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REVIEW: A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore

Dear Ms. Haymore,

When I first picked up A Hint of Wicked, I did not have much in the way of expectations. I assumed that this was your first book, since I hadn’t heard your name before. I hadn’t really heard any buzz about the book, and I had to remind myself of the plot before I started by rereading the blurb. I rarely go into reading a romance with less of an idea of what to expect. It was a refreshing change, and one of the strengths of the novel turned out to be how difficult it was to guess what direction the story was going to go in.

The book opens with our heroine, Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, discovering that her beloved husband Garrett has fallen at Waterloo. With Sophie when she gets the news is Tristan, Garrett’s cousin and a dear friend to both Garrett and Sophie.

The story then shifts to eight years later; Tristan has succeeded his cousin as the Duke of Calton, and has now been married to Sophie for a year. Together they are raising her daughter Miranda (Sophie was pregnant with Garrett’s child when he left to fight Napoleon) and his son Gary (named after Garrett), born of Tristan’s late wife.

Tristan and Sophie clearly have a loving and strong relationship, though Sophie still loves and misses Garrett (Tristan does as well, for that matter). They are in the midst of making love one night when Garrett returns quite unexpectedly from the dead and catches them in flagrante delicto. He mistakes the scene due to the fact that Sophie is tied to the bed naked – Tristan and Sophie apparently like to play domination games at times – and sporting a large bruise from a horse-riding accident. Garrett proceeds to beat Tristan to a pulp before order can be restored.

It turns out that Garrett has only recently (and partially) recovered from amnesia; he has been living and working as a laborer in France. He has returned to England with the help of a former member of his regiment, a Mr. Fisk. Garrett is furious and devastated to learn that his wife has moved on, and with his closest friend, no less. He orders Tristan out of the house and declares his intention to see Tristan and Sophie’s marriage voided.

What followed was, for me, an uneven tale, with some faults and virtues. The prose never really rose above workmanlike level for me. It wasn’t bad, for the most part, and you managed to avoid many of the cliches that run rampant in regency-set romances, which I appreciated. But the writing lacked the spark that would raise it above “competent”, and this caused the characterization to suffer. The three protagonists are pretty broadly and hazily drawn. Garrett is supposed to be intimidating but essentially gentle at heart, but we are told that rather than shown it (it doesn’t help that we mostly see Garrett after his return, when confusion and anger make the gentleness less apparent; he skirts the edge of unlikability for the majority of the book). Tristan is less autocratic than Garrett, not having been raised to the dukedom. I’d say he’s in general a little more cultured and “soft” than Garrett, but this is a vague impression I have, and I’m not sure I could even say what it’s based on.

Sophie feels slightly more fully drawn than Garrett or Tristan, perhaps partly because her feelings upon Garrett’s return are so complicated. She felt anachronistic to me in some of her emotions and actions. But I appreciated very much that you created a heroine who really was torn. I also appreciated that you allowed her to have sexual feelings for both men; I always live in hope that romance will someday permanently overcome the heroine arousal=true love equation.

There were a couple of other anachronistic elements that jarred me slightly – one comes when it’s suggested that Sophie could obtain a divorce on the basis of her husband’s adultery, which as far as I know was not a possibility at that time. Another comes when Sophie’s and Garrett’s young daughter joins the family for dinner – I had always been under the impression that this did not occur in aristocratic families of the era. These were minor issues, but contributed a bit to the “wallpaper historical” sense that I got from the book at times.

In addition to the tangled mess that exists between Garrett, Tristan and Sophie, there is an external villain working to undermine Garrett and his belief in his own sanity. I could have done without this plotline entirely, especially as the identity of the villain was quite obvious and the lead characters seemed pretty dense at times in making the necessary connections.

The love scenes in A Hint of Wicked were well done; the rather risque bondage scene near the beginning of the book led me expect that the story that followed would be spicier than it was, but ultimately it becomes clear that this scene was not gratuitious; it was included to illustrate something about the couple’s relationship.

Without giving too much away, I will say that I found the resolution of the love triangle disappointing; the story up to that point led me to expect something different. I would’ve been open to a different ending, though I suspect many other readers wouldn’t.

My grade for A Hint of Wicked is a high B-. I will definitely be on the lookout for future works from you; with slightly stronger prose and characterization I can imagine enjoying future books from you very much.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

28 Comments

  1. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 14:24:50

    He orders Tristan out of the house and declares his intention to see Tristan and Sophie's marriage voided.

    No problem, since that’s exactly what would happen, even if Sophie preferred to stay married to Tristan. Because Garrett has been declared dead she wouldn’t be charged with bigamy, but she is still legally married to Garrett, no ifs, ands, or buts.

    There were a couple of other anachronistic elements that jarred me slightly – one comes when it's suggested that Sophie could obtain a divorce on the basis of her husband's adultery, which as far as I know was not a possibility at that time.

    Correct. A woman could seek a legal separation for adultery and cruelty (combined). She could seek a divorce only for incestuous adultery (usually this meant that the husband had slept with his wife’s sister) or bigamy. And very few of these succeeded.

    Another comes when Sophie's and Garrett's young daughter joins the family for dinner – I had always been under the impression that this did not occur in aristocratic families of the era.

    I would tend to agree, but there's no hard and fast rule for how people raise their children (then or now). Most families would have left the children to dine in the nursery, but that doesn't mean all of them did, or that exceptions wouldn't have been made now and then. Depending on how it was done, this wouldn’t bother me.

  2. jep
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 14:42:25

    I agree with your review although I did not think the ending or the fact the male characters did not seem to express much anger or jealousy towards each other did not seem to fit with the time period. I defintely will be buying the sequel in April 2010. The book was worth my money and I don’t say that often.

  3. Trish
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 15:49:06

    I agree with your review (and grade) as well. The wallpapery aspects did bother me and the worst of it for me was the nicknames. I loathed that Tristan repeatedly calls Sophie “Soph” and that Sophie calls Rebecca “Becks” It pulled me out of the story and brought unwanted images David and Posh Beckham. And the little boy named after Garrett was called Gary. It just didn’t feel right to me. I know that nicknames were used in the period – Lottie for Charlotte or Lizzie for Elizabeth – but here it felt too modern and too overused. And there’s my pet peeve for the day!

  4. Bianca
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 15:53:35

    Good review! I actually enjoyed this book more than you seemed to; though, Sophie often annoyed me to death. I guess I just didn’t feel she was a fully fleshed-out character, either. You’re right, the characterization did leave something to be desired in the novel.

    Still, it was an unconventional story. I really hope this is a sign that change is coming to historical romance novel tropes. Like – less virgin widows and the ridiculous playboy dukes who love them, moar menage a trois and relationship variety…? Maybe?

  5. Miki
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 16:03:22

    I found this book incredibly hard to finish. I didn’t like Sophie much at all, and like you, I think we were told things about Garrett’s personality and feelings that were pretty opposite of what we saw in his actions.

    For Sophie, it wasn’t that she couldn’t choose – I think I could understand that. It was that she was so inconsistent in her reactions. She’d be thoroughly ticked off that Garrett did whatever heavy-handed thing he’d done that day, then she’d be sweet-and-submissive at the dinner table, or she’d give him a scalp massage, or whatever.

    I think once I saw inside Garrett’s head, I started to feel that he could truly become the possible hero in this story. So liking both of the heroes (no matter how boorish Garrett acted and no matter that the dominance thing in Tristan and Sophie’s relationship was a negative as far as I was concerned) both saved the book from being a total wallbanger for me – and made it harder to finish, since I knew one of them would be hurt in the end!

    This is one of the first romance books I’ve read in a long time that I skimmed almost all of the sex scenes. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, and I just can’t tell if was the writing or if it wasn’t just about her “one-true-love”. I’ve read and loved menage books, but you could generally tell either the heroine would be with both at the end, or that she would choose one and the other was more fantasy-fulfillment “no-harm-no-foul”.

    I’m afraid my grade was C- (for what that’s worth). It was the second book I’ve picked up in the last couple of weeks that I kept putting aside because it couldn’t hold my interest – and that’s a rare thing for me!

  6. Sherry
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 16:31:11

    I think this review is spot-on. It was uneven for me too. On the one hand the premise was so interesting, but on the other – Becks and Gary? In Regency England?

    I thought Garrett was an a-hole for most of the book, and all three of them were painfully dense about the villain (especially Garrett). Without spoiling anything I’ll just say that after I closed the book I erased the ending in my head and wrote my own version, which featured both men going off and finding someone else. LOL!

  7. Gail Shelton
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 16:42:59

    I had more trouble with the anachronistic elements than Jennie did–but that’s probably because I’ve got a degree in history and think that people (authors) ought to do their homework. The term “in denial” that Tristan tossed off threw me totally out of the story, and the child did not behave like any 7-year-old I have ever, ever met. There were other things, but I won’t go into them here. I really struggled with the wallpaper, and the fact that it was so poorly done utterly disappointed me. And I rather liked the story. I read all of it. Don’t know if I’ll get the next one, though. It’s very hard for me to set those historical/anachronism issues aside. Sigh.

  8. Danielle
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 17:53:44

    I enjoyed this book and I’m proud to say that I did not read the ending first!!!!!

  9. Merrilee Faber
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 18:33:31

    You lost me at the amnesia bit. Come on, such an overdone cliche! Surely the author could have pushed herself a little more and come up with something original.

  10. May B.
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 19:38:17

    I heard a lot of good thing about this book. So I intent to read this book but the love triangle make me quite hesitate. Thank for the review.

    BTW Jennifer Haymore is the pseudonym of Dawn Halliday.

  11. SonomaLass
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 23:24:44

    I’ve really been looking forward to this book because of the plot premise. I like the idea of this confusion, where all three people are victims of the circumstances with no one to blame. Although amnesia is not my favorite plot device (it smacks of bad soap opera), I’m not sure that having him held prisoner, lost at sea, whatever would be any less obvious a device.

    I still plan to read it, of course, but I can’t help wishing I had waited for your review before buying it. I paid full price, and now it’s available as $1 e-book!

  12. Jennie
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 02:02:32

    No problem, since that's exactly what would happen, even if Sophie preferred to stay married to Tristan. Because Garrett has been declared dead she wouldn't be charged with bigamy, but she is still legally married to Garrett, no ifs, ands, or buts.

    Yeah, Tristan gave it the ol’ college try on fighting it, but common sense seemed to indicate that the marriage with Garrett would take precedence.

    I would tend to agree, but there's no hard and fast rule for how people raise their children (then or now). Most families would have left the children to dine in the nursery, but that doesn't mean all of them did, or that exceptions wouldn't have been made now and then. Depending on how it was done, this wouldn't bother me.

    Yeah, I would not even have tripped on that if I hadn’t already been getting the wallpaper sense from the book. Once I get that feeling, I become a lot more nitpicky about little details that don’t feel right.

    Trish, I had a problem with “Gary” too – it just did not feel remotely like a 19th century English name. I have no idea about the etymology of the name, though.

    It’s interesting to hear that others didn’t like Sophie because I found her pretty sympathetic. Miki, I guess I saw Sophie inconsistent behavior with Garrett as somehow realistic – she didn’t like the autocratic Garrett who was trying to control her, but she still felt for the boy/man she had known and loved for so long.

    Sherry, I actually gave Garrett more of a pass for being clueless because he was still recovering his memories and perhaps didn’t have a great perspective on everything. Tristan really came off as doltish at times. The whole business in the theater with the “doctor” was so obvious, and yet Tristan is just like, “hmm, that’s odd – wonder what that’s about?” I really couldn’t believe he wasn’t putting two and two together at that point.

    Gail, I almost complained in my review about how unlike a 7-year-old Madeline seemed. I may or may not notice anachronistic phrases like “in denial”, though as mentioned above, once I start to notice those elements I’m more likely to continue to notice them and to question things that I might otherwise not have questioned.

  13. Jennifer Haymore
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 02:04:11

    Thanks so much for the review! I appreciate the time you took to read the book and review it. One note about divorce:

    There were a couple of other anachronistic elements that jarred me slightly – one comes when it's suggested that Sophie could obtain a divorce on the basis of her husband's adultery, which as far as I know was not a possibility at that time.

    I think you’re referring to a scene in chapter 7, which I believe is the only place where divorce is mentioned. In this scene, Tristan is brainstorming with the lawyer about their options, and the lawyer is very negative about the potential of Sophie legally splitting from Garrett. He begins to tell Tristan that Garrett’s desertion in combination with his adultery might be enough for Sophie to form some sort of argument for a bill for divorce (he could use Scottish laws of the period to back this argument), but he's not very excited about the prospect. He's not suggesting that it will be a piece of cake for Sophie to obtain a divorce that way, and he's especially not suggesting that Sophie can obtain a divorce solely on the basis of adultery. Tristan, however, knows that Sophie would never publicly accuse Garrett of either desertion or adultery, and nips the idea in the bud.

    I found no cases that explicitly addressed Sophie and Garrett's situation, but these were years in which the laws about marriage and divorce were being heavily debated prior to the reforms of the 1850's. Around that time, many English lawmakers were arguing for desertion as a valid reason for divorce. I felt it was conceivable that the nearly eight years in which Sophie was forced to live without Garrett could be viewed as desertion and thus used as part of a suit initiated by Sophie for legal separation or, ultimately, divorce, hence creating a precedent for a desertion/divorce scheme in England. (Note, however, that Garrett's desertion wasn't willful or malicious, which further decreases the likelihood of that particular argument working for them.)

    Thanks again, and I hope that my next book will read a bit more smoothly for you!

  14. GrowlyCub
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 06:12:42

    I started reading it but gave up about 40 pages in because the writing was just too off putting and I’m not usually one to notice the prose one way or the other, either good or bad (unless it’s full of spelling or grammatical errors).

    With this book, I actually found myself analyzing the sentence structure to figure out what was annoying me so much and noticed that many are of the same length and cadence with a ‘clunk’ at the end.

    And I don’t care how badly shocked and still recovering Garrett is, his behavior is totally unacceptable. Locking people into their rooms and posting guards? There’s no way I can see this guy as the hero, if indeed he is. I didn’t look to see with whom she ends up in the end.

    I also noticed many words/idioms that seem very modern which on top of the prose issues really made me go ‘how on earth did this get published’? The bit I read looked like a very early rough draft to me.

    Additionally, I couldn’t help but think about the possible comments the author might have gotten if she had submitted a ‘First Page’ here and wondered how an editor didn’t notice the writing flow issues and anachronisms.

    Too bad. I was very intrigued with the story concept and it’s interesting that the concerns I had about the resolution of a triangle in a traditional (non-erotic) romance ended up not being what made this a no-go for me.

  15. Sherry
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:36:20

    Oh, the doctor scene. If a hero can be TSTL, it was Tristan in that scene.

    Both of the child characters jarred me, too, but I don’t have kids so am not qualified to comment.

    I see your point re Garrett and the villain but can’t say more without spoiling. Actually by the end I had a better understanding of Garrett – unfortunately for most of the book he just made me mad. Preventing Sophie from reading her own mail? Grrr..

  16. Moth
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 07:43:53

    Can I ask who she ends up with?

  17. Azure
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 08:35:13

    I’m not one of those who notices anachronisms for the most part, but the nickname “Gary” stuck out for me, too.

    I enjoyed this book a great deal until the villain truly emerged. Then I tuned out and started skimming to find out who Sophie ended up with. But I am interested in reading the sequel after reading the preview for it.

  18. Tamara
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 09:52:39

    I don’t know the real history of the name, but Georgette Heyer uses “Gary” as a nickname for Garrett in her Sprig Muslin. IMO, if it’s good enough for Heyer….

  19. Susan/DC
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:22:42

    Haven’t read the book but have a question. I noted that Sophie and Garrett have a daughter. If Sophie stays with Garrett, in future they could have a son who would inherit the dukedom. If Sophie goes with Tristan but does not get a divorce from Garrett, then neither she nor Garrett would be able to legally marry anyone else. So how could Garrett have a son who could legally inherit (unless Sophie dies, of course)? This may be answered in the book, but as I said, I haven’t read it and was wondering.

  20. Jennie
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 00:39:54

    Ms. Haymore, thanks for clarifying – I did get caught up on the unlikelihood of anyone even caring about Garrett committing adultery, and didn’t pay much attention to the rest of it.

    Growlycub, I actually didn’t have that much of a problem with the prose, and I consider myself picky about prose. I guess it just goes to show that tastes in prose are very individual and what strikes one person as unacceptable might not bother another reader.

    Tamara, thanks for the info on Gary as a name. Okay, I won’t argue with Heyer…

    Susan/DC, that issue was not addressed, I don’t think. Hmm. It’s a good question, though.

    Moth…

    SPOILER
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    Sophie ends up with Tristan. I would’ve preferred a true menage ending, which was the direction I thought the author was going in. It would’ve been more interesting to me, personally, even if not entirely believable from a historical POV (though didn’t the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have some sort of similar arrangement with one of his mistresses? Of course, that would’ve been two women and one man; that may have been viewed differently).

  21. Anne Douglas
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 04:58:10

    I understand Admiral Nelson (who was married) partook in an unusual arrangement as well, with Lady Emma Hamilton and her elderly husband Sir William Hamilton.

  22. GrowlyCub
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 08:29:03

    Jennie, as I said I’m usually very un-picky about prose, so it really struck me that I was paying such attention to it here to the point where I was spending more time on structure than on content.

    And I have to admit to major curiosity now with regards to how the ending came about legally after reading the spoiler because I cannot figure out how they could have come to that conclusion with the laws as they were.

    Was it just that it didn’t end as you thought it might or was the legal aspect a reason for your disappointment with the solution as well?

    I might have to finish reading it after all now… lol

  23. Jennie
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 23:35:01

    GrowlyCub, I honestly didn’t think much about the legalities for some reason. To clarify (MORE SPOILERS)
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    Garrett let Sophie go. It had already been determined that his marital claim took precedence. So presumably he and Sophie would need to divorce and Tristan and she would have to marry again.

    Now I’m wondering, though, about the question of the Dukedom and whether Garrett renounced that. I don’t think that was brought up but I need to reread the ending to confirm that. I guess it’ll be resolved in Garrett’s story.

  24. Trish
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 13:13:27

    CAN Garrett “renounce” the dukedom? I didn’t think that was possible – that only death would release a man from his title, especially one so high as a dukedom. I guess this will be resolved in the next book . . .

  25. SonomaLass
    Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:07:52

    SPOILERS ABOUND IN THIS COMMENT! The book has been out for a while now, so I’m not even trying to discuss this in a non-spoilery way.

    I liked this book a lot more than you did, Jennie. Maybe that’s biography talking — I had a LOT of empathy for Sophie.

    I enjoyed how this book turned some standard romance devices around and made them work for me. I was thrilled that Sophie was really torn and that I failed to predict the ending. That is SO rare for me in romance, and I was amazed that Ms. Haymore made it work so well. I was rooting for Tristan, but as Garrett became more sympathetic, I fully expected the story to end up with the initial marriage being saved. That it wasn’t, and that it wasn’t easy for anyone, was a pleasant surprise for me.

    One of my favorite scenes in romance novels is where the hero and heroine get to do something together, something that shows us how much stronger and better they are together than apart. In this book, all three of them got to act together — and yet, they failed to save Garrett’s sister (leading to sequels, hurrah!). Another great device, IMO, was having the villain be smarter and better than usual — they found him out in time to save Garrett, but not in time to save Becky, and he didn’t “get his” in a quick resolution scene at the end. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how Garrett goes after him and seeing that played out over more pages.

    This book worked for me, and I frankly wasn’t expecting it to — at least, not as well as it did. I was joking earlier in the summer that I had a lot of “one bare leg” covers in my TBR pile. I’m thinking I may have to pick up Sleepless In Scotland now, because so far the bare-legged ladies of 2009 have been excellent!

  26. Jennie
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 19:04:59

    SonomaLass, I think I liked pretty much the same things about the book as you did; they just weren’t enough to quite overcome the things I didn’t like. ITA with this:

    One of my favorite scenes in romance novels is where the hero and heroine get to do something together, something that shows us how much stronger and better they are together than apart.

    And I liked that the three of them had to put aside their differences to try to save Becky.

  27. brooksse
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 21:26:39

    Although I read this book, it never really held my interest. Very early in the book (first chapter, I think) I noticed one passage in particular that seemed to provide a clue as to who Sophie would choose. I wasn’t sure if the author intended it to be a clue – if intended, then it was a pretty obvious clue. The other impressions I got while reading just seemed to reinforce it. I pretty much zipped through the book just to see if it turned out as I suspected.

    (SPOILERS BELOW)

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    These are the things that had me guessing it was Tristan:
    * The author used the phrase “hint of wickedness quirked his lips” once while describing Tristan. Considering the title of the book, it made me wonder why the author chose that exact wording to describe Tristan. Made me wonder if she would use the same phrase at some point to describe Garrett.
    * The impression that Sophie’s relationship with Tristan better suited her desire for a “hint of wicked” than her relationship with Garrett.
    * The impression that Sophie and Tristan’s marriage was more mature and more equal partners than Garrett and Sophie’s marriage.
    * The impression that Garrett was not very likable, especially early in the book, which might make it easier for readers to “root” for Tristan.

  28. The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer Haymore
    Aug 03, 2013 @ 11:02:16

    […] with your novella The Devil’s Pearl. And years ago, I read and liked your debut novel A Hint of Wicked. But The Duchess Hunt┬ádidn’t do it for me. The hero’s behavior was, at times, […]

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