentionally) diverts Michael’s attention towards… Caro.

They’re both type-A personalities, used to managing and being in control, which means that there’s plenty of angst and even anxiety at the idea that falling in love means being… a little bit less in control. But… the characters never feel completely developed, and their attraction never rises above what we’re told is an omg-physical-nerve-tingling-awareness. I probably should have liked this book (in that I’m normally a fan of Laurens), but this was a definite miss…

And… here’s where the spoilers begin…

So, on the surface, this is a plot and set of characters that I can get behind. In the end, I had three main problems (warning: lots of spoilers ahead):

1. Caro is a virgin. For like, no good reason. We find out that her late husband, of almost a decade, just never bedded her (and you find out why in the last chapters, but it’s a silly/flimsy excuse). It feels like she’s a virgin so that we can have the traditional he’s-so-experienced/she’s-so-innocent dichotomy, and it just feels very forced in this story. The fact that her husband never slept with her is a source of continuing angst for our heroine, and I wanted it to have depth, but for me, it sort of fell flat.

2. The politics and talking about politics was just so dull. And I say this as someone who normally watches the news, follows politics… but the meta of talking about it was… really, really hard to get through.

3. The villain/mystery elements were not well done. I often find her to be hit or miss in this category, but this was definitely a miss for me. I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t surprised, and just couldn’t get engaged in the mystery part… at all!!!

 

Other Things to Know:
This is chronologically the 11th book of (originally) six in Laurens’s Cynster series. The six original members of the Bar Cynster are: Devil (Devil’s Bride), Vane (A Rake’s Vow), Richard (Scandal’s Bride), Demon (A Rogue’s Proposal), Gabriel (A Secret Love), and  Lucifer (All About Love), six cousins who are all amongst the most sought out, elusive bachelors of the town.  Don’t be deceived though – while the series follows the six different male protagonists, Laurens’s masculine heroes are more or less interchangeable, they are all exceedingly handsome, accomplished lovers and rakes who are overprotective but fiercely loyal, and they all have the kinds of faults that aren’t really faults.  It tends to be the women – the high strung governess that Devil pursues, the witch (yes, literally, a witch) that seduces Richard, and the spinster whom Gabriel falls in love with, that really set the books apart.

While many make cameo-like appearances in one another’s novels, the series is barely connected, and truly does not need to be read in order.  The common thread is chronology (which never impacts the plots) and the Cynster name — something Laurens must have recognized as many of the Cynster cousins, brothers- and sisters-in-laws, and even some of their friends, all later got spinoff books of their own.  There’s also at least one prequel following some of the parental Cysnters.

Still, the original six are by far the best.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
Laurens is a very prolific writer, and if you like passionate historical romances that are well-written and articulate, especially if you like to have a dash of mystery along with your romance, Laurens is a top contender by any standard.  But she’s so prolific that it sometimes feels as though she’s not necessarily taking the time to edit herself and really individuate her protagonists.  She’s definitely more sensual and writes more intense lovemaking scenes than Lisa Kleypas (though Kleypas has better character development and layering) or Samantha James.  She also writes longer love scenes than someone like Kat Martin, and tends to spend a little more time on the ending feelings and consequences than Martin does.

The best direct comparisons I can think of are probably Amanda Quick (which is the pen name for Jayne Ann Krentz, who tends to be also quick and prolific with slightly domineering male leads) and Virginia Henley.  Of the three, I would probably pick Laurens – she’s got less sex than Virginia Henley (it’s hard for me to think of an author that has more scenes devoted to intercourse than Henley), but her characters are far more developed relative to Henley, and the plot proceeds at a less break-neck pace.  Depending on the book, it’s a toss-up between Quick and Laurens for me, but overall, I think I’ve read and reread more Laurens than Quick.

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