Upon A Wicked Time
by Karen Ranney, historical (1998)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-79583-3

Tessa Astley is in for a rude shock. Her husband Jered Mendeville abandons her in their country home after the wedding night for London. No matter, the optimistic Tessa pursues her husband, hoping - knowing that she can make him love her. She is really in for more rude shocks.

Upon A Wicked Time is actually a very well-written book about how one woman's idealisms can really go wrong, no thanks to a husband who would do anything to drive her away. Lest one mistakes Tessa as a doormat puppy ripe for abuse, she's not. She's actually one very intelligent woman who tries so hard to adapt to a life of mercenery marriage she knows she is supposed to live, but alas, it is just not in her nature. And yes, she never hesitates to rip her husband - there is one scene in a theatre that is just priceless. Ovid will never be the same again.

But I do have one main problem with this novel. No, I don't hate Jered, even when some of his actions aren't that of a sane, normal man. I can't help but to see him as a pathetic, cowardly spoiled brat who punishes his wife for his inability to have the cake and eat it too. But I have problems with him because I don't understand why he has to be so cruel to Tessa. He marries willingly, so why is he complaining? I can't help but to see him as a really sad, pathetic man who embraces ennui in some misguided attempt to be as cool as Byron.

I also have problems in seeing why Tessa would hold on for Jered for so long, or to understand her too-fast-for-my-liking capitulation to a remorseful Jered towards the end. Maybe that's the crux of my problem, I feel there should be another 50 or more pages where Jered should work, really work (i.e show Tessa his remorse, not just feel it in his heart) to win her back. I'm not even told how he groveled and begged! After all the heartache and cruel savaging of Tessa's idealism he put her through, the least he could do is to let me hear him beg. I want to see him grovel and kiss Tessa's toes, I want to see him cling to her leg and cry like a baby, screaming that he can't live without her, et cetera.

After all, he put her through some things I can't help feeling no woman should undergo. Tessa's a much better lady than I am, for were I the heroine for UAWT, this novel would have departed the romance genre by page 150 and entered the NC-17 Extreme Violence and Gore territory.

What elevates UAWT is its vivid characterization of Tessa and Jered. Yes, both are obsessive compulsives for all the wrong reasons, and both asked for the headaches and heartaches they get in extra doses throughout the novel. And any book that manages to draw me into the story and work me up into anger, frustration, pity, disgust, and finally, resignation deserves praise. There are times when I am Tessa, and when she reaches her breaking point, I am there urging her to shove dynamite sticks up Jered's... er, mouth.

But I can't help feeling Jered get the better deal out of the whole affair, that lucky SOB. I wish he has worked harder, groveled more shamefully, and heck, gets mortally injured in that boat accident, where he would then spend the next 100 pages crying pathetically for his mom, his granny, and Tessa.

In short, I wish Jered really suffered pain the way Tessa did. Gosh, never knew I am this bloodthirsty.

Rating: 82

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