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.