The Viscount’s Wicked Ways
A gothic tale set in Regency England? I have not seen that plotline before, and it intrigued me enough to pick up Anne Mallory’s The Viscount’s Wicked Ways.
Shadows cloak an imposing estate. Menacing birds swoop overhead. Grotesque carvings adorn entry doors. Lightning and thunder punctuate the air. These sights and sounds greet Patience Harrington as she and her team arrive at Blackfield Castle to catalogue the antiques collection of Lady Caroline’s late husband. While Lady Caroline is a gracious host, her nephew, Thomas Ashe, Viscount Blackfield, is coldly polite to these visitors. Patience can care less about his aloof manners, she is just grateful her father gave her this intellectually rewarding project after the blunders she committed during her first Season scandalized the ton.
The dark and forbidding Blackfield Castle doesn’t scare Patience, but intrigues her instead. Unexplained booming noises occur, strange lights move across the castle grounds at night, the servants are jumpy, and the villagers are rudely uncommunicative. When Patience has the good fortune to talk to a chatty little village boy, he tells her of work being conducted on monsters at the estate. And so one night, while looking through her window, she sees men dragging a chained object under the viscount’s direction and a large arm breaking free for a moment, Patience wonders if monsters truly exist at Blackfield Castle.
However, the author completely negates the power of this pretty decent and interesting gothic setting when she reveals the mystery surrounding the “monster” very early in the book. All that remains afterward is page after page of the brooding Thomas predictably fighting his attraction to Patience. That got old fast.
The author also has written a very, very stale book. I have read the rendering of these elements, plot twists and turns, and characterizations in countless other historical romances. Heroine is an outspoken bluestocking. Hero is a rude, moody lord. Heroine is out of favor with the ton. Hero hides Big Secrets – one about the monster and one about an event in his past. Heroine begins to like hero in spite of his standoffishness and hero begins to like heroine regardless of her careless tongue. So been there and done that. The unoriginality of the story made me feel like I was reading on cruise control.
And on another note, the Regency historical background here is so paper thin, I’m surprised it isn’t see-through. A casual reference of an estate here, a note of a cravat there, a couple of sentences mentioning Napoleon and voila – we are in Regency England. Otherwise, these are obviously modern characters running around and talking in modern language. Still, the dialogue wasn’t too inoffensively anachronistic until a “Hey!” spoken by the heroine made me drop the book in disgust. Why bother to have modern characters in period dress? I would think they would be more comfortable in present-day clothing.
To the author’s credit, she does show some flair for writing comedy, especially in two scenes, the only scenes that made any impression on me. She has a smooth writing style and believably connects the plot elements. The Viscount’s Wicked Ways is very easy sailing as a read, but its staleness ensures it very easy sailing out of my mind.