Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-173395-6
Historical Romance, 2009
I have to say this about Gaelen Foley’s My Wicked Marquess: not every author has the temerity to kick start her story with a train wreck. Our heroine, Daphne Starling, is one of those heroines who, in her determination to spread the love and save the kids in the seediest part of town, brings with her two young twin siblings as bodyguards. You can imagine what happens, I’m sure. Fortunately, our hero Max “Demon Marquess” St Albans, happens to be around to prevent our heroine from becoming another rape-cum-murder victim in this dangerous world. I tell you, I can’t wait to follow more of Daft Daphne’s adventures in playing the heroine to assuage her sense of self-importance.
Okay, let’s go back a bit. Max is part of an ancient organization called the Order of Saint Michael the Archangel. They use the Inferno Club as a front for their covert activities, feuding with the Promethean Council, who are the bad guys. The Promethean Council are the bad guys who plot to take over the world for kicks. The good guys on the other hand snatch young kids like Max and separate them from their families, putting the kids through all kinds of not-so-pleasant indoctrination methods because we all know you aren’t a romance hero until you have something to angst over. Okay, we all know romance heroes will angst over their stubble if they are given the chance, so the recruitment method of the St Michael’s Order does seems a bit too drastic for me.
Anyway, Max is back in England after kicking French rear ends in the Continent, and now he wants to settle down. Daphne is definitely not at the top of the list of eligible candidates for matrimony that his solicitor has prepared for him (she is at the bottom, in fact), but the fact that she publicly jilted his childhood nemesis has him intrigued. Like any good Angst and Kung Fu Hero would do, he stalks her out and follows her around as she attempts to come to a gruesome end (see my first paragraph), becoming more enamored of her “selflessness” and “courage” in the process. He doesn’t want to believe that she is the right person to give him well-pedigreed blue-blooded children as well as respectability and social cachet, but there is something about this spoiled reckless hoyden that gets his blood running. And no, we aren’t talking about the possibility of her dying in a self-inflicted disaster one of these days, leaving him free to play the merry widower.
My Wicked Marquess is actually more of a “first book in a series” kind of story than a standalone romance because once Max and Daphne are established to be a couple early in the story, the author proceeds to bring in various subplots designed to introduce future story lines and future heroes in the series. I’m not sure whether I can understand the logic of some of the St Michael Order people’s plans (playing the bad guys to wage war on the bad guys who are playing the good guys, for example), but there are plenty of fantastic over-the-top elements here that I have come to expect and even enjoy from this author. It’s just too bad that I feel all these elements actually weaken the romance, because the main characters never get any decent character development.
And I really don’t like Daphne. Obviously, I can’t stand her reckless and thoughtless antics. Also, she doesn’t come off like a do-gooder as much as she’s determined to play the do-gooder so that she can find more excuses to believe that she is a better person than her stepmother and those people who turned against her after she publicly jilted Albert Carew. For a do-gooder, she has remarkably few charitable thoughts for her fellow human beings. Instead, she’s busy being a petulant twit. Max is a more likable character, but he could have avoided all that drama with Daphne when it comes to their marriage if he would get a clue and give the woman some flowers and sweet nothings once in a while. Daphne is a 13-year old girl trapped in a 21-year old’s body – she can’t be managed by an alpha male like a typical submissive Harlequin Presents virginal farm girl, after all. All things considered, though, Max and Daphne are pretty bland one-dimensional characters – feisty nitwit and the moody undercover hero. The conflicts fueling their relationship aren’t strong enough to keep me interested in their story.
My Wicked Marquess could have been a typical example of a story by this author that I enjoy – over-the-top good and evil conflicts, melodramatic angst, and all – if the author has focused more on the romance, let the heroine grow up a little bit more, and let the main characters enjoy their time in the sun instead of making them compete with sequel baits for my attention. As it is, this one does have its moments, but I’ve read better books by this author.