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***Note: The author's introduction contains this warning: This novel includes a graphic depiction of sexual violence.***
Like a true wallflower, Prudence was always in the background, quietly supporting her fellow wallflowers on their quest to make good marriages. Prudence never seemed to voice out her own dreams and wishes -- only her fears: what if, in the 100-years of existence of Lady Penelope's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families, she would be the only graduate of their school not to get married after her fourth season? It is not hopeful enthusiasm or youthful optimism that drives Prudence to seek out a marriage: it is fear. And, now we understand why.
Prude Prudence is London's Least Likely to be Caught in a Compromising Position. There are two ways to read this statement:
1. No one would ever think to put Prude Prudence in a compromising position.
2. If Prudence was in a compromising position, no one would be able to catch her.
It is the second statement that is, sadly, sad, but true. There was a moment in Prudence's past when she desperately needed someone to walk in and interrupt something, when she hoped Society would do its job -- but God and Society failed her and it left her ruined.
"Are you there, God? 'Tis I, Prudence."
The first line of her story shattered my heart and set the tone for What a Wallflower Wants: Prudence has been let down time and time again by the people and forces that she depended on. No one was there that night she she was ruined. No one stepped in to say no. Even now as she faces another failure, another social disgrace (being a spinster and the only unmarried graduate of Lady Penelope's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families), she is by herself. By her standards, she's doing fine: she has successfully rebuffed unwanted attention and she has kept her demons at bay. But, when her planned arranged marriage goes awry (and she is left alone once again), Prudence is forced to reevaluate her situation. But, this time, when she expected no one to come to her rescue, someone did:
John Roark is a man on a winning streak who is on his way to London to cement his future and further increase his wealth.
Prudence and John have both been on the receiving end of life's misfortunes and both have survived it. John recognizes Prudence's wariness -- it's a feeling he knows only too well. He also recognizes that Prudence has been hurt. While he doesn't know how, why, or by whom, it's also a feeling he knows very well. Our hero doesn't really talk about his past, but the few glimpses of it that we see, show us the slow and steady climb of a man from darkness to light. On that road to London, John had a choice: he could've respected Prudence's decision and left her be, so that he could concentrate on his plans -- or he could stay and help her. The former would help him and his family, the latter would help ... Prudence.
On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer: the needs of the one versus the needs of the many, but John saw things differently, and chose to stay with Prudence. I really loved John. I loved how gentle and understanding and kind her was to Prudence and to the people around him. His goodheartedness isn't an act to impress Prudence or gain her favours. It's really something that is innate to John: he deeply cares for everything around him: be it horse or human. He hadn't planned on being attracted to Prudence, but, as the days passed, John saw how incredibly brave and wonderful Prudence was -- and falling in love with her became inevitable.
He wasn't done with Miss Merryweather. Not that he had plans or designs, just that there was more there to explore; he knew it with a bone-deep certainty. he could not go, not yet, and that is why he was vexed. he was tugged in two directions.
Those eyes. That rare smile that made him forget everything else. The hint of what she would feel like in his arms. He wanted to lose himself in her curves, taste her, know her, soothe her, protect her. In more ways than she would ever, ever know, he wanted to be the man for her.
- p. 117
In her author's introduction, Rodale promises a happy ending. A strange thing to say, because all romance stories end happily anyway, but I realized as I read on that the reminder is necessary: as the story progresses and we discover what truly happened to Prudence, as your heart breaks when you read about John's past, as things don't seem to go our hero and heroine's way, the promise of the happy ending is a comfort, because no two people deserve it more than them. No two people have worked and struggled harder at living than John and Prudence.
"It's hard, isn't it," she mused, "when the world doesn't allow much room for a person to live the life they want."
She thought of all the strict rules imposed on a woman, defining her innocence, her marriageability -- or ruination. She thought of the strict social barriers separating the aristocrats from everyone else, and she thought of servants who were just supposed to fade into the background. She wanted to be more than her qualifications as a wife, more than the status of her virginity.
He wanted more, too. Was that so wrong?
- p. 308
Royale does a wonderful job of balancing the events in the story: there are negative things, but there are also positive things. Like the crests and troughs of a wave, Prudence and John's story is a wonderful testament that: yes, one's winning streak won't last forever, but neither would one's losing streak. The story will break your heart to pieces, but it will also mend it and make it whole in the end.
Saving the best for last. It's why coffee and dessert come after a meal and it's why Maya Rodale's What a Wallflower Wants is the letter-perfect ending to her Bad Boys and Wallflowers series.
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