by Tessa Dare, historical (2012)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-204987-2
Minerva Highwood is a bluestocking who lives in the shadow of her prettier sister, deemed by her mother to be an unfortunate example of a lady who will need considerable makeover before she gets herself a decent husband. Minerva is not broken up over her life, however. She has bigger things to worry about, such as how she would make her way to Royal Geological Society of Scotland’s annual meeting in Edinburgh. There, she intends to present her research, which will not only net her the prize of 500 guineas (which she's convinced she would win) but also respectability.
Like all romance heroines, she has a plan that will make even Wile E Coyote cringe. There's an utterly unsuitable rogue in town, Colin Sandhurst, whom her mother has been eyeing for Minerva's sister for a while now. Since Minerva knows that Colin is all wrong for her sister, she may as well offer her the Romance Novel Heroine Special: if he will go with her to Edinburgh under the pretense that they have just eloped, she'd give him the prize money and he can be back to his merry ways of wenching and drinking in London in no time. It's a win-win solution for everybody. Right? Right?
I know, I know. Not another story of the inebriated woobie and the wide-eyed bluestocking, yes? But A Week To Be Wicked is a magnificent subversion of this trope, as Ms Dare wastes no time in turning the entire premise on its head, starting with Minerva showing a delightful awareness of the woobie cliché.
"So you're telling me that this accident... this tragic night in your youth... is the reason for your libertine ways?"
"Yes. This is my curse." He gave a deep, resonant sigh. A sigh clearly meant to pluck at her heartstrings.
"Sweet heaven." She swallowed back a lump in her throat. "You must do this all the time. Night after night, you tell women your tale of woe..."
"Not really. The tale of woe precedes me."
"... and then they just open their arms and lift their skirts for you. 'Come, you poor sweet man, let me hold you' and so forth. Don't they?"
He hedged. "Sometimes."
Yes, Minerva starts out as a bluestocking and Colin as the inebriated rake, but it isn't long before they develop into characters in their own right. That's one delight to be had in reading this book: it starts out as one of those stories, but it isn't long before it becomes something completely different from what I expected. Something more entertaining, something fine.
To be honest, the plot isn't much. The premise is pretty flimsy and verges on being too unbelievable for its own good, and there aren't much surprises to be had along the way. The strengths of this story lie solely in the interactions between Colin and Minerva, as well as with an adorable passel of secondary characters.
Colin is just too funny for words. He is an sterling example of a rake done right: he's dissolute, but he's charismatic and likable instead of sleazy. A big part of his likability stems from the fact that his baggage contains minimal malice towards women. He's just the way he is because of some issues, but more often than not, he seems to like the women he slept with. Or at least, he doesn't view them as throwaway vessels for his pleasure the way many rakes in romance novels tend to be. Colin eventually overcomes his issues (of course he does, duh) in a believable manner, without having to go a complete personality transplant. He's still the guy I adore in the beginning, and I like that. Colin is too charming for his own good.
As for Minerva, she's a fun heroine. She has her questionable moments, but what I really like about Minerva is that, at the end of the day, she is allowed to make her own decisions and these decisions matter. She can be quite naïve at times, but then again, she is not exactly a lady of the world. There is just enough moe in her to make her endearing without being grating, and she can also exhibit an occasional display of wicked humor that catches Colin - and me - off-guard. The conversation on page 94, which makes polygons and trigonometry seem like the most erotic thing ever, is one memorable example of this.
And really, this story has nearly everything done right. The main characters are adorable and there are oodles of sexual tension underlying their increasingly comfortable ease in each other's company. The humor is done just right - this story certainly made me laugh more often than some of the more recent efforts by authors who made a name for themselves in romantic comedy. I'm not sure why the author decides to introduce some pragmatic brand of realism in the late chapters where Minerva's ambitions are concerned, since the rest of the story won't rate too high on the plausibility score in Prof Parsnickety's history class, but I like how that is handled here to show me that everything Minerva does is due to her choice. To paraphrase the words of a certain Aveline Vallen, the author tries to make as many steps of Minerva story her choice, and I like that.
Yes, there are some sequel baits in this story, and the author has set up the seeds of the next book in this story. But I don't care, I've had plenty of fun, so much fun that my ribs ache slightly from laughing, even as I still sigh from the warm fuzzy feelings the romance brings forth from me. A Week To Be Wicked is fun, romantic, funny, sexy, and amazing all in one. I adore it, I love it. I'm just so full of love!
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