On a Wicked Dawn
It takes more than sexual tension and “x” amount of love scenes to make a successful romance novel; it helps to have sympathetic, believable characters and a story that draws the reader in. On a Wicked Dawn has plenty of tension and numerous love scenes, but it suffers from characters whose motivations are never explained to a satisfactory level, a distracting writing style, and a creeping smarminess that permeates the last third of the book.
After years of struggle, Lucien Ashford, Earl of Calverton, has reached his goal of discreetly pulling his family from the brink of financial ruin. As he returns from a night of celebrating this monumental feat, he’s accosted in his front hall by Miss Amelia Cynster, a longtime family friend. Unaware of the happy reverse of his fortunes, Amelia’s come to offer to marry Luc, ostensibly to save him financially. Luc readily agrees to her outrageous proposal; he’s secretly wanted to marry her for years but hasn’t felt he was in a position to do so until now. He thinks she’s just offering out of a sense of altruism, but she decided years ago that Luc was the only man she ever wanted to wed. They go into the marriage, each thinking the other sees it as a marriage of convenience, but it’s actually a love match. The problem is, neither of them knows that.
For supposedly smart people, Amelia and Luc are incredible blockheads. I’ll give the advantage, albeit only a slight one, to Amelia for at least suspecting that Luc might love her; he exhibits total cluelessness throughout and spends unwarranted amounts of time angsting over his wife’s affections. There’s no revelation along the lines of, “This is when and why I fell in love with him/her,” it’s just there, as a given fact. But it’s a hollow emotion, since we never see that “Aha!” moment when they realize that this is what they want. Very frustrating to the reader. These two are presented as paragons: beautiful, rich, terribly competent in everything they do. Luc’s supposed flaw is, in retrospect, merely a reluctance to say those three little words that, if spoken sooner, would have resolved the central conflict of the story. I never got the sense of understanding that reluctance.
Laurens comes close to parodying her own work in this book. There’s the uber-alpha male who’s driven to possess his woman, to bind her emotionally to him through repeated (and repetitious) acts of lovemaking. The twist here is that the female is just as determined to do the same thing to her man; I, of course, expected this, since Amelia is, after all, a Cynster by birth, and we know just how driven those Cynsters can be when it comes to love. Then there’s the author’s writing style: affected, precious, annoying. Distracting; full of a surfeit of adjectives, sentence fragments, and one-sentence paragraphs.
Short bursts like this.
Empty, meaningless in and of themselves.
Enough to drive me nuts after a few chapters.
I began to wonder whether Laurens was getting paid by weight for free-floating adjectives and superfluous adverbs. As for her patented hot, hot, hot love scenes – well, they may be sizzling, and they may contain a certain – gymnastic – quality, but after a while they grow merely tedious. And while their descriptive quality approaches the clinical, their emotive quality teeters on the verge of purple prose. Here’s the culmination of one such scene:
“And they flew. High on a crest of sensation that shattered every perception. High to a plane where emotions formed the sea and sensation the land. Where feelings were the winds and peaks grew from delight. And the sun was pure glory, exquisite and unshielded, an orb of power so intense it fused their hearts.
“And left them beating as one.
Puh-leez. And this is to say nothing of the repetitive descriptions of Luc’s “rampant manhood” and Amelia’s “lush globes” and “ruched nipples.” It just got to be too much.
Throughout, the whole Cynster clan is lurking in the background. There’s a transparent mystery that feels tacked onto the main story; I guessed who the culprit was almost as soon as this subplot was introduced, and its resolution struck me as rushed and too tidy. Laurens mentions – but only in passing – the scandal attached to Luc’s brother Edward, without ever giving enough background to explain why the fellow’s such a blackguard (I know it’s part of the series, but new readers will be left scratching their heads). There’s the obligatory introduction of “seed characters” for possible development in later books. Moreover, in the last part of the book, there’s a smarmy feel of “McNaughtishness” to things – a perfect heroine wending her way through a perfect house, solving everybody’s problems, having everyone from her mother-in-law to the estate tenants’ children fall in love with her. It was too, too perfect.
I’m sorry I didn’t like this book any better than I did; in the past I’ve enjoyed several of the Bar Cynster books. If you have a high tolerance for affected prose and paragon-like characters, you may get more enjoyment out of On a Wicked Dawn than I did, but don’t say I recommended it to you.