A School for Brides, by Patrice Kindl, was published in 2015 by Viking.
The Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy has one purpose: to train its students in the feminine arts, with an eye toward getting them married off. There are two problems, however. The academy is in a Yorkshire backwater, far from anywhere…and there are virtually no eligible men. A School for Brides is the very funny saga of how the eight Winthrop Hopkins girls manage to get around those constraints, and how those of marriageable age snare the man (or future) of their dreams.
A School for Brides is the companion/sequel to Keeping the Castle, that lovely Jane Austen-esque novel that I enjoyed to bits. Unfortunately, this book has very large shoes to fill, and doesn’t fill them successfully.
There are so many characters introduced at the beginning that it is quite difficult to keep track of them all. Eight female characters are introduced almost simultaneously, and then several male characters are thrown into the mix, making it hard to differentiate between all the different female characters as well as the male characters. So for the first third of the book, I found myself foundering a little bit, trying to remember who Miss Evans and Miss Asquith are, and then trying to remember who their love interests are, and then trying to differentiate between the love interests.
Once the characters solidify, however, it is easier to tell them apart, and Kindl somehow manages to give each of them a different personality and a different story. It’s hard to really root for one romance over the other, as we never get enough of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, but the one romance that is focused on more than the others (at least in my opinion) is sweet. We also get some instances where a budding romance turns into nothing, and that’s fine, too.
A School for Brides is fun, but it lacks almost all of what I found so enticing about Keeping the Castle. Kindl tackles a little bit too much: telling eight different stories is hard to do in such a short book, and so we don’t get as much character depth and focus. Things aren’t too serious, and a lot of what happens is played for laughs, but there’s a lack of substance to the whole book. I enjoyed it, but I wish the scope had been more narrow and that the focus was on one or two of the characters, rather than four or five.
Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, was published in 1978 by Dutton.
Seventeen-year-old Althea bears a heavy burden on her slender shoulders. She must support her widowed mother, young brother, and two stepsisters who plead poverty—and she must maintain Crawley Castle, a tumbledown folly designed and built by her great-grandfather. Althea, in short, must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors—or suitors of any kind—their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then Lord Boring comes to stay with his aunt and uncle. Althea immediately starts a clever, stealthy campaign to become Lady boring. There’s only one problem; his cousin and business manager, Mr. Fredericks, keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans…
Keeping the Castle is a fun, sweet, short historical romance akin to Jane Austen (though only in plot, not substance) or Georgette Heyer. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is, but I didn’t find myself caring in the least bit—I had a smile on my face the entire time. It’s cute, it’s indulgent, it’s funny—a lot like Blackmoore or Edenbrooke in terms of how I felt about it, but better written then those two books, I thought.
The book does have a very Austenian plot, a little bit of a mix between Pride & Prejudice and Emma. There’s a lot of focus on money and class, and the tension between the “Old Money” and the “New Money” classes is very clear (Althea is horrified at Lord Boring’s shop-owning cousin, Mr. Fredericks, and his bumbling, rude ways). There’s nothing surprising about the plot in terms of romance, though there are one or two interesting things that happen along the way that are slightly unexpected.
I feel like Kindl had a great time writing this book; it’s very tongue-in-cheek (Lord “Boring,” Dr. Haxhamptonshire (pronounced “Hamster”), etc.) and really it feels like Kindl wanted to capture a lot of Austen charm without the more advanced language and with a bit of a modern touch (in terms of writing, not in terms of setting).
Keeping the Castle was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed myself immensely. I love books like these, especially ones that are written to be funny, as opposed to those which are meant to be serious but wind up being humorous because they’re trying too hard. It was a great relaxing, de-stressing book, and I want to read all of Kindl’s other novels now.