His Wicked Wish
The fifth chapter of Olivia Drake’s ongoing Cinderella Sisterhood series, His Wicked Wish focuses on Nate Atwood, a tradesman and reluctant second son who returns to his native England when he receives word that his father has died and Maddy Swann, a former actress looking to escape a stalker.
Nate, the family’s wild child, has had a stormy relationship with his father from the word go; for unknown reasons, Gilmore constantly favored his more dutiful and placid older son over Nate, causing the latter to endure a childhood filled with punishment and neglect. This culminated in a fierce argument on Nate’s twenty-first birthday and the young man fled the family hearth to make his fortune in the shipping trade.
But it seems that a mix-up has occurred in the interim; it’s not Hector Gilmore but Nate’s beloved older brother David who succumbed to smallpox, leaving Nate the heir. Nate reacts to this new burden and the fact that his father never bothered to inform him of David’s death with an almost frantic anger; he informs his beloved godmother and lifelong support, Lady Milford that he plans to marry the most unsuitable woman possible to anger his father. Then he’ll stash his bride in the family manse while he storms back off to China. Lady Milford says she’ll go along with his hubris – if he’ll allow her to pick the bride.
Enter Madelyn “Maddy” Swann, a lifelong actress who, like Vickie Lester, was born in a trunk – and at twenty four has just played Juliet for the final time at Covent Garden. Maddy has decided to feather her nest by auctioning off her body to the most generous man among her suitors and then to track down her maternal grandfather and punish him for disowning her mother. Cue Lady Milford, who instantly pegs Maddy as her godson’s soulmate and bribes the girl to favor him at the auction.
Maddy agrees to consider Atwood’s offer above all others, but while it’s attraction at first sight for both of them, they immediately clash. He ultimately manipulates her into playing along with his scheme to humiliate his father with her unsuitability as trade for a title, social position, and a consummated but loveless marriage. The union does manage to anger Atwood’s family, but complications soon set in, and as Maddy goes about charming Nate’s family, Nate realizes his feelings for the girl might go beyond a simple business agreement. Can they overcome their own machinations to find happiness?
His Wicked Wish does have some charm to it. The author’s prose glows in spite of some repetitive verbal cues; at least once every other chapter Maddy reminds herself that she must attain revenge on her grandfather (or as she invariably calls him, the Duke of Houghton), for instance. There is no real indication as to what time period the book is set within either; other than a couple of references to Queen Victoria, the whole thing feels very generic, and the only element which feels as though it has been well-researched is the part that deals with Maddy’s career as an actress. The supporting characterization is decent; I specifically enjoyed the steel-fist-in-a-lace-glove that is Nate’s grandmother, the dowager countess Gilmore. The contrast of the book’s lighter fairytale tropes with the darker realty of the character’s lives could have been interesting with careful plotting.
Too bad about the hero and heroine.
Maddy is a mess of weak and contradicting motivations. Does she want to become a rich man’s mistress because she wants to become a tradeswoman, or because she wants revenge on her grandfather? Is she seeking protection from Lord Dunham or is she simply in search of a new family after her father’s death? Is she a mercenary or a domestic angel? I have no idea, and neither does the book. All of this fiddling about does nothing to hide the fact that the core conflict – Maddy’s anger at her grandfather – makes no sense; her mother’s life with her father is portrayed as a happy though financially strained one until her early death in an accident. By the time Maddy all but invents the department store I wanted to stuff a sock in her mouth.
Nate meanwhile has the general temperament of a sulky child and the manners of a sexual predator. His motives are a thousand times worse than Maddy’s because they’re so painfully petty. His father may be something of a double-dealer but Nate’s no prize, being the kind of man who believes it’s perfectly all right to hire a woman to embarrass his father and then question that woman’s morality when he develops a case of the jealousies. The author tries to soften him by portraying him as a loving brother and uncle worried about the prospects of his pockmarked baby sister but even this dies a painful death due to his hypocrisies. If you can’t see his deep dark secret coming pages before the author unloads it then you’ve never read an old skool romance before.
Individually these two are Freudian messes. Together they behave like a couple of six year olds running away from home for the first time. Nate automatically assumes the worst of Maddy at nearly every turn until someone blatantly insults her breeding, at which point he basically rushes around threatening to pulverize the offender with fisticuffs like a Victorian Scrappy Doo. Maddy responds to conflict by turning into a more ambitious Florence Nightingale. Their Big Crisis is ridiculous and makes Nate look even pettier than before and the earl stock-stupid and inobservant as a post, and when a last-act kidnapping and action sequence arrives to unite them in harmony the audience waits for the foregone conclusion to arrive. Beyond mind-blowing sex and the fact that Nate is kind to servants and children and finds Maddy funny, what will bind them together? There’s absolutely no reason for us to want these two ninnies to fall in love.
His Wicked Wish is sadly the weakest installment of the Cinderella Sisterhood, and one is left wishing that the sixth chapter will provide a reversal of fortune for both author and series.