What happened to the editor of this novel? Was he/she asleep/AWOL (like the Ms Johnston of old)/bored/couldn't be bothered? My mind boggles, frankly.
I loved JJ's original Bittercreek novels, then she went silent for a long while, before the Creeds started warring with the Blackthornes, and I became a fan of that series, until it dragged on a bit too much and too unnecessarily. I hadn't seen anything from her in a while, and frankly, after reading this novel, I wish I'd not bothered looking.
This tale had a male lead who, from his description, was sort of of average height/not quite ugly, but at the same time nothing to look at/not strapping, but sort of able to hold his own. He did, however, have strength of character and was a noble sort, but he was REALLY boring...as was the tale.
The female lead had her heart in the right place, after causing the death of a would-be suitor, but her causing the death of the original mail-order bride, was comical and had me raising my eyebrows in a 'really? That was the best you could come up with?' moment. She seemed rather immature (she was 17 when she met and married the 30yo lead) and a bit frivolous (she showed her disappointment after the male lead's better-looking best friend turned out not to be the lead), meek and non-assertive, except for where the children were concerned; the latter being a complete and total OTT about-face.
The 'romance' was a non-starter, and was along the lines of what my great-gran would have read, a la Barbara Cartland - a few kisses, a touch to the chest (not breasts), some fumbling under the covers and hey presto, a pregnancy. There was no passion, despite his alleged disappointment when he confessed his feelings (in bed) and she didn't respond, despite her feeling the same way (she was, bless her, punishing herself for the death of the would-be suitor, whilst calling out his name in her sleep, making hubby wonder who 'Clive' was, and which of her 'children' he'd fathered). He voiced said disappointment, then something came along to distract him. Honestly? The tale felt like a vehicle for introducing the children in the tale, who were more interesting characters, and who perhaps may well continue this 'saga' in future books - at least, the boy child probably will: read on.
So, the female lead is, looks and acts 17 - but is pretending to be 28 and a widow. She's virgo intacta and is trying to delay the male lead finding out until she and 'her children' are secure under his roof, so you have the obligatory 'discovery' scene delayed til around 55% of the tale has gone (if you're not asleep/bored/dead by then). She has a 'daughter' who looks around 14, but who's passing for 11, and a 'son' who's 11 (I think), but who's passing for 9, and the male lead doesn't see that they could all pass for teenagers? He clocks something is wrong, but FGS, the female child is even growing and having to hide her boobs! How on earth did an editor worth his/her salt 'pass' this novel for publication? It was totally non-realistic and a non-starter in terms of a romance.
The female child in the tale was by far the most interesting and strong character, but for her to be 14, to have sacrificed herself the way she did for her half-brother, to have been romanced and to be ready for marriage at this age (in a side romance in the tale), was OTT and non-believable, historic times be damned.
The male child seemed too 'rebel without a cause', but at least he was a bit interesting, if stupidly juvenile at times.
The male lead's alleged best friend was more 'snake in the grass' than best friend, being the first one to kiss the bride, and having plans to be there for her, so that she'd fall into his arms and he'd be justified in cuckolding his 'friend'. His demise-by-grizzly was OTT and frankly a bit absurd.
The tale - not that there was much of one - is one that I wish I'd never wasted time on.
Ebook courtesy of Piatkus and NetGalley in return for an honest review.