Wicked My Love
Wicked My Love is the second book in Ms Ives’ Wicked Little Secrets series – although there are no characters from the previous book involved, so it works perfectly well as a stand-alone. The author sets her romance against the backdrop of the world of banking and finance in the mid-19th century, and has provided the reader with enough historical background for the story to be convincing, but she never gets so caught up in the minutiae of the subject so as to give the impression she’s delivering a lecture. Her two principals are engaging and likable, although the hero is probably the more sympathetic of the two, as – contrary to the often used trope – he’s the charming, socially confident, empathetic one, while the heroine is an awkward, shy genius who finds it hard to connect with people.
Isabella St. Vincent and Viscount Randall (we never learn his first name) have known and disliked each other since childhood, when they were forced into each other’s company by virtue of the fact that their fathers had gone into business together. A couple of decades on, their relationship retains a veneer of hostility, although on Randall’s side, his dislike manifests itself in an affectionate teasing and innuendo that the rather matter-of-fact Isabella often fails to understand.
Since her father’s death, Isabella has taken over his part in the running of the Bank of Lord Hazlewood. But when one of the partners purchases some fraudulent stock at the same time as Randall finds himself, for the first time, on the wrong end of a political argument, things suddenly take a downturn for both of them. Randall’s political career is on the verge of ruin and Isabella is terrified there will be a run on the bank – so the two quasi-enemies team up in order to save the bank and, perhaps, save Randall’s career, embarking on a series of frantic journeys around the country as they try to discover who is behind the attempt to ruin them.
Isabella is tightly buttoned up and determined to suppress messy things like emotions; and at the age of twenty-nine, is beginning to despair of ever finding love and having a family of her own. She has also gained a degree of fame as the author of a book of financial advice for women, and is uncomfortable with the fact that she has become known as an advocate for womens’ rights and independence. It’s not that she doesn’t believe in both those things – it’s just that she’s naturally shy, and finds it difficult to reconcile those beliefs with her desire for marriage.
Randall is good looking and charming, and his ability to read people and ingratiate himself easily has smoothed his path through life to no small extent. He is on the verge of making an advantageous marriage in order to further his political ambitions, yet on the inside, he feels he’s a fraud. He’s genuinely desirous of improving the lot of the underprivileged in society, and has recently been very vocal on the subject of child labour, the corn laws, and the railways – but it has made him some powerful enemies, and during the course of the book, he has to decide who he wants to be – the handsome orator who says what people want to hear and charms them to his cause, or the serious politician who fights for what he believes in, no matter how hard it is.
While perhaps the transition from dislike to like, lust, and love between the protagonists seems to happen a little quickly, it works because the reader is shown, right from the start, that Randall and Isabella aren’t as averse to each other as they insist. They each have a rare insight when it comes to the other, and their long-standing knowledge of each other enables them to work well together when they’re trying to save the bank and find out who is trying to bring Randall down. They have great chemistry and the love scenes are satisfyingly steamy; and it made a nice change to have the hero be the one who was more open about his feelings.
The thing that grabbed me about the story right from the start was the humour: The book is chock full of it, and the way in which Randall and Isabella trade quips and insults is a real delight. I’m a sucker for good banter, and Ms. Ives has a real gift for it; it isn’t forced or unfunny, and a story full of genuine humour and sharp one-liners is almost always going to get a thumbs up from me. There is a downside, though, which is that the humour does give the book a certain modernity in tone, which might not work for everyone.
There are a few things which prevented me from rating the book more highly, such as Isabella’s stubborn desire to cling to her “no emotions” rule and her inability to believe that Randall can genuinely love her. There are a couple of places where the plot veers over the line between “funny” and “silly”, and then there are the daft names for body parts that crop up throughout. I know that some of these appear when we’re in Isabella’s POV, and I suppose it’s plausible that a twenty-nine year-old spinster in 1847 would not know any other terms for her “sacred vessel” or a “man’s dangly parts” but Randall thinking of his “percy” or his “Mr. Long Johnson” took things a little too far towards the overly-cutesy for my taste. There were also a large number of run-together-words which Isupposeweremeanttobefunny, but which interrupted the flow, as I had to go back and re-read them; and once again, too many of those intrusive Americanisms – we don’t have sidewalks, we have pavements; Fall is called Autumn; it’s “maths” NOT “math” and we don’t say “anyways” – to name but a few.
Overall, though, I did enjoy Wicked My Love in spite of my reservations, and even though the tone in the second half especially is perhaps more modern than I normally like. But it’s a strong story, and the humour – combined with the fact that Randall is a very attractive, perceptive hero – really won me over. With those things in mind, I’d say that if you enjoy reading books by authors like Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale, then this one could very well work for you.