To Win a Wicked Lord
To Win a Wicked Lord, the fourth volume of Sofie Darling’s ongoing Shadows and Silk series, is bolstered by an excellent relationship between its hero and heroine, and its interesting ideas set it apart. But its indulgence in moments of goofiness and occasional research bobbles mean I can’t really recommend it.
Lord Percival – Percy – Bretagne, dubbed The Savior of St. Giles thanks to his activities shutting down various gambling halls – knows he’s asking for trouble by entering a notorious gaming hell under an assumed name. But he is an agent for the crown, a spy who’s lived by his wits for years, and he’s This. Close to getting his long term enemy under his heel.
When Percy developed amnesia due to shell shock and was absent (in America) for ten years, his wife Olivia had their marriage set aside. An annulment means that the daughter Percy has never met is now a bastard but hey, at least Olivia can marry again. Percy does not blame her for this (for her HEA – and the ridiculousness of the way their divorce actually occurred – see Tempted by the Viscount, book two in the series) – after all, having experienced the horrors of the battlefield, he has never again known happiness and has become yet another love ‘em or leave ‘em rake. He is on a quest to destroy Lord Bertrand Montford, the man who lied to him about his identity while he had amnesia.
Isabel Galante, a daughter of minor Spanish nobility, with her “oblong green eyes”, immediately finds him captivating. She’s on a mission to seduce and ruin another man – on Montford’s orders – so it matters not how she feels about Percy – until mistaken identity nearly leads her to Percy’s bed. Montford helped Isabel and her sister, Eva, escape from Spain, but their father still lingers in debtor’s prison, and his debt will not be paid unless the plan against her target is successful, thus making her a pawn in his blackmail scheme. Isabel poses as a gambling hell doxy and is instructed to wager her virginity upon a card game with a gentleman playing a certain game at a designated table in the hope of ruining his reputation “for the good of England” to quote Montford.
While both Percy and Isabel are instantly smitten – he thinking of sunshine and honeysuckles when he sees her, she being devastated by his handsomeness – both quickly realize that Isabel has attempted to seduce and out-gamble the wrong man.
Encouraging Isabel to come with him so they can work together to unravel Montford’s scheme, Percy, Isabel, Eva, Eva’s son Ariel, Nell, Ariel’s wet nurse, and Tilly, an actual doxy from the gaming hell who finds herself swept up in the excitement, all head off to his family seat. This eventually requires Isabel to pose as Percy’s wife in front of his charming father and forces him to stay home and away from the action in London. Even Lucy – the daughter he’s never met – is there. That romance blooms between Isabel and Percy is a given, but will they defeat Montford in time?
To Win a Wicked Lord works on a couple of levels – but it’s also one of those pieces of campy romance that displays a level of goofiness that makes it impossible for me to take it seriously.
I really did enjoy the diversity of the cast – Isabel and Eva are both Latine and Jewish, and they felt like generally well-rounded characters. Percy is alright – self-castigating for his past actions but also sturdy, loyal, and willing to do the right thing.
The relationship between our heroine – who is strong-minded without being a spitfire stereotype – and hero is strongly written. Their exchanges are smart and believable, and a reason why the book stays within sight of a C grade. I also enjoyed Eva and Isabel’s relationship, which plays as somewhat combative, as Eva thirsts for revenge against Montford while Isabel is more cautious.
But the plot and its over-complication cause things to grind to a halt, the main body of it being too ornate with complexity as to need a good trimming down. Some of the supporting characters are unnecessary; like Percy’s friends, who all have nicknames like Bongo, Tuppy, and Bumpy, which caused me to picture them as a group of errant corgis, humping girls of ill repute and getting drunk. Tilly, meanwhile, speaks in a fully phonetic cockney accent that made me yearn for a good online translator.
Despite the appeal of the central romance, To Win a Wicked Lord is just good enough overall to eke out its middling grade.