Wallflower Gone Wild
The heroine of this book, the second in Maya Rodale’s Wallflower series is Olivia Archer, a young lady with a reputation for such unbending propriety that she has been nicknamed “London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal.”
Now in her fourth season, Olivia despairs of ever finding a husband. She has done everything expected of her, and behaved exactly as a well brought-up young lady should behave, and yet “being good” has got her precisely nowhere, and she is beginning to chafe against the constant strictures imposed by her overbearing mother.
Olivia’s desperation is also felt by her parents who are, by now, anxious to get her married off, as is evident by her father’s willingness to accept an offer for her hand from a man known throughout society as the “Mad Baron”, who is believed to have killed his first wife. Not surprisingly, Olivia is aghast at the prospect, but her protests fall on deaf ears.
Lord Phineas Radcliffe is a widower and a young man of scientific bent who has come to London in order to work with the Duke of Ashbrooke (hero of book one in the series) on building his Difference Engine. Phinn has also decided to look about for a second wife, and when, at a ball, he sees Olivia and hears of her reputation for propriety, decides he has found her. He can’t deny that he’s attracted to her physically, but it’s also important to him that he finds a woman who will act with decorum, not cause any gossip or distract him from his work in any way.
Unfortunately, even six years after the event, the rumour that he murdered his first wife is still in circulation – a rumour that he refuses to deny outright, because he feels himself in some way responsible for her death.
Fearing the Mad Baron will marry her, carry her off to his creepy, tumble-down Yorkshire estate and then murder her in her bed, Olivia finally decides that as being a good girl never got her anything she wanted, she will behave so scandalously as to cause Phinn to re-think his intention to court her. Aided by her friend Prudence – and I found myself frequently asking myself what sort of friend Prudence was, given the things she did to “help” Olivia in her quest to scandalise society – Olivia begins to behave outrageously; wearing too much make-up, getting drunk in public and wearing very revealing clothes – but no matter what she does, Phinn is undeterred. He realises that on the inside, Olivia is seething with frustration and resentment, and that she is trying to break free of her conditioning and find out who she really is. Even if she is not the demure miss he was at first led to believe, she is the woman he wants to be with.
Wallflower Gone Wild is a quick, undemanding read, but it lacks the sparkle and humour of The Wicked Wallflower. Olivia is a well-drawn character, a young woman who has spent her whole life being told that being good will ensure rewards, only to discover that life doesn’t work that way and realising she must strike out and “make her own rules” if she’s to have any chance of finding the happiness that has so far eluded her. I found that aspect of her character to be the most realistic and engaging, unlike the part of her that is quick to believe the worst of Phinn, and who spends most of the book being afraid of him – for absolutely no reason other than the rumours – to the extent that she carries a pair of scissors in her reticule in case she needs to defend herself!
There is also rather a lot of telling rather than showing when it comes to Phinn. Rumour has it that he’s a murderer, and we’re told he has a horrible temper – but we never see any evidence to back up either assertion. He loses his rag with a friend of his who has a talent for saying or doing exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, yes, but I think we’d all be capable of that! We never see Phinn as being anything other than solicitous and understanding towards Olivia, so all she has to go on are six-year-old rumours and the fact that he doesn’t want to talk about his past. He’s very sweet, is not especially confident with women, but is willing to learn how to be a good husband. He listens to Olivia and takes what she says seriously, he asks for her opinions and encourages her to make up her own mind about things – and he refuses to allow her parents to ride roughshod over her when she is unwell. I certainly don’t object to a geeky-scientist hero, but, dare I say it, Phinn is a little dull and when we finally discover the truth behind the scurrilous rumours…well, it’s somewhat of an anti-climax.
I know what I’m getting when I pick up one of Ms Rodale’s books, which are usually funny and full of great dialogue, even though she’s not the most historically accurate author out there. To be fair, however, I noticed fewer anachronisms in this than in The Wicked Wallflower. The writing flows well, and I can’t deny that I was engaged by the book, because I read it in two or three sittings in one day, but it lacks the author’s trademark humour and in the final tally, Wallflower Gone Wild is little more than an average read.