Review – When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

Last week was incredibly busy, and I fell behind in my posting (though not in my reading).  I really enjoy discovering new authors writing in my favorite genre and subgenre (that’s historical romance, in case you hadn’t noticed).  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review Anne Barton’s debut novel, When She Was Wicked.  Debut novels are often a bit tentative and/or derivative and may lack the polish that an author will develop over time, but, if you can get past the flaws of inexperience, such books are indications of an author’s raw talent.  Anne Barton is an author to watch, and I will definitely be picking up the next book in her Honeycote series.

Cover image, When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Some rules simply beg to be broken…

A dressmaker in London’s busiest shop, Miss Anabelle Honeycote overhears the ton‘s steamiest secrets—and (occasionally) uses them to her advantage. It isn’t something she’s proud of, but the reluctant blackmailer needs the money to care for her gravely ill mother. To make up for her misdeeds, Anabelle keeps to a firm set of rules:

• Never request payment from someone who cannot afford it.
• Never reveal the secrets of a paying client.
• Never enter into any form of social interaction with a client.

Her list keeps her (somewhat) honest—until she encounters Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntford. Not only does Owen nip Anabelle’s extortion plans in the bud, the devilishly handsome Duke soon has the sexy seamstress dreaming of more than silks and satins. With Owen, Anabelle enjoys pleasures she never imagined . . . until a scandal from the past resurfaces. Now her rules could mean his family’s ruin. Owen’s searing kisses carry the promise of passion, but how will he react when Anabelle’s most devastating secret is finally revealed?

My favorite thing about the book is its characters.  Anabelle is fantastic – nuanced, resourceful, moral (in her own way), fiercely loyal, deeply conflicted by the choices life has forced her to make.  I appreciated her self-reliance and moxie, and — come on! — she’s an extortionist!  Anabelle is the antithesis of the helpless heroine who needs the hero to swoop in and save her from her life.  Owen is also a well-drawn character, though not quite as nuanced as Anabelle, and there are excellent secondary characters in Owen’s sisters, Anabelle’s sister, and the delightfully awful Miss Starling.  I loved Owen’s uncertainty and vulnerability when dealing with his sisters, and it is lovely that Anabelle gets to do him a good turn by helping him navigate the sister-brother relationship.

There were a few things that struck me as being less than stellar.  The plot line takes a few strange turns — the house party provided an excellent opportunity for Owen and Anabelle to take their relationship to the next level, to be sure, but it felt like a lot of the action relating to the house party, to the skeevy Earl, etc. was a distraction from the main story line between Owen and Anabelle.  Owen’s ambivalence towards Anabelle seems to yo-yo around a bit too much:  She’s a damn, dirty extortionist!  She’s attractive.  She’s a sneak.  She’s a wonderful person.  She can’t be trusted, but Ima have sex with her anyway.  I totally can’t marry her.  Dude, Ima propose to her.  Finally, the ending was a little bit abrupt, and I really felt that more groveling (or any, really) from Owen would have been nice.

The bottom line, however, is that I am very excited to read the next book in the Honeycote series (Anabelle’s sister Daphne’s book), and I’m looking forward to seeing how Anne Barton’s voice develops over her next few books.  There is a cleverness in this book (especially evident in the chapter subtitles) that bodes well for the future.

When She Was Wicked was released on January 29, 2013 as a mass-market and e-book by Forever (an imprint of Grand Central Publishing).  To learn more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information on Anne Barton, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*