Are you up for a good gothic novel? One with a labyrinthine medieval castle set in the deep, dark woods, complete with mysterious noises in the night, and a Saturnine, masked earl issuing warnings not to wander the castle? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, Wicked, a gothic-wannabe, is not good. Not by a long shot.
The forbidding Castle Carlyle is owned by Brian Stirling, the Earl of Carlyle (who is incorrectly addressed as “Lord Stirling” throughout the entire novel). One would think from the use of the names “Stirling” and “Carlyle” that the earldom is in Scotland. No. Castle Carlyle is conveniently located just outside London. Brian was horribly wounded whilst in the army in India, wears a leather mask to cover his scars, and has been holed up in his castle for more than a year, earning him the name “The Beast of Carlyle.”
He is convinced that his parents, both Egyptologists (is Egypt the “new” black? This is the fourth book with Egyptian connections I’ve read in as many months), were murdered a year ago. He’s decided that it’s time to figure out who murdered them by planting deadly asps in their tent and he suspects it was someone in the British Museum’s Egyptian section – all of whom were on the same expedition. (Who was minding the store while everyone was in Egypt, I wonder?) Serendipitously, the key to unlocking the mystery may have just landed on his doorstep.
Camille Montgomery arrives at the castle to rescue her ne’er-do-well uncle who was injured climbing over the castle wall, with the aim of helping himself to a few of the antiquity treasures which litter the castle grounds. Thank goodness the deep, dark, wolf-infested woods are accessible by hansom cab from London (there were, of course, no deep, dark woods this close to London at the turn of the 20th century).
Brian tells Camille that she will stay at the castle until her uncle recovers from his injuries and that he will not press charges against him if she will go along with his plan: that she allow him to court her. He’s decided that it will help repair his reputation and ease his movement in polite circles if he is seen courting a beautiful woman who does not cringe from him, and he wants someone from a lower station than he, for who would believe that a daughter of the aristocracy would choose such a hideously scarred man? Well, since he’s very rich and titled, I have to believe that it might not be such a problem. But Camille certainly does fit his requirement of belonging to a lower social stratum: she is the daughter of a nobleman’s discarded mistress and currently works in the Egyptian department at the British Museum. What a coincidence!
There is so very much to dislike about this book! The historical inaccuracies are legion – I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Brian was invited to dine in a “gentleman’s club” that his parents used to belong to – his mother belonged to a “gentleman’s club?” – or the fact that the wolves which patrol his grounds must be phantoms as wolves died out in England during the medieval era.
An even bigger problem, though, is that neither Brian nor Camille is at all likable. Brian is an alpha “do as I say and don’t ask me any questions – don’t you trust me?!” kind of guy. And Camille is a huffer, a flouncer, a “how dare you!”-er door slammer. It’s a wonder she didn’t starve to death for she stormed out of every meal she and Brian took together.
And there are far too many exclamation marks in this book. This is a typical exchange, and takes place immediately after they had just made love, which was proceeded by this scintillating bit of dialogue: “Damn you, Camille. Damn you!” “Damn you!” she cried back.:
“You cannot go back to the museum anymore.”
“You will not.”
“You will not tell me what to do.”
“I am the Earl of Carlyle.”
“This is not feudal England! I am not your subject! I make my own-“
“You will not make your own choice, not in this!”
And then she was in his arms again, with his fierce kisses and her own angry response to them.
Much later, he sighed softly, “Regrettably, we cannot do this all day.”
“The argument has not ended!”
Just shoot me and put me out of my misery. Or better yet, shoot them.
Not long after joining AAR’s review staff I asked how one knows a book they are reading for review is an “F.” One of my colleagues anwered, “It’s not hard…you just know“. Another provided a bit more detail in her response: she granted an “F” only if the book had not one single redeeming quality. Both bits of advice came in handy in writing up this review, and now I’ve got my own intuition to add.