Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-6600-3
Historical Romance, 2013
The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne is, for the most part, an adorable tale of two people with scandalous reputations who go back way, and who, in this story, decide that the other person is the enemy. The chemistry is explosive, the sexual tension is delicious, and the wit cuts like diamond into diamond.
Mariella Vyne has a string of broken engagements, an unfortunate encounter with the Prince Regent that ended with him being both mortified and offended, and rumors of her “nursing” an elderly duke into what they say is the happiest way to die. The fact that her sisters married into aristocracy allows her to still show up at events held by marginal members of the Ton, although nobody would even talk to her in those events. In London to humor her sisters who still believe that they can find someone nice to marry her off to, she can’t wait for the day when she can flee to the country under the pretense of caring for a sick aunt.
Ellie has a secret life. By night, she dons her disguise and becomes the dashing dandy Count de Bonneville, who is very good at the tables. She uses the money to support her father and her sisters all this while, even as they just take her money (without bothering to ask where it comes from) while condemning her for embarrassing them with her behavior. While this may make Ellie seem like a martyr, she never behaves like one. Far from it.
The fun begins when she wins some diamonds from a woman, who turns out to be the mistress of James Hartley, a pest from her younger days who has since become one of the town’s most infamous rakes. The diamonds belong to James’s family, and he wants them back. He understandably assumes that Ellie is the Count’s mistress, and decides to hang around while he tries to get the Count’s whereabouts from her. You can imagine what will happen to these two, I’m sure.
I cannot say enough how much I simply adore – adore – Ellie and James as a couple. Ellie’s past is nowhere as awful as rumored – she was a fake mistress to the duke who died in bed, in fact – but then again, neither is James’s past. Both are hilarious and well-matched together. He’s a rake who is increasingly aware that his appeal – and hard abs – are slowly giving way to age and gravity, although he is still in denial. He can’t fit in his jacket anymore? Of course, it’s the new tailor’s fault – off with his head! Likewise, Ellie is proud of her magnificent bosom and grimaces at the thought that she may have to accept that she’s way past the age when she is considered “attractive”. Both characters are equally stubborn, childish, and exasperating. They can be maddeningly obtuse yet unexpectedly sharp when the mood strikes them, so much so that for the most part, this story is such a fun tale of two well-matched characters going at it with equal lust and loathing.
“Look at us. We make quite a pair. You with your black eye and me with trifle on my behind.”
Unfortunately, the author can’t sustain the initial momentum of the story. Once the story moves out of London into the countryside, the chemistry between Ellie and James is almost buried under by the amount of distracting secondary characters – including a frightfully annoying little girl – and non-stop tomfoolery that is fueled by failure to communicate and a distinct lack of trust. Ellie and James are so much fun when they are trying not to succumb to the sexual tension between them. Once they do, it’s all tiresome bickering and eye-rolling paranoia, especially on his part.
I’m also confused by Ellie’s character. I like that she’s not at all like a typical martyr. She rolls up her eyes at her sisters’ antics, is fully aware of her father’s faults, and is determined to one day break free from the promise she’d made her late mother to take care of them. That’s fine, but why then would she go as far as she did, risking everything, to support them? If she can’t stand them, I’d think she’d do the minimal amount necessary to fulfill her obligations. I feel that Ellie’s behavior would have made more sense if her family members are shown to deserve the kind of devotion that sees her doing what she did here. Right now, Ellie’s motivations often contradict one after another, and everything she does seem like a transparent plot device to get the whole thing going.
Ultimately, The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne may have been a much better book if it had been shorter and ended before the whole thing goes to the country and downhill all the way. When the story is great, the chemistry and spontaneity of the main couple are fabulous. All this makes the more mundane second half of the book much more disappointing to behold.