The Plumed Bonnet, by Mary Balogh

>> Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Plumed Bonnet, by Mary Balogh, is the 4th book in a series that includes Dark Angel, Lord Carew's Bride and one of my favourite Baloghs: The Famous Heroine.

When the Duke of Bridgwater picks up Stephanie Gray in his carriage one day, she is wearing a fuchsia colored cloak and a bright pink, garishly adorned bonnet. He draws his own conclusions about her and listens to her story about being on her way to claim an inheritance with a great deal of amusement. By the time he realizes that she is telling the truth, it is too late--he has compromised her virtue and must marry her.
Like The Famous Heroine, this one's a misunderstanding-based story, one of my least favourite devices, and yet it works. My grade would be a B+.

There's actually two different misunderstandings here, and while they are quite different, both worked just fine, each in its own way.

The initial misunderstanding is a bit like the one in The Famous Heroine in that it's all funny and light-hearted. Alistair takes one look at Stephanie's clothing, especially that plumed bonnet, and assumes she's a courtesan. He spends the entire trip not believing a word of her story, in the mistaken understanding that she's aware of this and simply spinning her story to keep him amused, a bit like Scherezade.

Alistair's thoughts, as he tries to predict what contrivances Stephanie will add to her story (governess getting an unexpected inheritance, needing to get married to get it, and so on) and guesses correctly most of the time, are very funny. I also liked that, even believing whole-heartedly that she's not what she says, Alistair is always perfectly polite and kind to Stephanie. I've read too many books in which the hypocritical hero takes the heroine's perceived lack of virtue as an excuse to treat her like crap, so this is always a plus.

Once this misunderstanding is cleared up and these two are forced to marry, a new misunderstanding creeps up, and this one changes the tone of the book completely, something that, surprisingly, I wasn't bothered by. While up until that time the book hadn't been particularly intense, Balogh piles on the angst in the second half, as Stephanie and Alistair each misunderstand what the other wants from them.

Alistair wants a wife he can love and be loved by, and he's powerfully drawn to Stephanie. She, meanwhile, believes he simply wants a proper duchess and that she's indebted to him for marrying her, saving her from being compromised, so she tamps down her joie-de-vivre, exactly what Alistair loves about her. So, while she doggedly becomes the perfect duchess, becoming miserable in the process, Alistair comes to believe she basically can't stand him.

It probably sounds frustrating and a bit contrived when I describe it, but believe me, it felt perfectly realistic, that each would think what they do. And it's not one of those situations in which it feels stupid that they won't sit down and clear up the misunderstanding. On the contrary, it would have felt very fake if these two had simply had a heart-to-heart about their innermost feelings, not true to character at all! As it was, it was just wonderful to read, and I loved the scene in which they realize the other's real feelings. It wasn't an easy "I love you - oh, and I love you!" scene, and I greatly enjoyed the resolution.

I haven't liked all of Balogh's Signet Regencies, but I know many people believe that they were her best. I don't know, I've liked a few of her single titles quite well, but I've got to admit some stories, like this one, fit perfectly in the lenght of a Trad and would have felt too stretched out in a single title.


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