Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Winter Renshaw has done it again with The Marriage Pact. This is a second chance, frenemies-to-lovers type of romance. It is the tale of two people, Prince Julian and Emelie, finding each other again after much discord and misunderstanding. It is a beautiful lesson in moving beyond pain to find an enduring lifetime of love. It is also a reminder to be one’s self each day, no matter the circumstances and expectations. These two are lovely and dreamy, even in their pain.
Prince Julian and Emelie are childhood friends, now adults. At 16, Emelie gives her virginity to Julian, only to be met with silence and disdain the day after. After a childhood of taunting, giving her virginity and love to Julian is a huge step. His rejection of her creates so much pain that she makes an oath to never marry him. The pain he inflicts on her is too much.
Eight years later, Prince Julian comes to her door asking to marry her as a way to save his kingdom. After much reticence, Emelie agrees with the agreement that she can end the marriage after five years. What Emelie doesn’t know is that Julian is interested in more. Much of their story is a misunderstanding on both sides. Will they find love, or will their marriage end when the five years has passed?
“I don’t know what it is about first loves, but even the briefest ones leave their marks and the tiniest, most microscopic part of you can’t un-love them, even if you can’t stand them.”
What Winter Renshaw does well is angst. She has this way of telling stories that infuse a bit of humor, but her true calling is making you feel. As I was reading Julian and Emelie’s story, my stomach was knitted into knots because Emelie’s pain is palpable. I kept waiting for the awful moment to happen when Julian would readily take advantage of her again. And it’s this reticent anticipation that keeps Renshaw’s story in its grasp. I began this in the late evening before going to bed, while I am on vacation, and I could not put it down. I simply had to know if Julian and Emelie could survive the lead up to their marriage. Would they make it through the hurt of the past? It’s this driving force that keeps you reading this story until the very last word.
Prince Julian and Emelie are likeable characters, even the prince. Given what we find out about his treatment of Emelie, you expect to detest him. However, Renshaw lets us into his thoughts quickly, and we realize that he has another side of this story, an important side of it. Therefore, there is never a time to dislike him. He is also simply a survivor of pain. “The mark she left on my heart that summer has never faded, and now here we are. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. And this will work out. It has to…”
Together, Julian and Emelie’s souls are interwoven into a story of love over time even in the midst of pain. It’s also about Julian learning who he is outside of his role as prince. Emelie’s love for him helps him transcend the shackles of his kingdom to find a peace in their love. The epilogue is one of my favorite parts as it illustrates the power of freedom and self-love. “I live for these moments with him, the ordinary and beautiful ones…”
If I had one criticism of the story, I’d have to note Emelie’s character. Emelie is a classic over-thinker, and it creates some of the drama of the story. I connect with her in that way, but as a reader, it had moments when it was too much for the story. For the most part, I loved her, but I also felt she found problems where they didn’t truly exist. This is also the genius of Renshaw’s character construction; she generally makes you both love and hate her main characters.
There is always something beautiful about the stories Winter Renshaw tells so well. And The Marriage Pact is no different. Its beauty comes from its painful truths, and the way in which Renshaw weaves it with the love of its two main characters. As I stated before, I could not put this book down. I finished it in the line for Westminster Abbey in my first trip to London, and the beauty of Prince Julian and Emelie’s romance colored the edges of the beauty of that place.
In love and romance,