Something Wilder is another solid entry in Christina Lauren’s string of stand-alone romances, and the perfect adventure story to kick off your summer. All the treasure hunting antics can occasionally get in the way of focusing on the central couple, but this works well in the context of the story.
Lily Wilder is the daughter of notorious treasure hunter Duke Wilder, and has the heavy emotional baggage to show for it. In her twenty-nine years of life, she’s endured a distant relationship with her capricious absentee father, a wild summer romance with Leo Grady, a severe broken heart as Leo left her at the same time as she lost ownership of her family’s ranch, and depression as she cared for her father after he had a stroke, all before settling into the persistent state of apathy she lives with now. It’s easy to understand why Lily has distanced herself from emotion. After being raised on the dream of owning her father’s ranch, she found herself having to sell it when he got sick. Now that Duke is gone, Lily makes money by leading amateur adventures around the canyons of Utah on a” quest” to find Butch Cassidy’s hidden treasure Duke once sought. For a girl who only ever wanted her own slice of land and hated the scavenger hunts and puzzles her father made her do, this existence is like one of Dante’s circles of hell.
Just as she’s starting to contemplate throwing in the towel and changing things up – though it’s not like an office job would be any better for her – a very unusual tour group shows up. Lily and her friend Nicole find themselves leading a group of four old friends into the canyons, one of whom Lily is shocked to realize is her old flame, Leo. After promising her forever, Leo left her on a visit home and then fell off the map. As his departure coincided with her father’s stroke and the abrupt breakdown of her life plan, Lily has never really gotten over him.
Leo, for his part, is a very sympathetic guy who had his own reasons for losing touch. He flew home to find his mother had been in an accident, and after the haze cleared following her death, he couldn’t find a way to get back to Lily. Timing and miscommunication got in the way of their young romance, but after having it out on the trail, it’s clear they still both care deeply about each other. While Lily is skeptical, Leo embarks on a quest of his own to convince her that they’re worth a second chance.
Unfortunately, it’s just as Leo is coming to this conclusion that things start to go awry. Since part of the fun is the surprise of what unfolds, I won’t say too much about the turns the story takes. Suffice it to say that the authors are skilled at developing multi-layered secondary characters who keep you guessing, and that there’s a sort of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vibe as all those secondary characters are stripped away until it’s just Lily and Leo.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this book seems to be a little more focused on the adventure than on the love story – at least, more than you might expect for a romance novel. However the authors have planned well by positioning Lily and Leo as long-lost lovers, so it feels natural for them to jump straight into a romance rather than taking a lot of time to build up affection and get to know each other. I also have to applaud the pacing of the book as another method of maintaining balance between the romance and adventure storylines. There’s a natural shift in focus as the story goes on, first developing things between Lily and Leo when they meet on the trail, then focusing on the adventure, then back to Lily and Leo. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and prevents either storyline from stagnating while you wait for progress – no easy feat!
While I wouldn’t pick up Something Wilder if you want lots of angsty romance and longing looks à la Wuthering Heights, it should be a satisfying read in just about any other scenario. Adventure, intrigue, and great chemistry between the leads have made it one of my best reads in 2022 so far.