Trust Liz Carlyle to take classic romance tropes – an amnesiac, a jaded hero brought to his knees by love , a plain but kind heroine – and still deliver an enjoyable early Victorian tale with In Love with a Wicked Man.
Here we have an at-first-glance-plain heroine, Kate, Lady d’Allenay, who is Baroness in her own right and valiantly struggling mistress of crumbling Bellecombe Castle. The handsome and notorious hero, Lord Edward Quartermaine, runs the most successful gaming club in London, hence … a wicked man. On horseback in the Somerset countryside to claim an estate in lieu of a gambling debt, Edward encounters Kate riding dangerously in an uncharacteristic temper. They nearly crash throwing Edward off his horse. He hits his head and Kate takes the unconscious stranger back to her castle. When Edward awakens, he has no memory of his identity.
Edward, of course, immediately sees beyond Kate’s plain appearance. In fact, their mutual attraction flares to life the moment Edward wakes up. Their very first conversation sparkles, sweet and witty, and lets one see how happily they would get on in their HEA. Not knowing who he is, however, Edward initially resists his attraction to Kate, as he feels deep down he is unworthy. Kate does not have the same conflict, as she is pragmatic about life as a 28-year-old spinster.
While the characters are likeable enough, the conflicts on the road to Edward and Kate’s HEA aren’t quite satisfying enough. Edward’s amnesia is quickly resolved and Kate also quickly realizes Edward is not the black-hearted man he and society believes him to be (and that the title suggests). External conflicts including Kate’s ex-fiance, a developing family drama, and the involvement of other secondary characters seem contrived at times or thrown in as new tangles to keep the lovers apart. It is all well-paced and a well-written cliché, but because it felt too familiar, it didn’t quite rise to the top of my romance pile.
Carolyn Morris’ narration enhances Ms. Carlyle’s writing. To my admittedly untrained ears, she even sounds authentic to the Victorian period although, other than mentions of railway travel, mining, and Prince Albert, the time period does not really play a big part in the story.
I was impressed and sucked in by Ms. Morris’ performance from that very first conversation between Edward and Kate. Her delivery brought to vivid life Edward and Kate’s spark of instant attraction; you can hear their flirtation and body language and the sweetness of that first interaction. In delivering the lines of Kate’s mom, half-French Aurelie, Ms. Morris even puts on just the right touch of fake French accent to convey the hilarity of her character (and flatulent pug).
I did find it interesting that Ms. Morris chose to slow the pace of the narration, really s.l.o.o.o.w, in the first love scene between Edward and Kate. I personally found it distracting, but other listeners may find it sexy. I felt like it was an effort to lend extra drama and prolonged the moment unnecessarily.
Overall, this is a very solid narration of a skilled writer’s equally solid work.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence: None (hmm, though rearing horses and being thrown off is pretty violent)
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
In Love with a Wicked Man was provided to AudioGals for review by Harper Audio.