I love it when I pick up a book by a début or new-to-me author and find myself quickly engrossed by it - which is exactly what happened with Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband. I’m a sucker for a good marriage-of-convenience story, and this IS a good one; well defined, complex characters, strong writing and excellent dialogue, all combine to make this an entertaining and emotionally satisfying read, and one I’d urge fans of the genre to check out.
The second eldest of four sisters, Cassandra DeWitt has been the linchpin holding her family together since her father’s unexpected death a couple of years earlier. Her mother exists in her own, laudanum-fuelled world and her eldest sister is married and lives elsewhere with her husband, so it’s fallen to Cassandra to manage the household, estate and her two younger sisters… who have no concept of all that Cassandra does for them and certainly no appreciation for it. For some months, the behaviour of nineteen-year-old Lucy has been becoming increasingly outrageous; Cassandra realises that being cooped up away from society is the likely cause, and that it’s time to find her sister a husband. In order to do that, however, Lucy will need to make her society début, which means going to London… something Cassandra hasn’t done in the two years since her marriage to wealthy industrialist Joshua DeWitt – whom she hasn’t seen since their wedding night.
Cassandra’s father arranged her marriage in order to enable her to continue to reside at of Sunne Park after his death, and she didn’t question it, because at the time, she was still reeling from the fact that the man she loved had eloped with someone else. She recalls very little about her bridegroom other than that he was rude and abrupt, and is content to have nothing whatsoever to do with him. For the past two years, it’s suited her to remain in Warwickshire – in accordance with Mr. DeWitt’s preference (read – insistence) that she stay there – but she can do so no longer; she determines to approach her grandmother, the Duchess of Sherbourne, to ask her to sponsor Lucy’s season, and in order to do that, Cassandra will have to go to London. As luck would have it, Mr. DeWitt is due to travel to Liverpool, so as long as Cassandra times her visit to take place whilst he is away, he won’t even know she’s in London. You know what they say about the best laid plans…
I’m sure there’s no need for me to elaborate more on the plot, but the journey on which Ms. Vincy takes her characters – and her readers – is an exceptionally entertaining and insightful one, as Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt match wits (!) cross (metaphorical) swords and slowly find that their arranged marriage has become far more than the mutually convenient union it was initially supposed to be.
Joshua DeWitt grew up as heir to the Earl of Treyford and was, until the age of fourteen, as pampered and privileged as any other scion of the peerage. But his life, and that of his siblings, changed drastically when the earl was discovered to have married their mother bigamously, and the former countess disappeared, along with her daughter, and Joshua and his two brothers were cast out and left to their own devices. Joshua went to work in Birmingham and thanks to the unlooked for kindness and aid from a stranger – Cassandra’s father – settled his brothers in their chosen professions, built himself a trading empire and now owns “four factories, three estates and a growing fleet”. He may no longer have the social standing he once did, but money talks:
“They recoil because he is an industrialist, but receive him because his investments make them rich… meanwhile he goes where he pleases, says what he pleases and no one dares get in his way.”
Joshua is blunt, devoid of tact, lacks patience, doesn’t suffer fools at ALL, let alone gladly, and full of energy and ideas. He likes his life as it is and is used to being obeyed without question by everyone around him, so the sudden appearance of the woman he married in order to repay his obligation to her father is unwelcome and irritating. He wants to pack her off back to Warwickshire; she has no intention of leaving until she has secured her grandmother’s agreement to sponsor Lucy.
But even as he is adamant that Cassandra must leave London, Joshua is reluctantly impressed by his wife’s determination and her ability to give as good as she gets:
"You're meant to be in Warwickshire," he said.
"You're meant to be in Liverpool.”
"I did not give you permission to come to London."
"I did not ask your permission."
“You should… Let me explain, Mrs. DeWitt, how marriage works.”
“Oh, please do, Mr. DeWitt, I’m all agog.”
"I am the husband, so I make the rules to suit me."
"And I am the wife, so I change the rules to suit me."
And worse… she might even be likeable. Which would be disastrous.
“You seem puzzled,” said his disruptive wife, as they reached the gate. “Have I said something to puzzle you?”
“Most of what you say puzzles me. It’s almost as though you have a mind of your own.”
“Please don’t vex yourself. I’ll try not to use it too often.”
Cassandra is an admirable heroine, one who operates within the conventions of society but still manages to be anything but the meek, obedient spouse those conventions suggest she should be. She’s quick witted and easily able to hold her own against her irascible husband, but there’s a hidden vulnerability to her, too, a vulnerability that Joshua soon recognises lying behind her suddenly fixed smiles and diplomatic manner which speaks to his protective nature and makes him want to fix all her problems and encourage her to “stop giving up your space. Fight for what is yours.”
Both principals are compelling, likeable but flawed characters who leap off the page, and the secondary cast is also superbly drawn and rounded out. Neither Joshua nor Cassandra is your usual, stock-in-trade historical romance character, the chemistry between them is terrific, and their frequent verbal sparring is a complete delight.
“What happened to you last night?” she said. “It looks like someone punched you in the face.”
“Does that happen often?”
She took a knife and quartered her pear.
“Is that it?” he said
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“That’s all you have to say? ‘Oh.’” She looked at him blankly. “Where’s the love and sympathy, wife? You aren’t wondering what happened? You aren’t wondering if I’m in pain? You aren’t wondering if your dear husband will be all right?”
“Mainly I’m wondering why you don’t get punched in the face more often.”
The author has managed to put her own spin on a very well-worn plot device, bringing a degree of unpredictability to her story that enables it to transcend the trope. Her writing is intelligent and energetic, and the story is by turns funny, poignant, sexy, angsty and, most importantly, romantic.
With that said, the book does have a few flaws; Lucy’s antics are a bit over the top and there's some anachronistic dialogue and behaviour in places, but otherwise, A Wicked Kind of Husband is one of the best historical romances I've read all year; a sparkling début that’s landed Mia Vincy very firmly on my list of authors to watch.
Buy it at: Amazon
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