Author: Meredith Duran
Genre: Historical Romance
Publication Date: April 27 2010
Paperback: 416 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand Alone
She’s been burned not once but twice by London’s so-call ed gentlemen . . .Gwen Maudsley is pretty enough to be popular, and plenty wealthy, too. But what she’s best known and loved for is being so very, very nice. When a cad jilts her at the altar—again—the scandal has her outraged friends calling for blood. Only Gwen has a different plan. If nice no longer works for her, then it’s time to learn to be naughty. Happily, she knows the perfect tutor—Alexander Ramsey, her late brother’s best friend and a notorious rogue.So why won’t a confirmed scoundrel let her be as bad as she wants to be?Unbeknownst to Gwen, Alex’s aloof demeanor veils his deepest unspoken desire. He has no wish to see her change, nor to tempt himself with her presence when his own secrets make any future between them impossible. But on a wild romp from Paris to the Riviera, their friendship gives way to something hotter, darker, and altogether more dangerous. With Alex’s past and Gwen’s newly unleashed wildness on a collision course, Gwen must convince Alex that his wickedest intentions are exactly what she needs.
Why did I read this book: I heart Meredith Duran’s books. I think she is one of the top romance novelists writing today.
How did I get this book: I requested a review copy from the publisher.
There are those books that make me think more about the art of reading and about the act of reviewing than any other and Wicked Becomes You is one of them. What is it that I do when I sit down to write a review – how do my biases work for or against a novel and how do these ultimately matter as I read and when I have to express them clearly when writing a review.
Thus, this review is going to be more of an exercise of examining my reading and reviewing as a result of those biases.
Bias number 1: I adore Meredith Duran’s writing. I loved every single book she’s written with every fibre of my being. I think she is a sophisticated writer whose prose is beautiful in itself and whose characters are complex and extremely well developed.
Bias number 2: I utterly dislike the specific tropes of this novel and if it wasn’t for bias number 1, I doubt I would have read it at all.
Bias number 2 trumped bias number 1 completely and as a result I didn’t enjoy reading this book even though I wanted so much to love it.
The blurb does a pretty good service laying out the premise of the novel. Society darling Gwen Maudsley is jilted at the altar and finds that the fact that she is probably going to be an outcast now, totally liberating. Deciding that she’s had enough of being Miss Congeniality, she strives for the title of Miss Wicked. Alex Ramsey, is her late brother’s best friend, someone who has vowed to see to her comfort. In the eyes of society he is a rogue, although he is not one, really. He does have some issues about being free of shackles and makes his living travelling around and even though he is attracted to Gwen, he tries to stay away because he knows that being too close to her would result on losing this freedom.
They both end up in Paris at the same time and from there they travel to Monte Carlo going from friends to lovers, and then they live happily ever after. The plot is pretty simple and one that I have seen many times before which is not the problem at all. Meredith Duran has proven over and again, that a good writer can turn a well-used trope into something unique.
To wit: Wicked Becomes You is a perfectly fine, standard Romance Novel; and that is one of the problems I found with it. Because I am used to reading Meredith Duran’s novels which so far have been way more than standardised novels. To me, they were extraordinary and Wicked Becomes You reads as an average novel. I asked myself: is this fair? To hold this against previous novels? I even discussed it with Thea and we came to the conclusion that it is not about being fair. We have to take into account expectations, how one holds the author’s work in esteem and that books do not exist in a clean vacuum of nothingness.
Mind you, it is not that the book is badly written – I find that this is an impossibility when it comes to this author. My copy of the book is replete with earmarked pages. It is not that is badly plotted, the story flows perfectly from points A to B via C even though I thought that the secondary plotline regarding Alex and his investigation of how his brother sold one of their estates to be unnecessary.
The thematic centre of the novel is Freedom. Freedom to love, to be who one is, to do as one pleases, to come and go. That’s what ultimately moves the characters. Gwen wants a family to love but the freedom to choose and the freedom to be wicked if she pleases. Alex wants to be free and is afraid that love would come with too much attachment. Which brings me to why I did not love the novel. The romance is well-written and has an interesting plot, but I was not emotionally engaged with the characters and their motivations.
Alex for example, irritated me to no end. He came across as patronising and condescending towards Gwen and at times I thought he was more interested in teaching her lessons than effectively winning her heart. (The prig). The reasoning behind his “issues” stem basically from being loved too much as a child and smothered by his family. I will admit that there is a good reason for that and psychologically speaking, I guess his trauma may well have believable grounds but to me, it read as silly and inconsistent (he so obviously loved his brother, sister and Gwen and her brother) instead of complex. Although one can certainly argue both ways.
Then, there is Gwen and we return to Bias number 2: the trope of a girl trying to be wicked. I have NOTHING against a woman, trying to be free of society’s rules in order to live a fuller life, engaging in sexual activity, absolutely nothing. I root for characters like that. It is just this is one difficult trope to write because it usually lands the poor female character in TSTL Situations. Gwen, is up to a certain point, a believable, relatable, intelligent character who ascertains her position in society by manipulation, discipline and smarts. I believe in this character’s intellect but when she arrives in Paris in her pursue of a “wicked” lifestyle it is a though her brain takes a break. She tries to be daring but comes across as stupid: in one scene she overdresses with too much make up, huge earrings, a very daring dress –the very description of the way she dresses makes it plain that it is overkill. My gripe is that, as an intelligent character that is used to being in society I am sure that THAT Gwen would have known when she is dressed as “daring” and when she is dressed like a “clown”. One of the characters even muses that it is as though she went shopping in a brothel. And yet she is clueless in that scene. Similarly one other scene puts her in direct danger when she goes off alone with a man she just met in the middle of a debauched party at the Moulin Rouge!
My point is: there is a difference between being “wicked” and being “stupid” and I think a character who is portrayed as intelligent and smart should know the difference in order to be consistent, even being the innocent that she is. That marred my enjoyed of the novel and my level of engagement with the book varied greatly. I will admit that there were wonderfully romantic parts but overall this was a miss to me. And this is not easy for me to say because of bias number 1. My heart lies bleeding at my feet as I finish this review.
One foot into the lobby, Alex came to a stop. Mrs. Beecham had assured them that Gwen was flattened by grief, but here she was picking her way down the stairs, an oversized valise clutched to her chest. More to the point, she had an envelope between her teeth.
The sight arrested him. It seemed historic. He could probably sell tickets to it. Proper Gwen Maudsley, carrying a letter in her mouth for convenience’s sake.
In fact, now that she’d embraced creativity, he could think of several other uses he might suggest for her lips.
It was a hot, predictable thought, useless and thoroughly irritating. So many willing, complex women existed in the world. Gwen, on the other hand, was determined to be agreeable. A more boring goal, he could not imagine. It said nothing good of him that he found himself watching her all the same.
So turn away, he thought. She had paused mid-step, and now was contorting her shoulder, screwing it up toward her mouth, to catch the edge of the letter. This leverage, she used to readjust her toothy grip. Awkward move, quite unlike her. How long since he’d seen her so close? Last June? Yes — in the garden at Heaton Dale. The breeze had carried away her shawl, and the late afternoon light falling through the oak leaves had strewn a delicate filigree of gold across her smooth, pale shoulders—
Well, yes, she’d always been pale, hadn’t she? Many girls were, nothing special there. Her current pallor probably owed to shock. Difficult morning she’d had, being jilted in front of five hundred people; if she realized that someone now witnessed her indecorum, the mortification would probably serve her the death blow. He stepped backward, out of view from the lobby.
A panicked squeak reached his ears.
He leaned back into the foyer in time to spot her bobbling. She caught her balance, barely, but that valise was almost too large for her to see over. Another round of toothy acrobatics, and she was going to fall on her head before she made it to the landing.
Muttering a curse beneath his breath, he approached the staircase. “May I help?”
“Oh!” The valise plummeted to Gwen’s feet. The envelope pursued a more leisurely descent, floating down to the first step, glancing off its edge, then sliding down several more. It was addressed, but he could not make out the name.
“Alex!” Gwen’s large brown eyes rose from the envelope, which was nearer now to him than her; as she gave him a wide smile, he had the curious impression that she meant to distract him from this knowledge. “How do you do this afternoon? So glad to see you back in town!”
This good cheer seemed a bit unlikely, even from her. “I’m tolerably well,” he answered slowly. Her eyes looked a bit bloodshot. Someone needed to rub the color back into her cheeks, but not him. Some titled xenophobe would do it. He cleared his throat. “And how are you?”
She set a slipper atop the valise and lifted her chin. The posture put him in mind of explorers staking their sovereign’s flag in new ground. “I’m splendid,” she declared.
You can read the rest of the excerpt here.
Additional Thoughts: I may not have liked this one but I loved every single one Meredith Duran’s novels so far. If you are not a romance reader and would like to try awesome historical romance novels, you could do no wrong if you start with either The Duke of Shadows or Bound by Your Touch. Please, please don’t let these god-awful covers put you off.
If you are a romance reader and haven’t read Meredith Duran: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Verdict: Ojectively speaking, this is a perfectly fine romance novel which unfortunately, from an emotional point of view,failed to engage me.
Rating: 5. Meh.
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