Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2139-3
Historical Romance, 2017
The Wicked Heir is the conclusion of Elizabeth Michels’s The Spare Heirs series, so of course it has to feature the guy built up throughout the series as the biggest, most badass dude of all the dudes in the series: Fallon St James, the ringleader of the Spare Heirs Society. That will be an over the top, unbelievable society in which every non-eldest son is a member of, doing shady things to profit but – but! – these shady stuffs also coincidentally enough harm only the wealthy, selfish sorts who deserve to be fleeced, so I suppose they are like some kind of mega-awesome covert agency full of Robin Hoods. Fallon lives and breathes for his Society to the point that he rarely eats or drinks, and he even bunks up with a couple of those guys in a non-gay, definitely non-penetrative way.
In this story, Fallon’s old nemesis is back in town, and this fellow, Reginald Grindelwald… wait, I mean, Reginald Grapling harbors a grudge against both Fallon Dumbledore and our heroine Isabelle Fairlyn’s family. Fallon has met Isabelle, and he likes her, but as he gathers close to watch over her even as she happily dances her way into one tomfoolery after another, he begins to develop an inconvenient fixation on her. But does his heart have space for the love of the woman when it already belongs to every male member of his society? Stay tuned.
The back cover synopsis gives away a fair amount of the story – up to a bit more than half the book, in fact – but I suppose this is because the person who wrote it faced the same issues as I did when coming up with a synopsis for this review: it’s difficult, because for a long time in this story, the whole thing boils down to increasingly absurd stuff piling up. Everything about the Spare Heirs Society is fantastically implausible for a “covert society” of its nature, and it seems to be able to do everything and anything – too much, in fact, for an organization that is run by only one person. The suspense in this story is composed of two men growling and scowling at one another across ballrooms and streets before they magically teleport to wherever the plot needs them to be. The heroine just traipses in her clueless teenage angst self as she plots vengeance on everyone who has ever slighted her. The whole thing reads like the vivid scribbling of some teenager who has more earnestness than anything else.
However, as silly as the whole thing is, I soon find myself being charmed by it. A big reason for this is that, unlike the previous entries in this series, there is no deliberate malice behind the heroine’s stupidity (stupid heroines seems to be one of the author’s main reasons to write) or the hero’s actions. Sure, the heroine’s state of clue-free existence puts her in a position of weakness in this story, but that weakness is negated by the heroine’s awesomely determined brand of crazy. Isabelle doesn’t like being a martyr – no, while she bleeds and gets dramatically upset like anyone else, she channels her suffering into lashing back at her perceived tormentors. Sure, you can argue that our heroine is vapid, frivolous, and silly, but I’d take her brand of proactive nonsense over a more conventional heroine’s determination to suffer in silence any day.
Furthermore, our darling cray cray doesn’t believe in putting out and then turning down the hero’s proposal. No, after she’s put out, she tells me that perhaps the hero didn’t say that he would marry her, but she totally can feel it in her bones that he just might as they are now so into one another, so she’s going to make sure that she looks her best when he gets down on one knee. How can I not laugh at this adorable darling’s antics? Sure, she may be loony, but she is a tall glass of water as a romance heroine.
On the other hand, Fallon is Fallon. It’s nice that he’s not some jaded emo rake, but he’s another “hero who watches over me” type that lacks the colorful cray cray that makes the heroine a far more memorable character. Then again, maybe it’s for the best. Two cray crays in a relationship may just push this madness into five oogie territory and my reputation as a serious reviewer of quality literature will never recover.
In many ways, The Wicked Heir is a terrible, terrible mess. For me, though, the mess is so absurd to such a degree that I can’t help but to appreciate and even enjoy how ludicrous the whole thing is. This is not something I’d readily recommend to other people, but its brand of messy tomfoolery will be glorious if it somehow resonated with the reader’s appreciation of such things. Approach this one with extreme caution, and be ready to flee when things become unbearable to your senses.