December 2008, European Historical Romance (1860s [Victorian] England)
Signet Eclipse, $6.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451225678
Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
Imagine a warning bell ringing inside your head, gradually rising in volume as the old-fashioned clang, clang, clang warns you that the trusted book you are reading has just gone wildly out of your comfort zone. I quickly look on the spine of Wicked Intentions to see if I am truly reading mainstream historical romance and when I see that I am, I must ask, “Is this romance?”
Lydia Joyce is on my auto-buy list as an author I consistently enjoy. Her writing has an edge that I usually savor, but she has taken a troublesome turn and given her readers a non-repentant hard (and I do mean hard) hero. I have decided not to underplay his actions and instead to give you fair warning of his conduct toward the heroine so please be aware of the following spoilers:
Not only does the hero slap the heroine (while she is tied up), but he also aggressively introduces her to anal sex without her being aware of his intent. And all of this takes place within the first 80 pages. Think you can handle that? Okay, then I’ll do my job and tell you about the rest of the story.
Considered a cold character by most, Thomas Hyde, Viscount Varcourt, believes in controlling his family and doing whatever is necessary to both rein them in and keep them safe from others. It is rumored that he murdered his brother twelve years earlier to gain the title and his notoriety drives him to dwell in the shadows. He has been keeping a close eye on a particular woman who hides her face behind a veil. The woman purports to hear from the dead and comforts those who choose to spend time in her company. Of course, those she chooses to comfort are the wealthy or titled families, and she has selected the viscount’s mother as her favorite.
Esmeralda is well known as a gifted spiritualist who insists on never being seen without her veil. Her ability to manipulate bits of truth from others and turn them into visions seems remarkable if one only wants to hear encouragement from her or to confess their soul. Thomas, however, sees her as a charlatan and is resolved to stop her no matter what it takes. His ire culminates over the fact that his mother recently discovered a costly necklace at Esmeralda’s direction and he's convinced that she planted the necklace for some felonious reason. Thomas is determined to force the mysterious woman to confess where she obtained it, as well as provide him with a full account of her purpose in giving it to his mother.
Following Esmeralda home from a social gathering one night, Thomas forcefully breaks into her apartment and informs her that he will do whatever is necessary to get the answers he seeks. In a desperate attempt to distract him, Esmeralda challenges him to take what he wants most – her body. There is nothing tender about their sexual encounter, and soon after he kidnaps her and takes her to his home. All the while Thomas muses that she had teased him, lead him on, and offered herself to him. And, while he recognizes that he brutalized her, in his mind she both deserved and wanted what happened. I can’t tell you how many clanging bells his numerous justifications set off in my mind.
After the first 100 pages, the story shifts more to a mystery wherein the reader must watch closely for the clues left here and there throughout the remainder of the book regarding Esmeralda’s past and the reasoning behind her masquerade. Both leads spend so much time on “Should I – shouldn’t I?” thoughts that I sometimes lost interest and, therefore, track of the storyline.
I can’t claim that I felt much fondness for Esmeralda either. She is content to let Thomas believe she may be a courtesan and is immersed in her many lies and manipulations. She mocks Thomas and makes a point of saying the things she knows will cut the deepest. Neither are sympathetic characters and both of their stubborn personalities assure there will be little to no honest communication between them. He’s out to make her fear him and, therefore, fall in line. She is out to keep him distracted until she can finish her grand plan and get away.
As I wondered how Thomas could possibly be redeemed within the pages of this book, I eventually realized that Esmeralda didn’t have a problem excusing his behavior. She understands the motives behind his actions and believes they will eat away at his soul – a unique way of thinking about physical abuse, I guess.
I am usually drawn to aggressive heroes, but I could not ignore Thomas’s negative forceful behavior towards Esmeralda. Grading was difficult because Wicked Intentions was basically a C+ read for me until I factored in Thomas’s antagonistic behavior. Those actions caused me to lower the review one entire grade.
And finally, a definite requirement for my romance reading is a believable HEA, something that is sorely lacking here. I have to ask again, “Is this romance?” For me, it’s not.
-- Lea Hensley
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