Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-29518-7
Historical Romance, 1992
Ciji Ware claims in her author’s note that she intends to write a story about women playwrights. Thus Wicked Company is born. Silly me, I am expecting a nice account of a naughty, ribald, and saucy woman the way Drury Lane is colorful and boisterous. What do I get instead? Silly Miss Martyr Bluestocking Protesting Her Virtue.
It is enough to make me want to build a huge pile of romance novels and start an early Guy Fawkes bonfire out of spite.
Then again, readers who want a transplanted Ms Bluestocking of Virtue in Drury Lane will love this one. At least, there’s the novelty of a heroine acting all morally holier-than-thou in a den of sin, the favorite of all aspiring missionaries in us.
The heroine is Sophie McGann, who loves her absent-minded bookstore/scholar/play-lovingDaddy oh-the-mostest. When Daddy, in his ineffectual negligence and stupidity – sorry, I mean “Daddy’s charming absent-mindedness, because we all know that while our moms are evil sluts of the first degree, daddies are the bestest!” – gets himself pilloried and jailed for selling “subversive” material (Shakespeare and other fun jolly stuff), our heroine testifies against her daddy. Why, don’t you know? Heroines can’t lie. You don’t suggest… why, you evil hag! Shame on you. We’re all virtuous bluestockings here, we suffer because we can’t save our loved ones by hook or by crook.
Heroine also gets molested by a porn-loving nobleman, and she is saved by this handsome troubadour/actor/plot cipher Hunter Robertson, who then plays a role in getting our heroine her start on her penmanship tour de force. Sophie becomes a star, but alas, she soon has to make a choice – fame or boyfriend? What a difficult decision, poor thing.
There are very well-written scenes and atmosphere of life on the stage, and that’s a good thing. But at the same time, this story is filled with stereotypes, and the heroine goes around trying to be virtuous, truthful, honest, and just plain dull as dishwater.
Wicked Company wears the trappings of a grand historical epic, but strip away the gaudy curtains and I get a typical ho-hum Regency moral preach fest featuring all the cardboard stereotypes cloned from the Handbook of Colorlessly Virtuous Characters. There’s a grand thing shimmering in here somewhere, but it never gets to shine.
What a waste, really.