Dear Ms. Hoyt,
I have enjoyed your previous books a great deal, particularly your first trilogy that began with The Raven Prince. While I was a bit disappointed with your last book, overall I have found you to be a solid author with three-dimensional characters, strong plots and fabulous love-scenes. I've been looking forward to your Maiden Lane series ever since I read the preview of Wicked Intentions at the back of To Desire a Devil.
Like your other series, Wicked Intentions, is set in the 18th century. However, this one is set somewhat earlier than previous books. The year is1737 and I thought this was an interesting choice. Although it doesn't come into play much in this first book of the series-‘whose story really could have occurred at any point between 1676 and 1825-‘it did make me wonder whether the choice of such an early date in the 18th century would come into play later in future books. Readers of an historical bent will realize that 1737 is, of course, before both the 1745 Rebellion and the Hardwicke Marriage Act. But other than that curiosity, the date seemed to be of little importance to the overall plot arc of this particular book.
In the slums of St. Giles, Temperance Dews is making her way back to the foundling home she runs with her brother, Winter. With her is the home's lone maidservant, Nell and the silent, sickly infant they had ventured into the evening to fetch before any worse fate could befall it. As anyone whose ever read historical romance knows, the streets of St. Giles are dangerous at any time of day, but particularly so at night. Not that any quarter of any city, ever in the history of the universe, has ever gotten safer at night, which is why the two women are in such a rush to get home. Nell is not just uneasy because of the usual dangers of a slum at night but because of the Ghost of St. Giles, the specter of a dead Harelquin, who, rumor has it, is haunting St. Giles with murder and mayhem in his quest for revenge. Temperance takes this information with a grain of salt but it doesn't make her any happier to be abroad at night, especially, when they stumble upon the grisly sight of a man, black-cloaked and with long white hair, leaning over a corpse. This nefarious personage is not the Ghost of St. Giles but Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, who Nell isn't any happier to see than if he were the Ghost of St. Giles.
They scurry past Lord Caire, because only the stupid stop in the dead of night in a slum. Or when they are too cheap to pay for a cab back to the city and end up taking the J train through Cypress Hills at 2am-‘ahem, not that I've ever done that or anything. -coughs- But this is not to be the last Temperance sees of Lord Caire. Oh no. Not even that night. Back at the foundling home, when everyone has settled to bed and the adventures of the night seem to be just a memory, Lord Caire shows up in Temperance's favorite chair with an indecent proposal. Not the kind that Robert Redford made to Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. No. What Lord Caire wants is a guide through the slums of St. Giles. And when I say he shows up, I mean he just appears out of freakin' nowhere. I still haven't a clue how he got into the house. He's got some skills, that Lord Caire does.
Thus our plot: Lord Caire has been busily searching for his mistress's murderer on evidence that can be generally categorized as "little" and specifically categorized as "crap all." Temperance and her brother, meanwhile, are facing the impending eviction of themselves, Nell and their 28 little charges from the foundling home due to lack of funds since the death of their patron. A bargain is promptly struck. Temperance will help Lord Caire search St. Giles in return for his paying their back rent, lending them some operating money, and introducing Temperance to potential patrons.
But nothing's so simple. In the first place, nobody wants to talk to Lord Caire very much. Not only because of his own terrible reputation but because of the questions he's asking. Even with Temperance in tow and a generous amount of bribes, nobody is keen on giving them a lead. Add to that the fact that every one of their witnesses either is dead before they get there or dead soon thereafter and you can see where this might cause problems for a murder investigation. In 1737, the Bow Street Runners did not exist. There wasn't really a police, just the watch and if Much Ado About Nothing can be judged as giving an accurate viewpoint of that group even 200 years after it was written, then the watch wasn't a very effective means of, you know, policing things. So Temperance and Lord Caire are on their own, murder investigation wise.
Things are further complicated by Temperance's family, who is not at all pleased with this arrangement, although none of them have any better solution to the problem of the foundling home. Like I said, Lord Caire has a very bad reputation. Not as bad as the Ghost of St. Giles, who everyone now believes is the one that committed the murder, but bad enough that at one point all three of Temperance's brothers show up to yell at her. Lord Caire has strange tastes in bedsport. But who doesn't these days? Eh? Not that this intimidates Temperance, who is drawn to both Lord Caire and the idea of his perversions.
Some romances are about the detectives falling in love with each other as they solve the crime. This isn't one of those stories. The mystery is like a foil to the burgeoning relationship between Caire and Temperance and also, the opportunity for it to take root. That isn't to say there is not who-dunnnit aspect to this book. I just wouldn't call it a mystery because it doesn't truly proceed like one. The mystery is there really to reflect the personal demons each has; to thwart both Caire and Temperance in achieving their goals, and to highlight their personal flaws. St. Giles is frustratingly obscure and silent on this murder. Every piece of information leads to a dead end. The frustration that this causes is reflected by the fact that Lord Caire doesn't really understand his motivations for trying to solve his mistress's murder. He never loved the woman and in two years barely spoke to her. As for Temperance, she is barely given a chance to look for a patron, her excursions into the ton as equally frustrating as Lord Caire's excursions into St. Giles. All in all, this is a book that's really about the emotional landscapes of the hero and heroine, not the suspense of an unsolved murder. The mystery is just a means of revealing that landscape.
Temperance is unusual in some respects to the average romance novel heroine. She doesn't come from money or gentility. The Makepeaces (that being her maiden name) are an educated family but their father was a beer brewer and not a particularly wealthy one at that. To call them gentility would be stretching that word to its breaking point. Her late husband was only a school-teacher and while she is respectably middle-class, she is neither distantly related to the aristocracy nor ambitious to join those ranks.
As for Lord Caire, he both is and isn't your typical hero. He reminded me, with his long white hair and black walking stick, of an anime character and though he was described as being large, I pictured him as being quite slender and effete. Typically, he's out to solve a mystery and avenge his mistress's death; but, like I said earlier, he wasn't in love with her at all. There were no emotions. Lord Caire isn't a rake. Rather, again, I felt as if he were an anime vampire. He's not a vampire, so don't get your hopes up (or down), but he does have vampiric qualities. In the first place, he doesn't have any emotions, which is what I meant when I said he wasn't at all in love with his mistress. He feels nothing. He's emotionally dead. He also dislikes being touched and has weird sexual proclivities. Well, weird for people in 1737 who didn't have the broadening experience of watching HBO's Real Sex on TV for years and thus becoming completely immune to other people's perversions. Although, why anyone would want to shag a clown is beyond me.
Speaking of clowns, the Ghost of St. Giles is another aspect of this book that made me think, if not of anime, then of the comic book. St. Giles itself as a setting had all the ominous ambiance of Gotham City. It seemed always to be night, that the sun never shone, and that every street corner was inhabited by some grotesque and soulless creature bent on mischief. The Ghost of St. Giles, with his rumored murders-‘murders that are reminiscent of Jack the Ripper's by the by-‘wanders about in a Harlequin costume, face masked and carries a sword. Very Gotham and goth, don't you think? Add in a subplot about Temperance's younger sister, Silence, and her ruin at the hands of dock-thief and slum-king, Charming Mickey, and the whole story has the dark and gloomy flavor of an episode of Batman: the animated series. Which is praise, because I loved that show; I watched it every day after school.
As usual, you frame the story with a fairy tale, an epigraph beginning each chapter that tells part of that tale as your main story progresses. If I can put on my literary critic hat for a moment (it's a beanie with helicopter blade on top, in case you were wondering), I'm interested in how this framing device helps or hinders me from understanding the interactions between the main characters in their story. Are the heroes of the romance mirrored in the heroes of the fairy tale? Or does the framing fairy tale say something different about both the hero and the heroine? But those are question for another day.
Your characters are well-drawn, for even when you use stock ones, they never become caricatures. You can imagine-‘at least I can-‘that the secondary characters have lives outside the book. Pasts, as it were. The love scenes were hot and delicious. And there were a lot of them. This is going to sound like a weird complaint but I almost felt like there were too many sex scenes. Perhaps this because there was a slew of them at the end of the book and it made it seem that instead of talking, Caire and Temperance were instead shagging. You did deal with this somewhat, but I felt it was so close to the end that the problem the sex causes between them didn't have time to develop properly either as a problem or a solution. So while I believed in the attraction, even the love, I also had the odd sensation of it being both sudden and truncated.
-‘cue the off-topic rant-‘
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I've been reading romances for too long. But I feel like sex has completely taken over character development. I mean, I like sex scenes, but if I wanted to read an erotica I would. What the hell happened to conversation? Tension? Building the longing? Where's the freakin' longing? This isn't just a singular problem limited to this book or this author, but one that seems to have invaded every corner of Romancelandia. Character development is hard, but often the differences and similarities between the lovers are revealed in their interactions with each other. While those interactions can be sex, I find that without enough conversation and dialogue to balance that out, I don't fully believe that they are in love. Does that make sense?
Anyhow, that was my one major complaint but it may just be a preference thing. I think some people would disagree with me and think that there was plenty of conversation to go around.
On the whole, the ambiance, the setting and the strangely Gothic vibe that ripples through this book was delightful and just unusual enough to stand out. I ripped right through it in a matter of hours and would re-read it, which is always a sure sign I enjoyed a book. Looking forward to the future installments of the Maiden Lane series. B+
This is a mass market paperback published by Grand Central, a division of Hachette.