1991 reissue of 1988 release, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Pocket Books, $7.99, 418 pages, Amazon ASIN 0671737635
Like most romance readers, I have read many books by Judith McNaught and have loved several of them. When I think of the author,Paradise, Perfect, and A Kingdom of Dreams instantly pop into my mind as beloved favorites, yet I rarely think about my very first McNaught, Something Wonderful. In fact, I havenít touched it since I read it that first time and so I thought I would have another go to figure out why that is. Mission accomplished. While I certainly liked the book, I just wasnít as blown away as I have been by several of her others.
Alexandra Lawrence is a carefree, optimistic young woman who has the unfortunate burden of taking care of her eccentric household, which includes a deaf butler, a blind footman, a frequently drunk bottom-spanking uncle, and an overdramatic and bitter mother. Despite all this, Alex loves her life, seeing all the good in it. After attending her best friendís brotherís birthday party, which is set up as a tournament, Alex rides home in her familyís old suit of armor, holding a shield and lance. From the road, a gunshot sounds, spooking Alexís horse into careening towards the conflict. Jordan Townsende, the Duke of Hawthorne, is being held at gunpoint when a knight comes crashing out of the trees and flies headlong into one of his attackers. After the threat is neutralized, his rescuer faints. Jordan takes the young boy to an inn to call for a doctor, but while he is ministering to his unconscious friend, it becomes apparent that he is no boy.
After Jordan takes Alex home, her mother jumps on the fact that this duke has spent time with her 17-year-old daughter in a private room of a public inn. The whole family drops in on the Townsendes and demands that Jordan marry Alex because everyone in town believes sheís ruined. Surprisingly, Jordan doesnít put up much of a battle and the two get married. His plan is to take Alex to his house in Devon and leave her there while he continues living as he always has. The two are only married for four days when Jordan suddenly goes missing. The authorities follow his trail and come to the conclusion that he is dead. Alex is crushed. She has no notion of Jordanís rakish lifestyle or his plans for her, so she places her memories of him on a pedestal, reigns herself in, and lives solely to make the noble duke proud of her.
This image falls apart when Alex makes her bow to society. She is perfectly respectable, but her dreamy accounts of Jordan fall on amused ears and she soon becomes a comical outcast. Once again, she is crushed, feeling like she is letting down her late husband, until his cousin, Tony, finally explains what Jordan was really like. After suffering a bit of disillusionment, Alex changes back into herself. The intelligent, fun-loving, unconventional young woman suddenly becomes the toast of the ton. All the men want her and all the women want to be her. And miraculously, thatís when Jordan shows up again.
McNaught writes believable emotion, even if it is also extreme. Before Tonyís revelation, Alex was exceedingly naÔve, but she was also young and idealistic. As for Jordan, after the truth comes out, his anger and jealousy felt real, yet at the same time fun to read. Several Big Misunderstandings take place, but this is one book where I found them very understandable, particularly the final one that leads to the climax. There are many sweet, funny, and just plain wonderful scenes spread throughout the novel that showcase McNaughtís ability to create charming moments.
However, there were aspects to the story that made it less than perfect. Or, should I say less than Perfect? Several issues were brought up and never really delved into again. Alexís mother, who plays a key role in their marriage, disappears entirely. Jordan has had many lovers and intended to keep a mistress, but they never discuss fidelity. And the idea of Jordan going from thinking Alex is a boy, then a twelve-year-old girl, then a very physically immature young lady to suddenly being consumed with lust was hard to swallow. Luckily, the notion that he is completely captivated by her personality is not. It was also difficult to believe that what happened to Jordan during his absence would not be discussed more. He lived through a trying ordeal and I would expect there to be significant emotional ramifications, but those were never brought up. Finally, the ending was very rushed and certain aspects of it were unexplained.
Despite these drawbacks, Something Wonderful is a charming book with a feisty heroine (I loved the fact that she could fence with the best of them) and an enigmatic hero. I would have loved to include this book among my favorites by this author, but alas, that is not the case. However, Iím sure itís among the favorites of other McNaught fans, which just goes to show what an amazing reach this author has.
-- Andi Davis
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