Desert Isle Keeper
Wicked Becomes You
Meredith Duran has thrown down the gauntlet: Wicked Becomes You is the book to beat for best historical romance this year. It’s a lush European Historical romance that takes the reader from turn-of-the-century London to Paris to Monte Carlo. Sexy, inventive, and riveting, it’s a book that’s hard to put down and a joy to read.
Gwen Maudsley is attractive and perennially popular. The quintessential “nice girl,” she’s known as everyone’s best friend. Although she doesn’t have the perfect pedigree (her father made his fortune by patenting dyes), her looks, wealth, and genteel upbringing would seem to give her entree into the aristocracy. Particularly the cash-strapped aristocracy. Nonetheless, as the book begins, Gwen finds herself jilted for the second time – and this time during the marriage ceremony. Afterward, while her friends debate the best location for her to hide her face from society, Gwen snaps. She writes a letter to her former fiance, Viscount Pennington, detailing all of his flaws (critiquing everything from his horrible dancing to his kissing abilities – or lack thereof).
As Gwen is about to post her letter, she runs into Alex Ramsey, who was her late brother’s best friend and business partner. Naturally, Alex is a known rogue. Alex won’t let her post her letter, and doesn’t quite believe her when she says she intends to follow Pennington to Paris to retrieve her brother’s ring. Nonetheless, Alex puts off his own business interests in Peru and takes off for Paris in pursuit of Gwen. Ostensibly, he’s fulfilling his promise to her brother and watching out for her. However, anyone who’s read a romance or two will know why he’s really going: He’s in love with Gwen. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Once in Paris, Gwen really wants to spread her wings. Though she has a chaperone with her, she manages to strike out on her own. At first she starts small, eating at a cafe alone (and wildly breaking dishes). Under Alex’s tutelage, she finds herself giving false names, pretending to be a showgirl, and entering scandalous areas of the Moulin Rouge. Eventually she manages to send her chaperone off to Italy while she and Alex attend a scandalous house party in Monte Carlo. (Under the category of “most memorable love scenes in romance,” I will be adding “sex on the train to Monte Carlo”).
Much of the charm of this book is in the discovery, which is why I hesitate to add much more about what happens. Because I’ve been reading and reviewing romance for so long, I tend to give huge points to books that surprise me. Typically, I can see where a book is heading after the first few pages. I know how the hero and heroine will get together, what the obstacles will be, and – nearly always – how it will all be resolved. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. When I can see a conflict that doesn’t have an easy answer, I know I’m reading a good book that I can really sink my teeth into. This is such a book. Gwen is, for all her bravado, more or less an innocent. Alex is anything but, and has clearly never given much thought to his emotions or his emotional needs. He is completely dependable and always there for his family when they need him, but he doesn’t see this part of himself; he sees the man on the edge who indirectly led Gwen’s brother to his death. Alex needs Gwen to show him that he is a better man than he thinks he is. Gwen needs Alex to show her how to live and how to find herself.
While Gwen and Alex are interesting as a couple, they are also fully-realized characters who are interesting separately. I enjoyed them both, thoroughly, and I absolutely adored Alex. Alex is a fabulous Byronic hero; he’s enigmatic, sexy, and intelligent. Too bad I’m married and he’s fictional. Gwen compliments him in that she’s inexperienced without being completely naive or stupid. She makes her choices with full knowledge of what the consequences may be.
The lush setting is as crucial to the book as its characters. It’s rendered in enough exquisite detail to make you feel you are there (in Paris! in 1898! And did I mention there’s a train to Monte Carlo?) Anyone who complains about the endless parade of wallpaper Regencies needs to buy two of this book, because it’s precisely the sort of rich historical setting we long for but seldom see. (Pocket Books: Thank you…and more, please!).
My only niggle with the book is that some of the circumstances toward the end veer toward “over the top.” It’s not for long, and it hardly hindered my enjoyment of the book, but it’s the reason for the minus next to the A.
Any criticism pales in comparison to the enjoyment Wicked Becomes You provides. Somewhere in the middle of it, I realized I had stopped my typical analyzing; I wasn’t reading a Marriage of Convenience book, or a Spy book, or a Love Lessons book. Indeed, I wasn’t reading a Plot Device; I was reading a book, and it was a damn good one. If want a lush setting, fabulous love scenes, and unforgettable characters, this is the book for you.