To Love a Wicked Lord
As a final addition to her lengthy legacy, the author couldn’t have done much better than this.
Everyone acknowledges that Pippa Carstairs is beautiful. But, living a cloistered existence with her grandparents in Bath, no one has ever bothered to look beneath the surface – including herself. So when Noel Nicholson begins to pay her attention, she agrees to marry him after a whirlwind romance. The problem arises when he disappears only weeks before the wedding.
Seven months later he still hasn’t reappeared and, with Pippa’s marital status in limbo, her life has ground to a halt. So, her grandfather hires Maxwell, Lord Montrose, to investigate the missing man. Maxwell is a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel, playing the fop while nosing around, unearthing secrets for the military and making discreet inquiries for those who require it. But, of course, both Pippa and Maxwell are a little deeper than their appearances suggest, and, as their search carries them from Bath to London to Paris, so do their personal discoveries develop.
I enjoyed the gradual unfolding of their characters to themselves, each other, and the reader. At the beginning of the book Pippa appears exactly what she probably is, a spoiled, sheltered, superficial young lady of Regency England. And Maxwell seems just as limited – the archetypal spoiled marquess yearning to do more for his country by playing at cloak and dagger. But the search for Pippa’s errant fiance, and their undeniable attraction to each other, lead to much introspection and conversation. They talk to each other; they use their brains and think. They grow as people and become more comfortable in their own skin, especially Pippa, who develops gratifying depths. And they’re so wonderfully sensible about their attraction: How lovely to see a young lady think through the consequences of throwing up her skirts, and how much lovelier to see them both try to do what’s appropriate and right. Their happy ending was convincing, satisfying, and kind of fuzzyfying. I loved Pippa and Maxwell’s love story.
But in retrospect what impresses me the most is the book’s overall cohesion. You’ll notice this is a Regency book, and guess what? I can actually tell that it’s Europe in 1803 just before the Peace of Amiens fell apart. Ms. Layton manages to incorporate the political milieu with character development, and isn’t that a beauty? The sketchy fiance plot is interesting but not overpowering, and very little detracts from the central romance. Actually, it would have been almost perfect if Pippa’s grandmother wasn’t so…well, weird. As a prominent secondary character, her sudden descent into prolonged, bizarre behavior is more than a little strange and distracting, and the back story came too late for comfort.
However, this is a minor complaint. To Love a Wicked Lord is a lovely character-driven romance that glows. I closed it with bittersweet emotion, knowing it is Edith Layton’s last book, but comforted in the certainty that it is also one of her best.