Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Royal Bridesmaids by Stephanie Laurens, Gaelen Foley, and Loretta Chase

What little girl hasn't dreamed of growing up and marrying a prince? Well, I'm certain there are some but in this very Disney age, it's almost de rigeur to go through the princess stage as a tiny girl. So what could be more enchanting than a trio of stories about royal weddings, even if the main character might not be the one marrying the prince (or maybe she is!). In the case of Royal Bridesmaids by Stephanie Laurens, Gaelen Foley, and Loretta Chase, I have liked all three authors in the past so it seemed like a fun and diverting book to pick up and read of an afternoon.

Laurens' story, A Return Engagement, is the story of a sister who finds, to her great discomfort, that she's been paired with her ex-fiancé for her sister's wedding. But she can't focus on her own discomfort with him because she has to make sure that her sister's wedding to the Prince of Lautenberg comes off without a hitch despite an odd condition that strikes all the women of her family just before they marry. In managing her sister's wedding, Lady Nell helps her own former fiancé to a better understanding of what went wrong between the two of them as their relationship sparks back into fiery life.

Foley's story, The Imposter Bride, has a royal attendant stepping in and marrying the prince for the sake of peace between their two countries. The hitch is that she has allowed him to continue to believe that she is the princess he was supposed to marry. And while the passionate Lady Minerva might have slid into the bride's place as a political expedient, she and the controlled and seemingly cold Prince Tor fall hard for each other in the time before the deception is discovered, making the lies that much worse when they come to light.

Chase's story, Lord Lovedon's Duel, is a witty and humorous tale of a sister defending her newly married sister's honor to a seeming bore before seeing him as he really is. Immediately following the wedding, Chloe overhears Lord Lovedon saying that her sister's royal marriage is not the love match it has been touted as being but a financial pairing. A rather drunk Chloe bristles at this injustice and challenges him to a duel. The back and forth concerning this duel is entertaining and in the end, the whole thing is whimsically handled without loss of face for either of the incredibly loyal participants who are certainly on their way to being able to enact a battle of wits with each other for all eternity.

Romance collections are often hard as it's not easy to develop fully rounded characters, have them fall in love, develop a conflict, and follow many, if not all, of the expected conventions of romance novels within the brief amount of pages afforded to the short stories in their covers. In this trio of stories, the space constraint is especially tight as none of the stories even reaches 40 pages.  A surprising chunk of the book given over to excerpts from the authors' upcoming releases. The stories themselves do manage to encapsulate the things that make romances appealing but each of them also feels a bit like a slightly more fleshed out version of an outline to the story. There is so much pruned from the stories that would have made them much more satisfying but that would have pushed them to novella or even full length novel size and so they wouldn't have fit into this anthology. And there's the rub. Because each of the stories could have been so much more than it was, not fully as complete and self-contained as a true short story but more of a dress rehearsal for something longer. The writers are good ones and the book is entertaining enough but ultimately it comes up a touch short.

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