When He Was Wicked, by Julia Quinn
This book is a particularly unsatisfying one. One of the things that makes this book unsatisfying is that it deals with two flight-prone people who, despite being good friends, are rather unsettling in their relationship with each other. This book manages to fall into a bit of uncanny valley in that it combines people who seem both incestuous as a couple as well as seeming to be too far apart emotionally to make a good couple. Plot-wise, it is easy enough to see what the author was going for. She wanted to create enough suspense to have a novel’s worth of material to work with, but in creating her plot she made two people who are rather ill-suited to each other and to a happy marriage because both of them are so prone to running away from their difficulties that it seems unlikely that they will be able to have a happy and stable marriage for all of their physical chemistry. In addition to that, this book’s plot seems to be pushed along by Colin being somewhat menacing towards the supposed former rake, and at least part of the attraction for the widowed Francesca towards Michael is because he was a rake and told her wicked stories of his seductions of other women, which seems to have eroded the sort of trust that one would expect. The end result is a book that is quite frustrating.
This book is a bit more than 350 pages and begins rather inauspiciously with Francesca losing her husband and then, soon afterward, her baby in a miscarriage, and then her best friend to his cowardice by going to India to avoid dealing with his attraction to her. When four years have gone by, he is ready to come back and she is desperate for a baby and decides to cast off her mourning clothes and dress in blue again, and of course they meet cute. It is clear from the beginning that these two people will marry but how to get there is handled in a clumsy and heavy-handed way. Michael tries to protect Francesca from a guy who is forcing himself on her, but he kisses her forcefully and leads her to flee to Scotland back to the estate. And even when the two of them are both in Scotland together they end up trying to flee from each other often, even to one point where Michael flees to a brothel and finds himself rather dissatisfied because of his growing infatuation with Francesca. How long will a marriage like this last before one or the other of these people are fleeing to other places to avoid some kind of misunderstanding that they simply are unable to communicate themselves through.
There are a wide variety of aspects of this book that demonstrate the author’s unfitness to write the level of Regency novel that she aspires to. For one, the author finds it hard to move romantic plots along without creating compromising situations and involving a certain amount of coercion. These are two very troubling trends that appear over and over again. There are other ways to get people together than to have people force kisses on others, or to have someone pushed into marriage by a surly brother, or to have people delay what would seem like an obvious relationship through people running away to India or Scotland, both of which happen. It also seems unlikely that two people who resort to flight on such a regular basis would be well-suited, no matter how much they had flirted while Francesca was married to Michael’s cousin and predecessor as heir. One thing that does ring true is Francesca’s mania for having children and her desire not to die alone, but that sort of desperation does not make for an attractive couple as well. Where the book is remotely true to life, it is too true to be good, and that is a shame.