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Jade-Lee

REVIEW: Wicked Surrender by Jade Lee

REVIEW: Wicked Surrender by Jade Lee

Dear. Ms. Lee,

Major excitement at a lower class heroine, plus added excitement that you show a more realistic view of her social acceptance minus a hero who seems to earn a living feeling sorry for himself equals mixed feelings for this book.

Wicked Surrender by Jade LeeScheherazade Martin was born into a theater family, raised in the theater and has successfully managed it for years. Though she’s not an actress, society views her as little better than one and she has to maintain a quick wit, soothing personality and willingness to kiss up a bit to the wealthy patrons in order to keep things running smoothly in the green room after the performances. The one thing she wants in life is the respectability that comes with a wedding ring and she knows she won’t get it from Brandon, Lord Blackstone.

Surprisingly she does get a proposal of marriage from Blackstone’s cousin, Kit. But though Kit is a younger son, his family and the ton view their relationship as a misalliance and use every trick at their disposal, including coercing Brandon into trying to seduce Scher, to try and break up Scher and Kit. Brandon views his assignment with disgust which grows as he comes to know the strong woman Scher is. But he’s hiding a dark secret in his past which makes his life a pit of despair and seemingly precludes offering Scher anything but the carte blanche she’s determined to avoid.

First off, I love the heroine’s name, even if I did Google it to see if it would have been known in Europe at this time. But beyond merely being colorful, did you have a reason to pick it? I like the fact that she’s in the theater world even if she’s not actually an actress. She can still be socially tarred with the same brush and is during later scenes. Thank you for this. I get miffed when a historical book is set up in such a way that there are social barriers between a hero and heroine which in the end get knocked down and end up meaning nothing. Balogh seems to do this a lot.

Brandon does come off like an ass during the first chapter or so until we finally get his POV and realize what he’s doing by pressing his attentions on Scher. But even then, he is still somewhat ass-ish for doing what his brother wants. Why would Brandon agree to this if he doesn’t get along with his family?

Brava for Scher to have goals and stick to them – for most of the book anyway. Her desire for respectability is a potent one with real life tragedies to back it up. When she stays the course and tells Brandon, and several others, ‘no’ she isn’t just being coy or silly. Scher also uses her head when an encounter with Brandon threatens to get out of control. She challenges him to see her as a person and not use force. But she can fight too. I like that Scher is wise to what the family tries during the introductory dinner meeting but then shouldn’t she expect the snubs she gets during the Hyde Park drive?

Bonus points to Brandon for trying to be honest and prepare Scher for that drive through Snubville and for the fact that she would never be accepted into this society. He tells her that the drive that day would only show her what she and Kit would endure from then on. And his warnings ring more truthfully since he’s been in a similar situation in India.

Brandon and Scher share more than just passion. They’ve both been betrayed and hurt and find solace in each other. But what helps me believe that Brandon has truly found his love is his statement to her that he can’t think of a better place in life that doesn’t have her in it and Scher’s willingness to give up her dream of a respectable marriage in order to be with Brandon. Plus Brandon listens to Scher and respects what she says. Which I guess will make him act less like Kit about Scher continuing to be the one controlling the theater after their marriage.

Does Brandon get his viewpoint of the English and especially the upper class English as stuck up snobs who march in lockstep, keeping the foreigners and lower classes down only after arriving in India? He’s so vitriolic about this, which I can understand based on what happened to him but what caused him to be any different from the other English working for the East India Company? Was there something in his past that I missed or is he, like Wilberforce, born out of step with his countrymen?

Brandon agreed to come back to England with title and money so he could go to House of Lords and “Do Something.” Champion the cause of the poor, the slaves, the immigrants, the Colonies, whatever but he told Scher that this was why he gave in and took the blood money and his freedom. So, after two years, why has he done nothing but wallow in his guilt and enjoyed feeling sorry for himself? When Scher told him to either piss or get off the pot, I said, “Amen, sister!” I also wondered about how easy it would truly be for Brandon to extricate himself from what he felt was keeping him from offering for Scher.

Readers who like a dark, angsty hero might care for Brandon more than I did. Me, I just wanted to grab him by the scruff and shake him. Scher, who does things instead of sitting around pouring ashes on her head, is more my kind of woman. But I will give you points for a bang up epilogue and major hook to read what I guess will be the next book in the series. C+

~Jayne

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REVIEW: Wicked Surrender by Jade Lee

REVIEW: Wicked Surrender by Jade Lee

Dear Ms. Lee,

Back in 2005, I read your romance White Tigress, in part because of the unusual setting, 19th century Shanghai, and the unusual pairing, a white heroine with an Asian hero. I don’t recall it well, but I do recall being disappointed with it. The hero’s desire to achieve some sort of mystical enlightenment by possessing the heroine’s yin – through sex – was pretty much the opposite of erotic for me. So it was conversely the fact that this book featured a more traditional English hero and heroine pairing that gave me the impetus to give you another try.

Wicked Surrender by Jade LeeScheherazade Martin manages a small theater company, the legacy from her actress mother. Scher grew up in the theater, but found that she had more talent for management that for acting. As our story begins, she receives a dishonorable offer from Brandon Cates, Viscount Blackthorn, and later an honorable one, of marriage, from his eager young cousin Kit Frazier. Scher is enormously attracted to Brandon, but he’s not offering marriage, and Kit is. Scher’s upbringing has given her a longing for respectability, and seeing marriage to Kit as a stepping stone towards that goal, Scher accepts him.

Brandon has more than one reason for being angry and frustrated over Scher’s engagement to his cousin. First of all, it was at his family’s behest that he began pursuing Scher in the first place; they wanted to separate her from Kit after noting his growing interest in her. Second of all, Brandon has come to want Scher very much on his own. A third motive, more subtly portrayed motive exists – Brandon knows all too well that a marriage between a member of society and the daughter of an actress won’t be accepted. He’d like to save both Scher and Kit from the censure and rejection that he knows they will face.

The Brandon of the early part of the book is not very likable (actually, I found Brandon fairly unlikable throughout, though he does become a bit more sympathetic once his motivations and backstory are known). His behavior with Scher is very coercive – he’s the type to pin her up against the wall and kiss her senseless in an attempt to get what he wants from her. He doesn’t seem to care very much what she wants. Even late in the book, after he has come to care for Scher, he pretty much says that he’ll do whatever he can to have her, no matter how much she does not want to be a mistress, because he just wants her so much. I think as the reader I’m supposed to find this romantic, or at least hot. Maybe once I would have. Now I just find it selfish and childish.

Scher is more sympathetic, though I didn’t find her to be a hugely well-developed character. I did like that she was depicted as being…not mercenary, but practical. She knew what she wanted – respectability – and for the greater part of the book she did want she had to do in order to attain her goal. She held on for a lot longer than many a romance heroine who crumbles once she decides she’s in “love”, and I admired that.

I found the structure of the story odd in a few places – important events occur “offstage” and while I thought this was an interesting, unusual choice, I’m not sure that there was any good reason for it. For instance, Brandon is already pursuing Scher when the book begins; there’s not even a flashback to the h/h’s first meeting. Later in the book, Brandon is attacked and injured and goes missing, and it’s only several scenes later that the reader finds out that Scher is hiding him and caring for him. There were a couple of other instances of this in the book and I just did not see any point to the device, except to be showy, and that bugged me a bit.

Actually, the latter example bothered me quite a bit for another reason. One of the reasons Scher craves a better life is that both her mother and sister died, we are told, due to substandard medical care, the only kind their class could afford (actually, it’s implied that it’s not necessarily the money that’s an issue, but that good doctors would not make the health and welfare of actresses a priority). But Scher chooses to care for a deathly ill Brandon in a hovel with the aid of a couple of rather dubious characters. She doesn’t inform his family of his whereabouts, even when asked. Not only did I disapprove of her actions (however much she disliked Brandon’s family, they had a right to know where he was, I thought), but they made no sense given her feelings about the deaths of her mother and sister. The only reason I could see for this out of character behavior was to throw Brandon and Scher together, away from society and  with him dependent on her.

The nature of Scher’s theater company was unclear to me – I don’t recall there ever being any mention of what plays they put on, and indeed most of the focus was on the goings-on in the Green Room after shows, where wealthy young men mingled with Scher’s actresses while buying the liquor she provides. Because of the emphasis on this and the implication that it was from these after-parties that Scher made a fair share of the theater’s profits, it seemed to me that she was sort of more of a pimp than a theater manager. She was a nice pimp, and it wasn’t like she was specifically taking money for whatever went on between the women and men in the Green Room, but if that part of the business was more profitable than the theater, then I don’t know what else to call her.

I also  had some hesitations about what a big deal it was for Scher to marry Kit. I mean, I agree that some romances pump up class differences for conflict’s sake, only to have the issue disappear in time for the HEA. But to have the entirety of London apparently  absorbed in the romance between a rather minor aristocrat and an unsuitable woman felt off to me. Also, in the course of trying to break up the couple, Brandon’s sister-in-law does something that’s just shockingly inappropriate, inviting an ex-lover of Scher’s to a garden party so that he can publicly humiliate Scher. The over-the-top reactions and behavior didn’t fit what I think I know about the era.

I found the prose problematic, as well – it tended to the purple. I  read way too much about Brandon’s “member” or “organ” – I know tastes differ in these things, and I guess I should be grateful it wasn’t referred to as his “staff of love.” But both of those words turn me off, somehow managing to be both coy and clinical, which I think is quite a feat.

Ultimately, it wasn’t any one thing that made Wicked Surrender an unsatisfying reading experience. The prose and characterization were enough to make it sub-par, and the issues I’ve mentioned above brought it down further. Over all, it was kind of a dreary reading experience. For all these reasons, my grade for Wicked Surrender is a C-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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