Desert Isle Keeper
Upon a Wicked Time
There are so many twists and surprises in Upon a Wicked Time, my synopsis of it must be brief – I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Generally speaking, Tessa Astley marries Jered Mandeville. Tessa’s the daughter of an earl; Jered’s a duke. She has feisty, indulgent, in-love-with-each-other parents, and six brothers. His parents died when he was a teenager, and he remains basically estranged from his younger, married sister. Tessa believes a husband and wife should be friends, companions, lovers; Jered feels a wife should be used to get heirs and should in no way interfere with the general flow of his pursuit of pleasure – mistresses, parties, horse races and the like.
The story opens on Tessa and Jered’s wedding night with her in giddy anticipation of beginning a life with the man whom she has loved for years. Concerning sex, she is nervous, but very willing to learn. Jered enters her room, and in the most tender way he knows, makes his young wife his own. Tessa awakens at dawn, never more in love, never more alone. Jered has gone.
This is the make-break point of the story – is Tessa to go through the next 350 pages the victim of an arrogant man’s whims? Will she be the kind of character whose only purpose is to struggle with the pain of abandonment – a sad-eyed stay-at-home, living and breathing for the next time she hears her man’s voice, sees his handsome face? Not on your life, sister! Tessa packs her bags and heads for London. She knows what kind of wife she wants to be, and she believes Jered the kind of man who will come to love her as her father loves her mother. Tessa will accept nothing less.
Jered will accept nothing less than Tessa’s complete surrender to his will. Having accomplished marriage, he is now through with Tessa, except for the occasional conjugal visits to his estate at Kittridge to ensure the continuation of the line. What Jered does not count on is the nature of the woman he has married. The humor, intelligence, curiosity, tenacity, and sensuality of his new duchess angers and intrigues him. In an effort to push her as far away from him as possible, layer by layer, he reveals to her his “true” nature. But, still she clings until one day, he goes too far. In an effort to flee the man she once loved, an unforeseen tragedy occurs, and in that moment, the tables are turned.
Karen Ranney’s grasp of the era, the locations, social customs, emotions, and character motivations is enviable. Ms. Ranney has taken an oft-told tale and made it her own. There are no stereotypes here, and nothing is predictable. Another success – this author is able to reveal the hero’s darker side without losing the reader. I, along with Tessa, was just about ready to give up on Jered. He sank pretty low, uncomfortably so, and I wasn’t sure just how despicable Jered was going to get. Even so, it was Tessa’s reaction to his efforts that made all the difference – she never gave an inch, was never the victim, never allowed him to dominate her.
I have only two “complaints,” such as they are. The first is, I thought the book a little long. When I start to fidget anytime during a book, it’s because things should have been tightened up a bit. The second problem is in Jered’s efforts to make Tessa go away. I was pretty anxious at one point, even though I understood that I, as a reader, had to reach the same breaking point Tessa did in order to truly say: Enough – this man is beyond redemption. Ms. Ranney took me down, but she also brought me back. It was a skillfully plotted journey, but some readers may be worried there for a while.
More than liking this book, I admired it. I admired its details, characterizations, evocative writing, wry humor, and ingenuity. It’s different in a way, a sunny war-of-wills based solidly in the shadows. If you’ve ever struggled for the sake of love, you’ll understand who these people are. I know I do.