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CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW:  Wicked Intentions by Lydia Joyce

CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Wicked Intentions by Lydia Joyce

045122567801lzzzzzzzIn which Jennie and Janine discuss Lydia Joyce’s newest historical romance, Wicked Intentions.

Jennie: I have read all five of Lydia Joyce’s previous books; my grades for them have ranged from B+ to C-. This range sort of encapsulates my experience with her work none of her books has been so bad as to be unacceptable, but none has reached the pinnacle of an A range grade for me, either. I ve enjoyed them to varying degrees, but always had the sense that for me, these books did not quite fulfill their promise. So I did not come to Wicked Intentions with hugely high expectations. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how engaging and enjoyable it was.  

Janine: I’ve read all of Joyce’s earlier books too. I think my grades for them were slightly higher than yours and ranged from a C or so for The Veil of Night (my least favorite) to an A- for Voices of the Night, which I enjoyed quite a bit.Still, I understand what you mean, because although I enjoyed most of her books, I also felt that apart from Voices of the Night, they did not transport me. Perhaps that’s a lot to ask of any author, but I’ve always had the feeling that Joyce was aiming for freshness, intelligence and verve, something I admire very much, and when some of her books did not, for me at least, reach those heights, I did adjust my expectations. She is usually an author of solid B books for me, so it was a welcome surprise to discover Wicked Intentions, a book that exceeded my expectations on every level.
Jennie: Wicked Intentions is a dark tale; it begins with Thomas Hyde, Viscount Varcourt encountering Esmeralda, a supposed clairvoyant who has been all the rage at society entertainments, at a party. Thomas is concerned about the influence Esmeralda has over his mother, a laudanum addict tormented by the death of her eldest son years before. There have long been whispers that Thomas played a part in his older brother’s death, and Thomas has reason to believe that Esmeralda is encouraging his mother to give credence to these rumors. At the same time, he senses that his mother herself knows more than she’s said about what happened that fateful day that Harry drowned.

Janine: You’ve encapuslated a lot of the book’s themes, and readers can probably tell from that summary that this book is no light read. But for me, that was a lot of what made it refreshingly different.

Jennie: Thomas drags Esmeralda away from the party, and later pursues her at her lodgings, essentially kidnapping her in an effort to find out what her motives are (he at first believes she may be in the employ of his enemies in Parliament). There are readers who may find the encounters between Thomas and Em (as she thinks of herself; Thomas chooses to call her Merry) in the first couple of chapters a bit intense. The first sex scenes come early and feature elements that some readers may not like. I am actually a fan of early sex (certainly more than coitus interruptus ‘sexual tension ), and I wasn’t bothered by the other aspects.
Janine: I wasn’t either. The first sex scene was definitely edgy and dark, in that Em got more than she bargained for, but she was knowingly making every effort to get Thomas to have sex with her, so I did see what happened there as consensual. The characters were both testing each other; Thomas was trying to rip off Em’s mask, both figuratively and literally, and Em was trying to push him over a sexual edge in order to keep him from foiling her plans. I think those ulterior motives combined with their attraction to one another to ignite a love affair that was at first a little twisted, but I found that aspect of the book riveting.
Jennie: What follows is a story of two people whose goals place them in opposition, but who are drawn to each other nonetheless. Em convinces Thomas that she can help him find out the truth about his brother’s death. But she is also playing her own game, one in which she has been using Thomas mother as a pawn.
Janine: Yes. Em and Thomas are both intensely strong-willed characters who are not above manipulating others, and each tries to get the upper hand with the other. There’s a real struggle for power in the relationship and when they fall for each other, it’s very reluctantly.
Jennie: I really liked the power-struggle aspect of the romance. It’s a dynamic I like if done well (it’s not always done well; I get frustrated with romances where the power struggle is all about showing the little woman who is boss)Em is an interesting character. She is playing a role in order to gain what she considers to be rightfully hers. She pretends to be both a spiritualist and an experienced woman of the world there are many rumors in society about her assignations with various men. While she is no secret virgin (thankfully!), she is not as worldly as she pretends to be. I suppose that’s not surprising Em is still a romance heroine, after all. But she does have some rather dark depths; she is young but her life has been marked by loss and a sense of not belonging.
Janine: I ended up loving Em, though I started out disliking her. She is one of the most memorable romance heroines I’ve come across in recent years. Her story, which was gradually uncovered, was very affecting. On the one had, she had flirted with suicide in the past, but on the other hand, I saw her as a true survivor, someone who had decided to live, and then to do whatever it took to regain the life that had been taken away from her.
Jennie: The only thing I disliked about Em at first – and it wasn’t really about her so much as the way Joyce chose to write her – was her mysterious musings about her tortured past. I understand an author not wanting to lay the entire plot out on the table in the first few chapters; she has the right to keep some secrets from the reader. But I tend to have little patience for characters’ internal thoughts about all of their dire sufferings when I don’t even know what those sufferings entail. It comes off a bit melodramatic and faux-gothic to me.
Thomas is no less intriguing than Em. He was put in an untenable position from a very young age, expected to watch over and serve his older brother, who was believed by society to be an idiot but who appears instead to have been an autistic savant. Harry’s condition manifested itself in a sensitive and difficult personality (he had the autistic characteristic of needing things to be a certain way, and would throw fits when anything was out of order). Thomas wants to protect his mother from Esmeralda, even as he resents her, both for her suspicion of him and for her retreat into opium dependency after Harry’s death.
Janine: Yes, Thomas had a very interesting past as well. I thought his present was just as interesting. He could be brutish at times, but since Em was a tough cookie, and since he had reasons to feel she was preying on his mother, it worked for me. As the book progressed, Thomas clearly felt more and more for Em, yet he was reluctant to show it because she withheld the truth about her scheme from him. I got the feeling, though, that there was another layer to Thomas’s difficulty in trusting Em — that he had lacked friends and supporters when he was suspected of Harry’s murder, and that he had grown used to the isolation that was imposed on him, despite the underlying loneliness.
Jennie: Yes, I agree with this. I really thought Thomas and Em were well-suited in spite of the superficial differences in their backgrounds. In real life, the idea of loners finding the perfect mate who they can trust and who understands them is problematic for me. But in fiction, I find the concept very romantic.
Janine: Thomas and Em were both characters with layers of depth — they both had manipulative, tough exteriors and vulnerable, lonely interiors, so their emotional pull toward one another made complete sense to me. In so many ways, they were two of a kind. There are a lot of books where the hero is great, or the heroine is great, and sometimes even both of them are great, but the two don’t seem to fit together that well. In this book, the characters fit together like two halves of the same whole.

Jennie: Yes, exactly.

I did have some problems with the ending. Many dire hints had been dropped throughout the book as to something terrible happening to Em the night she fled her family home. The reality turns out to be rather anti-climatic, making me wonder why the plotline was built up in the first place.
Janine: That’s a good point. I mean, I could see why what happened seemed terrible to Em when it first happened, but in retrospect it was nothing compared to some of the things that happened to her later, so I do think the build up was a little out of proportion to the reality.
Jennie: I found the revelation of what really happened the day Harry died both unlikely in how it occurs (it’s convenient when a character just starts blabbing out a truth he’s hidden for decades in front of a bunch of people!) and a little too neat in other ways.
Janine: I agree about the blabbing, but the neatness didn’t bother me. I think if the identity of the murderer had been different, it would have worked even less well, but I agree that the murder plot was not as sophisticated as the relationship storyline. Still, when I read romances, I’m all about the relationships, so this was not a big minus for me.
Jennie: I think I was more disappointed when I first finished reading it because the book had been going so well for me. From the distance of a couple of days, it’s easier for me to just see the resolution to the mystery of Harry’s death as a flaw in an otherwise excellent book. I don’t read romances for the mystery, either, so I agree that it wasn’t ultimately a big deal.
Overall, I found Wicked Intentions to be by far the most emotionally involving of Joyce’s books to date, and for that reason, I am giving it an A-.
Janine: It was extremely involving to me as well. Right after I finished it, I went back and reread almost all of the Thomas and Em scenes. There’s a great moment midway through, in Em’s point of view, one of many that I loved to bits.
Thomas and Em have finished having this hot, steamy sex they both have ambivalent feelings about, and while Em is still dazed, Thomas is all business afterward — not one tender word or even a sign of feeling overwhelmed or disordered. For me, it was a terribly romantic moment, because Thomas’s very need to show nothing, not one sign of what this meant to him, made me feel that it had meant a lot more than he wanted to admit.
I love this kind of smart, subtle, layered writing. I can eat it up all day long.
Not all the reviews have been this glowing, but I hope readers take a chance on Wicked Intentions. It’s the kind of book you either love or hate, and I’d much rather read one of those than one I feel tepid about. In this case, I loved it. Since it’s a 2008 release, I went back and added it to my best books of 2008 list. I felt it deserved a place of honor there. It’s an A- for me as well.

Jennie: I also hope that readers who have been put off by negative reviews will reconsider. I can’t guarantee that they will like it as much as I did, but I think it’s the sort of book that is worth making one’s own mind up about.

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format.

Dear Author

Best of 2008 List: Reviewer Janine

Janine was our third “Ja(y)ne” here at Dear Author. She provides beautifully written, well articulated reviews. She has varied tastes and puts an emphasis on well written prose. Janine is a slow, but careful reader: