Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-41652-553-0
Historical Romance, 2009
A Husband’s Wicked Ways starts out interesting, falls into a sagging middle, and only recovers a little towards the end. On the bright side, this one is a revelation. Look, people, a book by this author where the hero is upfront and honest with the heroine from the start! I wait for Colonel Sir Greville Falconer to turn into a colossal asshole like Jane Feather’s heroes tend to be, but shockingly enough, by the last page his only crime is arrogance. At one point in the middle parts of the story, heroine Aurelia Farnham reflects that her friends’ relationships in the previous two related books were based on lies, with the heroines being blindsided by the truth only when the heroes couldn’t continue their charades any longer, and concludes that she is better off than these women. I’m in awe. No, I’m in shock.
Aurelia Farnham is a widow of three years who is currently enjoying her stay in London with her daughter Franny. See the review of A Wicked Gentleman for the back story. Her friends have married, and she knows it is a matter of time before her own funds run out and she has to return to her quiet little country home. However, when the story opens, she is met by Greville Falconer who delivers a most shocking news: her husband Frederick didn’t die three years ago – he lived, and served as a spy for his country until he finally and really died in January that year. Greville is here to deliver Frederick’s last missive to Aurelia and to inform our heroine that the man died bravely while serving by country by aiding Greville – his superior – and his colleagues in smuggling an important document out of Corunna, Spain.
Even as Aurelia tries to reconcile herself with the revelation, this will not be the last she will see of Greville. For you see, Greville notices in the widow some of the traits that led him to recruit the widow’s late husband as his spy. He decides to approach her with an offer: he will offer her whatever compensation she seeks, monetary or otherwise, in return for her services to the country. He will be the John Steed to her Emma Peel, in other words. As he trains her in the ways of intrigue and they work together to ferret out traitors among the Spanish immigrants currently dancing around the ballrooms of the Ton, they predictably fall in love.
There isn’t much to say about Greville other than he’s a capable man who may be arrogant but, if you read the story, you may agree with me that he has good reasons to be so disgustingly smug about his capabilities. The one thing that stands out about him is how he openly and willingly comes clean about everything to Aurelia. As he tells himself, honesty is often the best policy, especially when it comes to winning the trust of someone like Aurelia. It’s disconcerting, if most refreshing, to see a couple in a story by this author actually communicating openly and honestly with each other.
Aurelia, on the other hand, is an extraordinary heroine when compared to many other heroines in historical romances out there. She gets a little too cocky and silly later in the story, but since she is more than capable to take care of herself, she has a good excuse to be cocky. I love how Greville actually sees Aurelia’s cool-headed ability to take care of herself and adapt to dangerous situations as reasons to adore her more. He doesn’t try to subvert her independence or browbeat her into submission like some of this author’s heroes, so really, Aurelia and Greville are pretty amazing. What really stands out about Aurelia, however, is her conflicted feelings about Frederick in the early chapters of this story. Ms Feather portrays Aurelia’s hurt and anguish so well, I feel my heart breaking with Aurelia.
Reading the main characters’ relationship gives me happy flashbacks to more pleasant times in the past when I enjoyed this author’s stories without wanting to see the heroes die a slow and painful death. These two are like a less dysfunctional version of the couple in my favorite book by this author, Velvet. The hero respects and loves the heroine for her capabilities and she ends up pleasantly shocking him in the end by actually getting herself out of trouble without his help. Isn’t this cute?
It is a pity, therefore, that way too much of the middle portion of this story drags. These chapters, dealing mostly on Greville’s tutoring of Aurelia, are slow and frankly not very exciting. After the exquisite early chapters dealing with Aurelia’s beautifully portrayed emotions, these chapters are a huge disappointment in comparison and it is only the heroine’s cool entrance into the scene as the hero is getting ready to save her that revives my enthusiasm for the story.
A Husband’s Wicked Ways, therefore, is an interesting read if only to demonstrate how the author can actually write a great romance without all that lies and asshole hero behavior bogging down the tale. But the story quickly loses steam by midway point and doesn’t recover fully from that misstep. Therefore, I find this one a major disappointment as well. Why can’t I have a great romance and a great story from Jane Feather?