When He Was Wicked (#45 on our Top 100 Romances List)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on July 13, 2004
Julia Quinn delivers another winner in the sixth addition to the Bridgerton series. Francesca and Michael’s story is interesting and definitely not typical.
Michael Stirling meets Francesca Bridgerton and falls head over heels in love with her days before she is to marry his cousin, John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin. Michael loves his cousin too much to admit how he feels about the future bride, so he locks those feelings inside and becomes her best friend instead. Francesca is unaware of Michael’s love for her. She marries the earl and becomes best buddies with her husbands’ heir. Their friendship is full of jokes, laughter, and long walks. Michael takes comfort in knowing that the two people he cares about most are happy, but in order to keep from wallowing in self-pity he becomes more of a rake than he was before; a subject that Francesca is ever so curious about.
All is well until one night while out on a walk with Michael, Francesca’s husband, John, dies in his sleep. Francesca and Michael are both overwhelmed with grief. She turns to Michael, her best friend, for support; but Michael is dealing with his own grief and guilt. Michael runs away to India to hide from Francesca, and from his responsibilities as the new Earl. When he returns four years later to take over the title, he realizes that his feelings for Francesca have not gone away. He knows that it is his duty to find a wife, but to make matters more complicated he has a secret ailment he must keep from public knowledge.
Francesca has spent the last four years managing the earldom for Michael, but they have not been in contact. When Michael returns, she realizes that she needs to get on with the rest of her life and starts to look for prospective husbands. This is the part of the book that is angst-ridden. The tug-of-war of emotions between the characters’ feelings of guilt, love and lust went on a tad to long for my liking. In the end, they do reconcile their emotions with their lives, but it took a while to get there.
Francesca and Michael’s story is atypical for Quinn. You have a heroine who was very much in love with her husband and until his death was very vibrant and full of life. After his death she grieved, changing her character and her personality. As a reader even I grieved for John; this alone sets this book apart. Both Francesca and Michael each individually dealt with the grief of losing John, Francesca by turning inward and Michael by running away and becoming a responsible man. Then after having dealt with the grief and finally moving on, they realize that they both want to be together which causes them both to have guilt about any relationship that they may have.
Quinn kicks up the sex a bit in this book, mostly because Michael was a rake and his skills in the bedroom far exceeded Francesca’s experience. The love scenes are not only spicy but quite poignant, since Michael and Francesca must deal with John’s ghost as well as their passion for each other.
The latest addition to the Bridgerton series, When He Was Wicked, is darker than the other entries in this series but holds its own and does well as a stand alone in the series. Francesca and Michael’s story is entertaining and different, and for those wondering if Quinn can do angst, the answer is “yes, and quite well.”