The Marriage Pact, Wendy Sotis, 2018
Several years ago, Sotis started writing Austen fan fiction, and has published many variations of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship, with more promised, but The Marriage Pact is an original Regency romance.
James and Celia have been friends for years, due to connections between their families, and as the story opens they are already attracted to each other. She is seventeen, and not looking forward to her first season, thanks to a pushy mother and a generous income likely to attract all manner of suitors, when she’d prefer to marry for love.
James, older, and heir to an earldom, has a similar desire to marry for love, but is often faced with women seeking only to compromise him, to get his title. He has a mistress, but with Celia coming on to the marriage mart he is starting to think about her a new way. Unfortunately, he learns that plans have already been made for him to marry Celia, at the end of her season, and he is not pleased to learn she has lied to him while participating in the scheme. Celia, of course, has no knowledge of the arrangement.
The core issue is a misunderstanding, and it seems thin material to sustain the story. And, since, this is a friends to lovers story, we miss the meet and initial realization that this person may be someone special. However, there is a lot of backstory to reveal how the marriage pact came about, and its conditions. The latter part of the story addresses the conditions. The plot is enriched by subplots such as a cousin’s pregnancy, unreliable friends, the scheming mistress, and a friend of James who fakes attraction to Celia with the intentions of protecting her and encouraging James.
From my reader perspective, James is decidedly unheroic, thinking the worst of his friend with scant evidence, then being slow to accept his mistake and apologize. However, one can enjoy a little Schadenfreude in watching him suffer as he realizes his mistake. From my writer perspective, this book is great example of the importance of having a solid backstory when plotting, and how to reveal it to sustain pacing and interest. There is also good use of repetition in dialogue and structure. The heat level is sweet – nothing more than a kiss – but sexual tension simmers in touches, incidental and intentional, and more humorously in Celia’s observations of her mother’s alterations to the necklines of her gowns.
I watched Pride and Prejudice and Zombies recently, so I’m not up for more Austen fan fiction any time soon, but am looking forward to the next work from Sotis in this series.