Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-79581-7
Paranormal Romance, 1998
Don’t be fooled by the title of Karen Ranney’s debut Avon romance into believing that this is a happy Regency-era romantic comedy. This book is very dark and there is a high body count towards the end that takes down more people that even I can bear, and the denouement can be unpleasant on Robin Schone-levels when it comes to squeamish acts of villainy.
I am not going to say much about the plot of this book because it is one of those plots that, when explained too much, will robbed the reader of any sense of excitement or trepidation as she turns the pages because nothing is what it seems in this story. Let me just give the basic details then. Our heroine, Mary Kate Bennet is one of those ubiquitous penniless widows in the genre, and she wakes up in the house of the reclusive Archer St John, the Earl of Sanderhurst who is looking for his missing wife for ten years now. These two meet when Archer’s carriage crashes into the public coach Mary Kate is in, and she ends up getting injured. Archer naturally feels obligated to see that she recuperates under his care. Archer is one of those mysterious and brooding heroes whom everyone suspects has murdered his missing wife. When Mary Kate starts having visions and even hearing voices from… a ghost? Perhaps. Mary Kate ends up getting visions concerning Archer’s missing wife, which earns her his ire as well as suspicions. Naturally, they have to fall in love while she looks for her family members while he tries to uncover the mystery of his missing wife.
I personally find My Wicked Fantasy more of an interesting story rather than a great romance. Archer can be very frustratingly passive at times – readers preferring their heroes to charge to the heroine’s side with guns blazing to save the day will ultimately be disappointed with the gloomy Archer, I suspect. Mary Kate is a typical heroine in the sense that she’s happy to be a martyr even when she really doesn’t have to. The main conflict driving these two apart are Archer’s mule-headed suspicions about Mary Kate being some conwoman in league with his wife to give him trouble and that oh-so-tedious familiar drama about how the two of them can never be together (they are, after all, from different social classes). Archer is constantly brooding and pouting, Mary Kate is constantly selfless and ready to be a martyr, and these two characters can be very frustrating to the point that a hard knock on their heads is warranted.
But the story with its twists and twisted revelations can be a most engrossing read. There are some holes in Archer’s background concerning his abusive father that doesn’t make sense when I consider how Archer’s mother is as a person, but on the whole, this story is truly twisted in a very perverse and delicious manner. That… that… scene at the denouement, I tell you, is either macabre and ghoulish in a deliciously fiendish manner or horrifying and in bad taste depending on how you like over-the-top macabreness in your stories. Indeed, “macabre” is the word to describe this story, and My Macabre Fantasy should be the title of this book.
I enjoy this story but readers who generally prefer their stories straightforward and free of all kinds of creepy and twisted elements should proceed with caution.