This entertaining Georgian romantic farce is the fourth in a series of five romances featuring the five brothers and sisters of the Sharpe family of Halstead Hall. The heroine of this one is Lord Gabriel Sharpe, known as "Gabe" to his family and friends and "The Angel of Death" to the wider world. Gabe is the brother of Oliver, Marquis of Stoneville.
I would strongly recommend that if you are going to read this series you do so in sequence, which is:
1) "The Truth About Lord Stoneville (Hellions of Halstead Hall)
" (Oliver's story)
2) "A Hellion in Her Bed (Hellions of Halstead Hall)
3) "How to Woo A Reluctant Lady (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)
4) This book, "To Wed a Wild Lord" (Gabe)
5) "A Lady Never Surrenders (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)
" (Celia, due early 2012.)
Gabe is a devoted lover of horses and particularly horse racing: his ambition is to run a successful racing stable, something which his father had attempted and failed, but he is convinced he can succeed where his father didn't. He is also a noted whip, and carriage racing used to be one of his main pleasures in life - but it has brought him no pleasure since his best friend, Roger Waverly, was killed racing against him on a particularly dangerous course known as "threading the needle" some seven years before the main action of this story. Society gave him the "Angel of Death" nickname after this accident, but perversely he has received all the more challenges to races by reckless men who wish to prove themselves.
Three people have never forgiven Lord Gabriel for Roger Waverly's death: Roger's sister Virginia, his grandfather General Isaac Waverly (known to Virginia as "Poppy," and Gabe himself. Which creates an interesting situation when Gabe has to look for a wife, because the only respectable woman who has ever interested him is the beautiful spitfire who blames him for her brother's demise ...
The scene for this series was set twenty years before the main action of the story, on the day in 1806 when the disastrous marriage, and the lives, of Gabriel's parents came to a tragic end. The prologue of each of the first four books of the series is also set on that day, showing how it affected the central character of the story.
Lord Gabriel's father, the Marquis of Stoneville, had married Prudence Plumtree, daughter of a wealthy brewer, for her money. He hoped to use the dowry she brought from the Plumtree brewery to keep up his vast but expensive house and estate at Halstead Hall, while continuing to live the life of a dissolute noble rake.
Bad mistake. The Plumtree family may be in trade but judging by Hetty Plumtree, the grandmother of the five Sharpe siblings and a major character in the series, they are sharp as a whip, stubborn as a mule, and nearly as proud as the noble Sharpes. They don't make good doormats.
Prudence did not have the complaisant attitude to her husband's infidelity which is found in some parts of the aristocracy and when he cheated on her, she went ballistic. The elder Sharpe siblings' memories of their parents, particularly those of Oliver the firstborn, were of a series of cataclysmic rows. The prologue of this book makes clear that even seven-year old Gabe was upset by the frequent screaming matches between his mother and his father.
And then the Marquis and his wife were found shot dead. At the start of the first book the reader was given the impression that there was a murder-suicide in which the Sharpe siblings' mother shot first her husband and then herself. Exactly what really happened is a major plot element in all the books, including this one, so I don't want to give anything further away beyond saying that the tragedy will haunt all the characters throughout the series.
The main action of all five books begins in 1825: the Sharpe siblings have grown up and each has become notorious in his or her own way. Oliver, the present Marquis of Stoneville, now 35, has become an infamous rake. Jarret, now aged 32, has become possibly the most notorious and skilled gambler in the country. Their sister Minerva, aged 28, writes gothic novels under her real name.
As we have seen, Gabe the third brother and hero of this book, aged 26, is another rake and is nicknamed "The Angel of Death" for his skill at dangerous carriage races, while the youngest sibling, Celia, is fascinated by guns and has become a crack shot - and she in turn is notorious for challenging her friends' brothers to shooting competitions and wiping the floor with them. The family as a group are known by the same name as this series of books: the Hellions of Halstead Hall.
The purse-strings of the family are still held by their maternal grandmother, and at the start of "The Truth about Lord Stoneville," Hetty Plumtree's patience with the five Hellions of Halstead Hall finally snapped when Gabe broke his arm during yet another dangerous race. So she gave all five of them an ultimatum: settle down and marry within a year, or she'll cut them off without a penny and leave the brewery to their cousin Desmond.
That's the background to all the books in the series, and each volume covers how one of the five brothers or sisters responds to Hetty's ultimatum.
Virginia Waverly has a strange way of expressing her outrage at Gabe racing the dangerous course at Turnham Green known as "threading the needle" - she challenges him to race her on it. Gabe responds with a challenge of his own: if she wins a rather less dangerous contest he will race her at Turnham Green, if he wins she will let him court her.
And so the stage is set for a romantic battle royal interlaid with two mysteries: what really happened to Gabriel's parents, and what were the real circumstances when Gabe raced Roger?
This series is nonsense, but it is entertaining nonsense, and I loved most of the characters, including Hetty, Gabe, and Virginia. I've enjoyed each book more than the previous one.
There are some flaws in the background research, mostly very minor, one or two serious. The main contradition in terms in this book is that Virginia's grandfather "Poppy" is a former cavalry general who is short of money - so much so that he has been unable to buy her a decent new dress for three years.
There was no such thing as an impoverished cavalry general in Georgian England. Unless he had ruined himself since reaching that rank by gambling or by some similar spectacularly self-destructive act, which appears wildly out of character for the person depicted in the book, Poppy's circumstances do not make sense. It was almost impossible for a cavalry officer who was that short of cash to rise to the rank of general in the Napoleonic-era British army.
Given that Sabrina Jeffries wanted Virginia's grandfather to be a relatively impoverished former senior officer, she should have made him an admiral, or just possibly a general who had risen through the artillery or engineers.
Between the Restoration and the Cardwell Army reforms some fifty years after the time when "To Wed a Wild Lord" is set, you could usually only gain promotion to the rank of Colonel in cavalry or infantry regiments by quite literally buying each step in rank for hard cash, after having qualified by serving a set minimum time in the rank below. Promotions in cavalry regiments were the most expensive and difficult to obtain.
Promotion to General was obtained by a mixture of merit and influence from among those who had reached the rank of Colonel, most of whom would have bought their way to that rank.
There were a very limited number of battlefield and "non-purchase" promotions, usually awarded for an act of suicidal bravery, and in the less exclusive infantry regiments - though not the cavalry - it wasn't unknown for the Colonel to lend a deserving N.C.O. the money to buy a subaltern's commission. But overall the system was deliberately designed to make it almost impossible for a poor man to rise above the lowest commissioned ranks and to ensure that only rich men could rise above the rank of Major, except in specialised units like the artillery and engineers.
It WAS possible, though difficult, for an able man of relatively humble origins to rise to flag rank in Nelson's Royal Navy on merit and luck. Indeed, Nelson himself was the son of a doctor. This was all the more possible for an able man from an impoverished branch of a noble family - e.g. like Virginia's grandfather in the book, who was the third son of an earl. But to become a general through the cavalry in Wellington's army you really did need to have lots of money.
(As an aside, in case you are having trouble believing that what appears a blatantly and ridiculously unfair system to modern eyes could possbly have been adopted, or wondering why it applied to the army but not the navy, please bear with me for a couple of paragraphs of explanation.
The purchase of commissions was introduced in 1683 by the Restoration government of Charles II, within living memory of a period when Oliver Cromwell imposed direct military rule on Britain, known as the "rule of the major generals." This had been unpopular with all levels of society, and Charles II's ministers wanted to make it difficult for such a thing to happen again. Read more ›