Shira Glassman's Reviews > The Marigold Chain

The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley
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really liked it
bookshelves: cis-hetero, costume-drama

The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley is joining my short list of fiction with incredibly misleading blurbs that do a "hmmmm" job of actually selling the book. It's not that it's wrong, but at its heart, this thing is a romantic comedy. A romantic comedy with a heart of gold, full of spying and political intrigue, and the kind of soft spot for found family that tugs at my soul.

I definitely don't get comedy from the blurb, but it's the madcap elements of this--for example, the heroine tossed in the snow after locking two friends in a room together to force them to fix their argument, which works--that earned my smiles as much as the actual story did.

Not that it's a silly book. The main characters are a man, his accidental wife he married as a prank while drunk off his face, and all of his dearest male friends, and since this is a spying-and-politics-and-war book and men die in spying and politics and wars, not all of them make it out alive. I can't remember the last time I read a book where I believed in the true friendship of the male characters as much as this one other than in-community queer stories, so the poignancy of this kind of loss made the book a richer place for me as a reader instead of feeling like throwaway tragedy.

Honestly, though. Like, I can't think of a book that isn't one of those super duper queer ensemble cast pieces like Chameleon Moon or Viral Airwaves or Poison Kiss that has quite the same feel between a man, his male friends, and his wife -- who is included in the friendship with the male friends, and interacts with them as a real friend -- that this one did.

I really enjoyed the complex machinations of the plot. Political intrigue is stressful to read, so having it superimposed on a frothy era like the English Restoration, an amusing jackass character like the hero (he's impulsive and unafraid and it takes him to some strange places), and some outright funny circumstances made the violent or suspenseful moments less tense for me as an anxious reader.

The romantic plot puts the hero and heroine in a situation where they're married but living platonically because of the goofy circumstances surrounding the marriage. However, if they do hook up, it won't be as easy to legally get out of the marriage, and neither one is conscious that their growing feelings are being reciprocated. This gets resolved in a hilarious, unexpected way, and I commend the author for her creativity.

Also, guess who gets to be a character in this? Charles Freaking Stuart the Second!!!! All of his scenes were terrific. I want to read ten more books like this one, plotty but mostly comic, where he gets to strut around and be horny and fatherly and super tall.

This is not a book that gives friendships between women a whole lot of space, but because Chloe gets to be a whole person in her platonic friendships with her husband's crew, I didn't really mind all that much. I will note that the most important female character besides Chloe is her husband's disgusting ex-girlfriend, and she can hold her own against Lady Sarah pretty well (and so can he.) It's satisfying to watch her stand up for herself, sometimes by pretending nothing gross was said. You don't always have to answer anon hate.

Chloe's maid had a Jewish name and since we were let back into the country a few years before this I wondered if that was intentional. I hope it was!

I was tickled by the wording in this scene, specifically the "one particularly nasty habit had been delivered" part.

"And that is the least of our worries. Birds have some nasty habits."

The words had barely left his mouth when there was a loud splat from somewhere near at hand and turning, they say that one particular nasty habit had been delivered on the table in front of Lady Sarah who was staring at it with picturesque revulsion.

By the way, one warning and one quibble: the hero, since he's impulsive and somewhat inappropriate, foils a mild assault of the forced-kiss variety by shoving the man aside, yelling at him, and then kissing the woman himself. This is highly offensive, and the author dials it back by having her be super into it. We only find out later that this was Chloe and she really liked him and that's the reason she immediately agreed to the "get me out of this hellhole" instant marriage, not just a need to escape her family, but that doesn't make his actions right.

However, it takes up such a short space of the book and his behavior toward her over the course of the next year is so respectful even though he has every opportunity to commit more serious violence on her completely within the law, that I found it easy to look past as "a flaw but not one that kept me from enjoying the book." However, if this is not you, I wanted you to know so you can make your own reading decisions.

Also note that I wanted to fire the book's depiction of a speech impediment into the sun. Never ever write out your disabled character's speech impediments. Not only is it ablist and offensive, but it's hard to read. Luckily, he's not on that many pages so this is another thing that I could just put on my eyeroll shelf and move on. It did a lot of things right, enough for me to review it and recommend it "with reservations" (which is what my four-star ratings mean), but I have to mention things like this.
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Reading Progress

August 31, 2015 – Shelved
August 31, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
July, 2017 – Started Reading
July, 2017 – Finished Reading
August 13, 2017 – Shelved as: cis-hetero
August 13, 2017 – Shelved as: costume-drama

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