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“‘Some girls marry because they want to, because they’ve found the man they want to go through life with, but most marry because they have no other choice. A single woman has very few options in this world, so for many women it’s a compromise. They marry for security, for wealth or position, and the chance of children – the man is almost immaterial.’

Freddy’s mouth tightened. Didn’t he know it? The muffins his mother kept hurling at him wanted him for exactly those reasons – and the fortune, the lands and title that would come to him after his father’s death. Freddy himself was immaterial: a means to an end.”

The Winter Bride, p. 53

 

 

When Max, Lord Davenham, the hero of Anne Gracie’s The Autumn Bride, asks his best friend, the Honourable Frederick ‘Freddy’ Monkton–Coombes, to look after his ‘sisters’-in-law-to-be, Freddy balks at the request. He has, as Max knows, a fear of what he calls ‘muffins’ – single women of a marriageable age on the hunt for a desirable husband. And Freddy is very desirable.

Unfortunately for him, Freddy has already admitted to Max that the Chance Sisters are not muffins and thus he finds himself reluctantly looking after Damaris and Daisy, Abby’s ‘sisters’ in name if not blood, when Max and Abby go on honeymoon.

Freddy, who made his appearance in the first ‘Chance Sisters’ book, is a rake, a ‘black sheep’; a man whose reputation is so questionable that even his parents keep him at arms’ length – or so society believes – and that suits Freddy perfectly. The truth is quite different, of course. As in every other Gracie novel, nothing is but what is not. We, the reader, come to discover that Freddy’s public persona is exactly that – a carefully constructed façade to hide the real man beneath. And, personally, that’s something that I’m extremely pleased about.

When authors write in series, inevitably one has favourites among the people who inhabit their fictional worlds. I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to reading a book featuring Freddy, who seemed a bit ‘addle-brained’ in The Autumn Bride, the comic relief, of course, and a perfect foil to Max’s more brooding hero. Equally, Damaris seemed to me the least interesting of the three ‘sisters’. However, I shouldn’t have doubted Gracie: she always weaves an interesting plot with equally interesting subplots and thus, of course, she is able to turn two fairly one-dimensional characters into warm-blooded, sympathetic three-dimensional people who we, the reader, have no choice but to care about.

Freddy’s bon vivant, ‘take nothing seriously’ society persona hides a surprisingly sensitive man scarred by a troubled and distressing past. In an era in which a wealthy woman’s duty after marriage is to produce an ‘heir and a spare’, Freddy’s the spare, the younger brother of a much loved older sibling. However, when his brother dies in childhood, Freddy is blamed for surviving and is literally rubbed out of his parents’ lives. He’s only now of interest to them because it’s his duty to continue the succession.

When Freddy discovers that his mother plans to ambush him with a house party full of ‘muffins’, whom she has personally selected as potential brides, he decides to take matters into his own hands, persuading Damaris to pretend to be his fiancée. He does so safe in the knowledge that she has no intention of marrying. Damaris’s price for the charade is a cottage near to Abby’s new home.

Although Damaris longs to have children and a home of her own, she believes that her questionable past makes an eligible marriage impossible. Damaris, like Freddy, is pretending to be something she’s not: first of all, she’s not related by blood to either Abby or Daisy (see The Autumn Bride); second, neither is she the niece of Lady Beatrice nor Max’s cousin and finally, she’s not an heiress (something which the sweetly Machiavellian Lady Bea puts about in the hope of attracting suitable husbands for her girls).

As Freddy and Damaris get to know each other, the layers disguising the true characters of the very vital people beneath are stripped away. When this happens, they are able to help heal each other and somewhat inevitably fall in love.

Gracie builds up a hinterland of characters to support Freddy and Damaris’s story, slowly laying the foundation for new plots and subplots. Old characters drift into the fray like old friends and new ones, like Flynn, Max and Freddy’s flamboyant business partner, sail (literally) into the story. As Freddy develops into a credible hero, Flynn becomes his comic foil and also the man who we quickly recognise has Freddy’s back in Max’s absence.

In The Winter Bride, Gracie explores interesting themes, some that she’s admittedly dealt with before in other novels – such as the disenfranchisement of women and the role of the ‘fallen woman’ in Regency society – but she also introduces the intriguing idea of man as victim. From the first pages, we see Freddy pursued relentlessly by avaricious mothers and daughters, who see him as little more than a trophy to be bagged. As Freddy himself recognises they don’t see him: he’s merely a ‘means to an end’.

Through Freddy’s relationship with his parents, Gracie also deals with the sensitive issue of the death of a child and how people deal with it – or don’t in this case. She also introduces a subject quite often overlooked – how siblings are treated after the death of a brother or sister. Freddy’s closeness to his brother and his subsequent survivor guilt are handled extremely well in Gracie’s tender hands.

The parent vs sibling relationship is particularly interesting as it is easy to forget that the concept of ‘childhood’, as we see it today, is a fairly modern construct developed in the 19th century. Before industrialisation, ‘children’ were largely treated as little adults and the parent–child bond was very different to what we deem acceptable today, possibly due to the high rate of infant mortality in pre-industrial Britain. In several of Gracie’s books, parents are deceased or estranged from their children and the sibling relationship – whether based on blood or loyalty and love – is thus all the more important, as are strong friendships and extended network support systems.

All in all this is a surprisingly good book and I write that not because I doubted that Gracie would produce an enjoyable and touching novel, but rather because I just couldn’t see how the Freddy of Book 1 of the ‘Chance Sisters’’ series could be turned into a credible and desirable hero. The comic relief in the first book, in The Winter Bride Freddy develops into a likeable, honourable protagonist. He’s also a man trapped in his past – a little boy crying out for his parents to love him and it is this very vulnerability that makes him all the more appealing to Damaris and to us, the reader.

The Winter Bride is a fine addition to the ‘Chance Sisters’ story. Roll on the next book, featuring Daisy.

 

*** WIN A COPY OF THE BOOK***

Q: What’s the name of the third Chance Sister? Email your answer along with your name and address. Please put THE WINTER BRIDE COMPETITION  in the subject header.

 

 

The Winter Bride, published in April 2014, is the second book in the ‘Chance Sisters’ series.

The Autumn Bride (2013; Australian edition cover below) is a finalist in the RITA 2014 Historical Romance category. Congratulations to Anne Gracie.

The Autumn Bride Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also of interest:Anne Gracie – an Australian Dream come true‘; ‘Anne Gracie’s The Autumn Bride – take a chance on the ‘Chance Sisters‘, both in The Literary Lounge

 

Photographs in article: The Winter Bride (US edition cover) and The Autumn Bride (Australian edition cover) have both been used for promotional purposes only.

Notice: Please note the above images and quotations are intended to be for promotional purposes only. In no way, have we have intentionally breached anyone’s copyright.

This review is ©The Literary Shed, 2014. All opinions expressed are our own. It can only be reproduced with our permission. Please contact us if you wish to do so. We must be fully credited.

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