To Woo a Wicked Widow
Jenna Jaxson opens a new series with To Woo a Wicked Widow, a series focusing in on a group of merry widows who find love and lust in their second marriages.
Lady Charlotte Cavendish is young, lively, and finally free. Years ago she tried to elope with her first love, a man far below her station, only to be caught by her autocratic father and forced in a loveless (and sexless) marriage to the elderly Sir Archibald, who used her as a social pawn and otherwise controlled her behavior. Sir Archibald is recently deceased, and Charlotte throws herself into the social whirl that was choked off by her marriage, determined to experience all the bliss and joy life can throw at her.
In that heady swirl of her first party she meets Nash, twelfth Earl of Wrotham, a naval hero who has recently inherited his title following the deaths of his uncle and cousin. Nash has been looking high and low for a wife so he can get busy producing an heir; he is lucky enough to be instantly smitten by Charlotte’s pretty face but also initially mistrusts her motives. His notions seem to be confirmed when scandal erupts after Alan Garrett, a notorious seducer who wishes to make Charlotte his next conquest, repeatedly behaves in a forward manner around her in public and damages her fresh start.
Her father once more steps in, suggesting that Nash marry Charlotte to keep her reputation from further ruination, even going so far as threatening to ruin Nash’s career in Parliament in order to achieve his goal. Knowing that the bill he’s been desperately supporting might die in the House of Lords due to the man’s influence, aware of the fact that Charlotte’s father knows of his less-than-savory past earlier in his naval career, the idea of marrying the scandalous Charlotte gives him pause – but leaves him determined to do his duty by her.
Charlotte has no desire to marry again either – her first union has made her reluctant to rejoin the world of wedded bliss. But as the season passes by, Charlotte and Nash grow closer and promise to make a true match. But their miscommunication, Garrett’s constant pursuit and Nash’s percolating interest in another woman all threaten to undo their bond before they can truly unite.
Ah, those old comfortable tropes. To Woo A Wicked Widow is chock full of romancelandia clichés. We’ve got a jittery, clumsy, virginal widow, a soigné man who stumbles into nobility but who’s really deep down a Man of the Common People; a hero who mistrusts the heroine and believes her to make free with her affections when she’s actually innocent (see above); a past filled with woe that puts both hero and heroine at risk; the rival suitor who’s a jerk; a crappy ex-husband for the heroine to hate and an even worse relative to manipulate circumstances; the miraculous kiss that changes the hero’s mind, and so on and so on. And on.
In terms of the plot, this is sadly pretty stock stuff for an historical romance, and even though Ms. Jaxson seems to have done her homework, her prose doesn’t manage to punch through the clichés strongly enough to feel unique.
The characters are very stereotypical. For a woman who had the gumption to defy both her abusive father and society by trying to marry a commoner, Charlotte is a bit of a fainting goat of a heroine, conveniently swooning whenever the plot requires it, behaving with fiery determination in the next. The plot requires her to blow hot and cold in a stubborn way that’s unappealing. Her cousin Jane is rather more interesting for her liveliness but mainly joins the other women in the Widows Club as a kind of Greek Chorus.
Nash is a strange mix of stuffy and impassioned. His political career means everything to him until he kisses Charlotte, then he starts thinking with other parts of his anatomy and goes into alpha male putdown mode. He improves late in the story but it takes a long time to get there.
Collectively, they’re one of those couples who suck at communication but are excellent at being incredibly stubborn. If you’re a fan of that kind of romance, then you might like this a lot more than I did. Even a (highly ludicrous) late-book plot twist couldn’t save To Woo a Wicked Widow.