Warpaint is the story of Willow Campbell, a Scottish make-up artist who falls in love with a dashing American and allows herself to be swept away in a whirlwind romance. She agrees to marry a man she’s only known for six weeks and sets out for his home in New York City, only to find that his life isn’t as he described it to her. This book has an entertaining premise and a plucky heroine, but overall it’s a dissatisfying read and not worth picking up.
Willow is working on a make-up counter when she meets Rick, a New York financier who is in Glasgow on business. He asks her out on a date, and within six weeks, to marry him. Willow, bolstered by a self-help book that has emboldened her to chase her dreams, accepts, and they marry before flying back to the states. When they arrive in New York, Willow finds that Rick has exaggerated the quality of his apartment, as well as his own single status. Rick has only recently extricated himself from a seven year relationship, and evidence of his ex is all over his home.
Unsure about the future of her fledgling marriage, Willow goes out to buy a tea kettle, and finds herself at the D’arcy Department Store. There, she befriends an English employee named Jackson, who gives her a hot tip about a job there. After securing an interview and landing the job, Willow finds out that the make-up artist she’ll be working next to is none other than Rick’s ex, Isabella, who claims to be pregnant with his baby. Not only would that make for a hostile work environment, but Willow has the added stress of being under investigation due to her immigration status.
Given that things haven’t turned out as she’d planned, Willow has decisions to make. She needs to figure out if her marriage is worth saving, what the next move is for her career, and if she’s going to stay in New York, or pack it in and return home.
Willow is really enjoyable, although it might be grating to watch her make wrong decision after wrong decision. The best part of the book by far is Willow’s personality, her kindness, and her optimism. She does, however, come across as incredibly naïve, which might be because her parents died and left her alone in the world when she was very young, or just bad writing. Pretty much every other character is severely underwritten or totally one-note. Rick in particular is inconsistently characterized. He doesn’t have enough of a character arc to believably change by the end of the book, and just seems to do whatever he needs to do to move the plot along. Isabella is just plain confusing – she is supposed to have a fine arts degree, but she continues to work at a make-up counter in a department store. She’s supposed to be the best artist at D’arcy, but she doesn’t pursue other opportunities that might allow her to better provide for her child. The relationships characters have to each other seem to fluctuate as the plot necessitates, and their motivations are inconsistent. Rick wants Willow to stay with him, but is antagonistic to her and doesn’t try to make amends for his deceptions. He starts out as kind of a standard dirt-bag, but tries to do the right thing sometimes. If he had better foundations laid for his personality and history, it might look like growth, but basically, he exists in the story as a deus ex machina to solve a problem whenever things are looking too bleak, or cause a problem when things are going too smoothly.
There are also points in the book that stretch the reader’s credulity. For starters, Isabella is supposed to be just over or around six weeks pregnant at the beginning, but she’s already showing? Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, so that seems unlikely. Then there’s the way everyone at the department store goes out of their way to help Willow, despite not knowing her, some of them bending over backwards to do nice things for someone who is basically a stranger. Willow also seems to be constantly broke, which doesn’t really make sense for a woman in her thirties who has been doing skilled work and living with a roommate for a decade. Money only ever becomes a factor in the story when there needs to be a barrier to Willow getting what she wants. The book is also populated with totally unexpected plot-twists, which seem to be intended to move things along but just come out of nowhere and don’t make sense, adding nothing to the overall narrative.
This book also seems as though it hasn’t been put through very stringent editing. There are details at the beginning of the story that seem important, but are never expanded upon, and characters we are supposed to care about and trust seem sloppily sewn into a pre-established plot. Willow is supposed to have had some kind of illness that left her with scars, but that’s never further delved into, and it leaves another loose end in a book that’s lousy with them. What’s frustrating about this is that there are clearly good bones to the story. Willow is the strongest part of the narrative, a really engaging main character, but everything else is a mess. Given revisions and maybe another hundred pages of actual story, this book might have been a great read, but as it stands, it was a huge disappointment.