Wednesday, 26 December 2018
#CBR10 Book 106: "Wicked and the Wallflower" by Sarah Maclean
Rating: 4 stars
Felicity Faircloth may be the daughter of an Earl, but she is now on the fringes of society and her family desperately need her to land a rich husband, sooner rather than later, please. She's not at all happy to discover just how dire the family's finances are (and that they've kept the truth from her for over a year), but she may have just doomed them all, but telling a very inconvenient lie at a ball held by the reclusive Duke of Marwick. The lie - that she's in fact already betrothed to marry him.
Imagine her surprise when a scoundrel shows up in her bedroom after the ball, promising her that she can, in fact, land the Duke if she makes a deal with the Devil of Whitechapel. Felicity misses the time when she was part of the popular crowd and wants to save her family's reputation, so she agrees, but she also wonders how in the world this Devil will convince the Duke to agree to marry a woman he's not even met, and what this mystery man's motives are for "helping" her.
Said Devil of Whitechapel is in fact one of three bastard sons, born to the former Duke of Marwick on the exact same day, to three different women (this is the sort of implausible coincidence you just have to roll with). There is in fact a fourth child sharing the same birthday, the Duke's daughter Grace (who ironically is NOT his legitimate child either). The three boys were brought to his estate as children and forced to compete in horrific challenges to see who would become the Duke's heir. They swore a pact that there would never be any actual heirs - and since Ewan (now the Duke) seems to be breaking that promise, by trying to find a wife and possibly sire children, his half-brothers Devil (real name Devon) and Beast (Whit) are determined to stop him.
Devil/Devon plans to help Felicity snag him, get publicly engaged, then seduce her, so she can't marry the Duke because of the ensuing scandal. Beast/Whit thinks this is a rubbish plan, and can clearly see that his brother is far too besotted with Felicity to ever use her to gain revenge over their other brother. As it becomes very obvious from early on that Felicity returns Devon's attraction, and doesn't really care one whit for the Duke, the plan goes awry pretty quickly. Yet she's unlikely to regain her position in society if she spurns a handsome and eligible duke in favour of a shady underworld smuggler.
I really don't like revenge plots where some dude is going to get back at another dude by using a woman. Thankfully, Sarah Maclean has Felicity be a heroine who refuses to be used in anyone's game, and who is far more interested in the supposedly dangerous and double-dealing underworld crime boss than the handsome Duke she initially lies and says she is to marry. She's far too good for Devon/Devil (such a dumb nickname), but not really because she's the daughter of an earl and from high society, while he's illegitimate and fought for most of his life to establish a criminal empire with his brother and foster sister. He wants to use Felicity to thwart Ewan, the bastard who became the Duke's heir. Ewan, in turn, wants to use Felicity to get to Devon, because he desperately wants to find Grace, the Duke of Marwick's actual heir (although the Duchess of Marwick had been just as unfaithful as her husband), whom he is obsessed with.
Felicity wants adventure and to be loved, she wants the Duke, but only if he'll fall passionately for her. At the start of the book, she longs to return to the centre of the ton and be popular, but as the sordid scheme progresses, she realises that she wants something else, and she just needs to make the stubborn ice smuggler understand it. She also discovers that while she loves her family, she's sick of being used by them, and is done trying to appease them and sacrifice herself to bail them out.
As with Tessa Dare's novels, Sarah Maclean's romances need to be read with a healthy suspension of disbelief. Really, throw your disbelief out the window. At the same time, there is an almost fairytale like feel to this new series. You have the four children, born on the exact same day, all connected to a very wicked man who made their childhoods hell. There is Felicity Faircloth, with a name like a fairytale heroine (and Devon keeps referring to her by her full name, which starts out sort of charming, gets annoying and kind of goes back into charming again because of the repetition), who ends up not just saving herself, but the stubborn man she falls for. While Whit (the hero of the next book) is clearly the strong, silent type), the two most intriguing supporting characters are probably Ewan (who is sort of nominally the villain of the piece) and Grace/Dahlia. Ewan is clearly unhealthily obsessed with his foster sister - it is said that he loved her once, but Devon and Whit are clearly willing to risk their lives to keep her from him, and because her very existence threatens Ewan's title and wealth, his need to find her at all costs is definitely cast in a sinister light.
None of the books of the Scandal and Scoundrel series really worked all that well for me (and the whole Kardashian thing in the Victorian era didn't really stick the landing), so I was reluctant to start this one. I waited nearly six months to start it (after I got it on sale) and was really very pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was. Maclean is still not back at "buy at full price", but then, so very few authors are nowadays, but she has earned herself a reprieve, and I'm more excited to read the next book in the series now than I was before I finished this one.
Judging a book by its cover: Oh mercy me, do I hate this cover. I'm pretty sure that it would have been difficult, if not impossible for that colour of lurid fuchsia to be produced in the Victorian era. Then there's the fact that the cut of the dress is wrong for the period, not to mention the horrible mini-skirt effect they're trying to achieve, which makes my eye twitch. I have loathed this cover since I saw it revealed many months ago, and it was a contributing factor to me waiting so long to pick up the book.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.