So Wild A Heart
Everyone in So Wild A Heart assures the heroine that the hero is not as bad as is generally believed. Sure, there’s the 15-year affair with a married woman, the drinking, the ancient scandals. There’s the fact that he has little money, just a title and a crumbling old mansion to preserve for which he must marry the wealthiest woman who will have him. Like his house, the hero is an aristocratic fixer-upper. The house sounded pretty good, but I never felt the hero was worth the effort, and was overall a bad risk.
In fact the storytelling here is sprightly, if unmemorable. It’s the too-easy reform and the unrealistic expectations that ate at me. Miranda Upshaw is a wealthy American with a head for business and her father’s passion for fixing up old properties. Her doting father and stepmother are dying for her to marry into the English nobility, and after mulling it over, practical Miranda decides to oblige them. Devin Aincourt, Earl of Ravenscar, is not thrilled to be forced to marry for money, and almost skips the party where he and Miranda are to be introduced. Then they “meet cute” when Miranda rescues a drunken Devin from footpads and feels a strange attraction toward him. Devin is similarly affected and before he knows it, he’s following his mistress’ advice and planning to marry Miranda.
Yes, his mistress. His eeevil mistress Leona, although Devin, being apparently a bit of a mooncalf, hasn’t caught on to her in fifteen years. Leona’s husband has cut off her funds and she wants Devin to marry a mousy heiress and keep her in the country while they spend her money in Town. Miranda, of course, is far too spunky and financially astute to let that happen, and I admired her for it. I was much less impressed when she decided to marry Devin based on lust and circumstantial instinct. She tells Devin that he can have his affairs, and she will have hers. It’s true that was a common basis for high-society marriages, but Miranda doesn’t mean it. She guesses, correctly, that although Devin has no intention of giving up his mistress (he believes she’s the love of his life), he will be inflamed at the thought of Miranda doing the same. What’s much less clear to me is why she thinks this should help shape Devin into a good husband, or why it succeeds.
Allusions to adultery are not a major hot-button for me. I do, however, have a healthy respect for people’s bad habits and how difficult they are to change. Devin never makes any conscious resolution to change himself. As his family assures Miranda, everything that is wrong with Devin is someone else’s fault, particularly Vile Leona’s – he fell in too young with bad company, doesn’t paint his masterpieces, drinks too much, but all of this would change with the Right Woman at his side. The book talks a good game about how wild and dark Devin is, but his behavior is actually very passive. I think that what happened here was that the author didn’t want to make Devin seem too bad, so on the surface he’s actually quite a nice guy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to understand why such a nice guy should be so incapable of helping himself. There’s no joy in any of his misbehavior; he would be much more compelling as a scoundrel who revels in his vices and is painfully reformed. Instead he just doesn’t seem to have anything better to do. Miranda is a likable heroine, brisk and practical but also kindhearted, and while I didn’t agree with her reasoning in marrying Devin, I was pleased to see her get her happy ending.
Like Devin, most of the plotting seems agreeable enough on the surface, and only reveals its weaknesses a few layers down. Through most of the book, if you can skim over the weak patches, take as a given that Devin is a good guy at heart and Miranda’s love can reform him, this is a pleasant read. While not an especially good romance, it isn’t an aggressively bad one either, except for the bizarre late plot twist that may be an automatic wall-banger for many readers. On the one hand, it’s an effective twist because I absolutely didn’t see it coming. On the other hand, that’s partly because it is absurdly implausible, and the twist also has a very high “ick” factor.
Whether you’ll enjoy So Wild A Heart probably depends on how willing you are to suspend disbelief for the problems I’ve described. I never truly lost myself in this book, but there were times when I came fairly close. So Wild A Heart is one of those “could have been” books; what I’ll most remember is its unachieved potential.