While all her friends and classmates from finishing school have gone on to get married, Prudence Merryweather Payton remains single. Most assume it’s because she’s a wallflower; only Prudence knows its because her hopes and dreams for the future were ruined the night a gentleman forced himself upon her against her will. After being deserted by a less-than-ideal man (and her only proposal to date), Prue vows to buck convention and remain single. But when she gets stranded at an inn with a handsome, blue-eyed stranger (who happens to be a viscount), Prue realizes her vow might have been hasty. As for that viscount, John Roark, he has secrets of his own that could prove dangerous. What’s a wallflower to do?
[Reader warning: This book contains scenes that might trigger emotional issues. Please be aware.]
Maya Rodale’s What a Wallflower Wants is the third and final novel in her Wallflowers series that also included a trilogy of linked contemporary novellas as well. Prue’s story is darker and much more emotional than the previous two books, owing to her rape by a nobleman. Understandably, this event colors Prue’s view of love, romance and marriage, as well as her own self-worth. While What a Wallflower Wants is still a romance and Prue does ultimately get her happily ever after, it’s not without a cost or a lot of angst. That said, Rodale has still crafted a satisfying story with two wonderful main characters.
I’ve read a number of Rodale’s books by now and she has created a number of fascinating heroes and heroines, but since reading this book, Prudence has become my favorite. Sure, she’s been labeled a wallflower, but in truth, she’s only shunned suitors and romances because she fears she’s ruined beyond saving and because, as one might expect, she still experiences residual fears from her attack (in today’s world, we’d most likely diagnose her with PTSD). In Rodale’s Regency world, young women were prized for their purity and virginity. When Prudence’s innocence is violently taken from her, she believes what she’s been taught to believe – that no man will have her now, even if the attack has remained secret. Moreover, her childish fairytale beliefs were shattered and she believes, however cynically, that she cannot rely on anyone else to take care of her.
In a twist, though, that same belief strengthens her. Prue isn’t weak or sad or stupid; while it’s heartbreaking that she thinks she must fend for herself, it also means that she’s remarkably strong, intelligent, self-sufficient and funny. She’s learned to hold her head up and continue on with her life, when I certainly wouldn’t have blamed her for hiding in shame or being depressed. Moreover, she’s a survivor above all else and I loved that Rodale emphasized this aspect of her personality. Most of all, though, I truly loved that Rodale gave Prue unequivocal support in the form of the other characters. Prue’s friends and family stand by her and make it clear that she is not to blame at all. Just as importantly, Rodale gives Prue the means to give voice to her past and speak up, something that was often denied young women of the time. (It helps, of course, the Rodale’s own Derek Knightley – known for giving women a voice in unconventional ways – makes an appearance in this novel.)
Though What a Wallflower Wants has been published for a number of months, I don’t necessarily want to give away Roark’s secrets in this review. However, the twists and turns Rodale introduces in the last part of the book, particularly in regards to Roark’s character, were fun and even a bit unexpected. (Though I knew Roark had secrets, I do admit that I didn’t guess correctly until just before they were revealed.) And I was especially glad to see Rodale avoid predictable choices with this romance; I appreciate an author who strays from the well-worn path and makes her characters different. There’s no love triangle, no elopement to Scotland and no overbearing father denying the relationship. Prue and Roark are meant to be together; they simply have a few obstacles to overcome first.
What a Wallflower Wants concludes this series, and I’m interested to see where Rodale goes with her next book. But in the meantime, I’m going to spend some time hiding from the rain in a country inn where an unassuming but marvelous young woman and an intrepid young man are busy falling in love. You should try it too.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It’s entirely my own fault that it look so long to read it.
[Photo Credit: Goodreads]