Sitting down to review The Wish by Marianne Willman, I find myself almost stymied. There are parts of the book that are stunningly good, but frustratingly, they don’t add up to a particularly satisfying whole. Much of what I disliked about this book happens at the end, which makes it difficult to explain without revealing spoilers. But I’ll try.
Lovely Perdita is a serving wench in a grimy, unpleasant tavern, but she has dreams – or are they memories? – of a much grander life. Justin, the Earl of Ravenall (if his last name was mentioned I missed it) is about to go broke due to his father’s mismanagement of the estate. He learns he is the guardian of an extremely rich heiress who went missing several years before. All he has to do is prove that the heiress is dead, and he’s saved. It is obvious to the reader that Perdita is the lost heiress, and that Ravenall will find her. The question is, what will he do with her when he finds her?
My first problem with the book is that it takes a l-o-n-g time for that to happen. First there’s a mostly-unnecessary prologue. Then there are lengthy scenes to introduce Perdita and Ravenall, which include rumors of a mystical oak that grants wishes (hence the book’s title). Finally they meet, and Ravenall does Perdita a kindness when he realizes that she is at the mercy of her greedy employer. Then he is in a terrible accident. She nurses him back to health. They part. Months pass. Things happen. It takes nearly half of the book before Ravenall connects Perdita with the missing heiress and the real plot of the book begins. A good editor should have aggressively tightened all this up so that we could get to the juicy stuff sooner.
Things get a lot better when Ravenall finally claims Perdita as his missing ward. The situation is truly ripe with tension and suspense, because neither Ravenall nor Perdita believe that she’s really the heiress. She lies and pretends to be the heiress because she wants to get out of her sordid life. Ravenall is lying, too, but we don’t know what he’s up to. Does he intend to marry Perdita for her (supposed) inheritance? Or is something more sinister going on?
The section of the book in which Perdiata masquerades as the lost heiress is absolutely wonderful. She is plagued with guilt and fear that her deception will be discovered. Ravenall is tyrannical, tormented, sexy and mysterious. The tension between these two builds to suffocating heights, even though they are very rarely alone together. This whole section is deliciously suspenseful. I could not put The Wish down. Then comes the revelation of all the secrets. What a letdown! The puzzle pieces do not all fit together, and that’s putting it mildly. I cannot reveal any spoilers, but suffice to say that Ravenall’s mysterious actions make no sense at all once the mystery is solved. None. The real revelation is that he did what he did just to add to the suspense – he had no other reasons for his behavior.
It’s difficult to give a grade to a book like this. Parts of it I absolutely loved, but the slow beginning and the ill-thought-out ending came close to ruining what was, some of the time, a really excellent read.
I issue this challenge to those who have read and enjoyed The Wish: I would very much like to have a no-spoilers-barred discussion of its strengths and flaws. If you think you can explain Ravenall’s actions to me, please post to the Reviews Message Board. If you can convince me, I would be willing to reread the book and change this review. Until that happens, I regret that I cannot give the book a higher grade than a C.