Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1707-3
Historical Romance, 2013
The Importance of Being Wicked is clearly part of a series, one that I haven’t been following properly. I mean, I’m reading the author’s books in reverse chronological order – latest books first – and I have to say, this book in particular has a huge cast. However, I never feel like I’m completely lost. I think I know who this person or that person is, but even if I get the details wrong, I can still follow the story just fine. I can’t vouch for anyone else, though.
When the story opens, a fire hit the the family home of Winfield Elliott, Viscount Stillwell. Fortunately, no one is injured, and most of the family possessions have been retrieved in time. It’s not that bad… wait, what is that? Oops, the roof of Fairborough Hall just collapsed. Oh well, on the bright side, one of the most highly recommended architecture/construction companies in town is available. To Win’s surprise, the company representative that shows up is a woman. Lady Miranda Garrett claims that she’s merely the figurehead boss of the company – a proper lady doesn’t do dirty things like getting involved first-hand in trade, after all – and she shows up because the actual representative is away. The two of them thoroughly exasperate one another from the get go, and it may just be love at first sight after all.
Miranda is actually the architect of the company, letting her late husband take the credit for her designs. You see, they married when the man was a mere second son, and that man opened Tempest and Garrett as a way to make a living. Both Miranda and her late husband had a wonderful quarrel-free marriage, and she did miss him, but perhaps all those… feelings Win is evoking in her is a sign that maybe she should embrace life again. As for Win, he’s had three broken engagements in his wake, and he’s not sure what to think of Miranda. But one thing is for sure: he can’t stop thinking about her.
Before I go on, let me advise people to read the bonus novella Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements at the back of the book first, as it chronicles the three broken engagements of poor Win. Reading it last – like I did – made the whole thing feels like an anticlimax.
Back to this story, it’s a hilarious and entertaining read from start to finish. There is no external conflict here, everything here is strictly about interactions and conversations, with the story only dipping briefly into farce late in the story. And what really captivates me is how the relationship of Miranda and Win is so… so… I don’t know how to actually describe it other than to simply say that these two are just too adorable. These two annoy one another thoroughly so, so much from the beginning that they are most entertaining in just how wrong they are about the other person. Following them stumble through their feelings is a sublime experience. These two feel really right together, and the fact that they both come to adore even the most exasperating things they find in the other person is too funny and sweet at the same time. I especially adore that scene where he accidentally blurts out his feelings for Miranda in front of her and her shocked family members.
The author adds her own interpretations of commonly present romance archetypes here, with good results. Win and Miranda are characters to remember rather than rehashes of familiar elements, and even the parade of sequel baits doesn’t feel like some obligatory device to hawk other books in the series. The secondary characters add some extra layers of humor and family moments to the story, and they also bring out the best in the main characters. Make no mistake, a bulk of them are sequel baits, and some trot out their preexisting relationships with this and that right under everyone’s noses, but I never feel that their presence here is gratuitous. Everyone’s just part of one big family.
There is a dip into farce that I believe is somewhat unnecessary, but it is shortly resolved. Miranda and Win may bicker and hiss at one another like kids at times, but they approach their conflicts in a far more intelligent and mature way than their behavior may suggest. All in all, this is a most satisfying kind of romantic comedy. Just watch your steps around the huge cast, which may cause some readers to stumble and sigh in exasperation.