December 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages Part of a series
Miranda Neville is an author who flies under the radar for me, but when I read her books I nearly always like them. The Importance of Being Wicked is a good book. Itís thoughtful, and the characters are interesting and different. This isnít your cookie cutter Regency-set romance.
Caro Townsend is a widow who ran off with her late husband Robert when she was seventeen. He was part of a not-quite-respectable artistic set, and unfortunately also a reckless gambler. After his death Caro is left with very little to live on, but still entertains her artistic friends on her limited budget. She also (in a somewhat shady way) becomes the chaperone of her cousin Anne, a wealthy heiress. Anne attracts the interest of Duke of Castleton, who comes to call - and to potentially court Anne.
Thomas Fitzcharles is determined to marry well to shore up the family coffers (which arenít exactly empty, but could use a boost). He is heartened when he meets Caro, because he is immediately attracted to her, and thinks she is Anne. Though he is soon disabused of that notion, he commences a courtship with Anne, sure that itís a good idea.
Caro is somewhat less sure. Anne and Thomas are a bit alike - perhaps too alike. Caro thinks Anne needs a man with a livelier personality to balance her out. Of course, she herself finds Thomas very attractive. But not only does she have no intention of pursuing her cousinís beau; she has no intention of marrying again. However, their proximity to each other makes sparks inevitable. Then their fate is sealed. Caro journeys to a friend's home to ask for help with her financial woes. She runs into the same creditor who is pressuring her for cash at an inn, and briefly entertains the idea of giving into his demands that she repay him with sex.
Thomas walks in on them as the creditor is making advances and impulsively declares himself to be Anneís fiance (and therefore family). He spirits Caro away, but their presence is noted by others, and in the end they have little choice: They must marry.
Neither of them minds the idea, exactly. Thomas is actually downright pleased. And though Caro never thought to marry, she is very attracted to Thomas and likes the idea of sexual companionship. Initially, itís more about regard and attraction than it is about love. However, there are some serious issues to work through. Caroís feelings for Robert are complicated. though she loved him dearly, his gambling sickened and terrified her. She hasnít really confronted her anger about what was, essentially, his abandonment. Thomas is nothing like Robert. She playfully calls him Lord Stuffy, a fairly earned title. But though Thomas is loosening up somewhat, there are conflicts - and some jealousies - about Caroís artistic friends. They have to work through these issues (and some others involving finances, trust, and family) before they can really have a solid, happy, ďin loveĒ marriage.
This book continually surprised me - and in a good way. Just when I would think I knew where it was going to go, it veered off into the unexpected. On the whole, that was due to Caro, a thoroughly unexpected - but interesting and unique - heroine. Of course Iíve seen many a widow who loved her less-than-exemplary first husband, but from start to finish Caro is her own woman. Her problems and her decisions seem genuine. She cares about her friends and the arty, cosmopolitan life she shared with Robert, and isnít sure how to balance that with her growing feelings for Thomas. One of the most interesting scenes is the one in which she is contemplating sleeping with her husbandís creditor. She thinks about it seriously - not in a ďWhoops! I guess I need to be a prostituteĒ way, but she doesnít dismiss it out of hand, even though itís not really an appealing prospect.
The first time they really, really make love (they share a quickie that doesnít really count), is also a nice little scene. The scene ends with Caro...disappointed. They turn that around of course, but it is a refreshing change from the usual scene where people whoíve never had sex with each other before are completely skilled and four-star-fabulous.
There were a few moments that had me worried. Since Iíve been scarred before, I got a little concerned every time dishonesty got in the way, or Caro made an ill-advised decision. But you know what? This is a good book. The characters are different and their relationship is fun and entertaining. I can wholeheartedly recommend The Importance of Being Wicked.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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