I love Regency historicals and I don't care about the bad rap they get. When done well, Regency historicals are full of the life, energy and romance of the period. Unfortunately, The Night Before the Wedding is one of those Regency historicals that contribute to the bad rep.
Hundreds of years ago, a curse was placed on two feuding Scottish clans: Each generation, the daughter of the Farlan clan born with a birthmark in the shape of a sword must marry the MacBraedon laird by her 18th birthday else she will go mad and neither clan will prosper. Things went swimmingly until a Farlan daughter with the birthmark chose to run off with a rich English merchant. She did indeed go mad and told her seven-year-old daughter Catherine that the same thing will happen to her...then she lept out the window to her death. Sure enough, since Catherine Depford's 18th birthday a few weeks ago, she has been hearing chanting voices and having erotic dreams of a plaid-draped Scotsman. Catherine and her father, the aforesaid rich English merchant, both fear for her sanity and he plans to marry her to a nice viscount who is good to his mother, on the assumption that he will be equally as good to Catherine once she has gone fully insane. Then Catherine sees her dream Scotsman across a crowded ballroom.
Gabriel MacBradeon has been seeking the birthmarked Catherine, knowing that she is the key to saving his people. Things are bleak in the Highlands, with crop failures, starvation, and even two-headed sheep being the norm. It is your basic Armageddon and will continue to be until Gabriel marries the chosen Farlan Bride and brings her home. It helps soothe Gabriel's sense of duty to find that Catherine is beautiful and he feels a sexual attraction to her beyond what must be normal. But, she's being stubborn.
This is a fairly unique premise for a story, but it's one in which I soon lost interest due to the really unlikable and uneven characterizations and the lack of atmosphere. Catherine is happy to learn more about her mother and her illness and to have an explanation for her dreams even though she refuses to believe in curses. She is attracted to Gabriel, she believes him a man trying to help his people - i.e. a good man - yet she still plans to marry another solely to have someone care for her when she goes mad. Not a very good plan and one very inconsiderate of her would-be husband, who knows nothing of Catherine's expectations of madness. Why not just marry Gabriel, who is a good man and one to whom she is attracted and in whose presence the voices in her head disappear? Seems a no-brainer to me.
When Gabriel loses all patience with wooing Catherine by English means, he goes the Scottish route and kidnaps her. Catherine's father is so opposed to all things Scottish, that, in an effort to avoid scandal when the husband he has chosen cries off, he quickly buys her a new fiance - one who has a very bad reputation as a rake: "He drank, gambled, and wenched to excess, but he had a title and was in dire need of funds." Nice. Like this guy is such a prize and will take care of his daughter much better than the honorable, albeit Scottish, Gabriel. And yet Mr. Depford claims to love Catherine and she loves him and knows he only has her best interests at heart. Gabriel was a much more sympathetic character who truly wanted the best for his clan but the poor man was saddled with a spoiled, selfish, whiny heroine.
The fact that I had no idea what time period I was in throughout the book added to my dissatisfaction. There are no dates given, but I assume this is set in the Regency - I've seen it labeled as such - but it never felt like it. There is the London Season, there are balls, but the atmosphere was lacking. There were no clues given that say "Regency" - no descriptions of clothing, not even a passing reference to "Prinny;" this could have taken place at any time between 1790 and 1890. But the Scottish portions of the book had a distinctive medieval feel with castles and crofts and clans - oh my. I never felt grounded in the period or setting, rendering the book beyond wallpaper history.
Characters that acted in contradictory or unlikable ways, a wallpaper historical period and an illogical storyline combined to make The Night Before the Wedding a distinctly unenjoyable reading experience.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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