The Fiancee Farce is a Sapphic marriage-of-convenience romance, between a bookstore owner and a book cover model-slash-publishing heiress. It’s like it was written for me personally! I sat down with it crossing my fingers for smut, to complete the trifecta.

The Fiancee Farce - Alexandria Bellefleur - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Fiancee Farce should come with a warning: the first chapter is off-the-hook, totally-and-completely bonkers. It goes from 0 to 100 on the very first page, you’ll be thrown back in your seat. Tansy has been “dating” a pretend girlfriend – romance book cover model, Gemma West – for six months. It’s a ruse she perpetuates to get out of dinner with her snobby step-family. She’s attending a wedding with said step-family when, lo and behold, Gemma comes strutting in.

Tansy thinks she’s busted, but without even the slightest heads up, Gemma goes along with it. It turns out, Gemma has her own reasons for needing a fake relationship as cover. It turns out she’s a publishing heiress, all set to inherit the family business, but for a clause in her grandfather’s will that stipulates she be married by the time of the board meeting that will transfer ownership.

So, Gemma promptly declares to all and sundry that she and her “girlfriend” Tansy are engaged. And so, The Fiancee Farce begins.

Tansy is disinclined to go along with the scheme at first. Then, she learns that her wicked step-mother plans to sell their own family business, the bookstore that Tansy has called home all her life. She figures out that if she marries Gemma, the merging of their financial assets will give her the funds she needs to buy the bookstore herself outright. So, Tansy and Gemma are set to be wed.

Of course, The Fiancee Farce is ridiculous – all the best romance novels are – but it’s great fun, and honestly, the genuine chemistry and compatibility between the leads makes up for the absurd plot. Despite having lived very different lives and having very different personalities, Gemma and Tansy are both black sheep. It gives them enough common ground to build a solid relationship (because of course they do, that’s hardly a spoiler, get a grip).

They fake affection in mixed company, only to find before long the sparks are flying for real. The only real impediment to making their marriage legit is the duplicitous scheming of Gemma’s family. It’s all very Succession-esque, with alliances and double-agents and reconnaissance and blackmail. So, the question at the heart of The Fiancee Farce isn’t so much whether they’re going to fall for each other for real as it is will they survive the ravages of the Van Dalen empire.

I really appreciated that there was no hand-wringing about queerness in The Fiancee Farce (I think there was maybe one vague mention of lifestyle choices in a family argument scene, but nothing memorable). There’s not a trace of all the gay tropes we’ve come to hate – no dead lesbians, no dramatic coming-out stories, no gay-related trauma. Of course, stories about the lived experience of homophobia (both societal and internalised) are important, but I’m just kind of tired of them in romance novels. This is a genre built on escapism, and life treating the queers poorly is just exhausting and all-too-real sometimes. It was a blessed relief to read a book where queerness wasn’t othered at all, and the marriage of two women was handled exactly the way any other coupling would be.

I made note of a very surprising 180 from Tansy’s step-mother towards the end, and a frustrating third-act break-up (boo! hiss!), but honestly, those flaws weren’t enough to detract from a wonderful reading experience. The Fiancee Farce is rollicking good fun all the way through, a pleasantly spicy romance written with great affection.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Fiancee Farce:

  • “Everything could have been better save for the lovely bookstore one of the characters owns.” – Emily Butler
  • “I laughed, I cringed (for the plot), I got all the tummy flutters and coochie clenches.” – A. D. Waltz
  • “Have you ever seen Atonement? You know that library scene? Yeah. It’s like that, but gay… and no children were traumatized. Blessed.” – Amazon Customer