Somewhat obviously, today I’m reviewing Vicky Dreiling’s What a Wicked Earl Wants. My Twitter feed has been abuzz for the past few weeks with lots of rave reviews for this book. RT Book Reviews gave it a top pick, and there are bunches of very positive, almost gushy, reviews on Goodreads. Clearly, folk liked Bell and Laura’s story.
The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:
WILL A RAKE’S WICKED WAYS
Andrew Carrington, Earl of Bellingham, believes in being a gentleman, whether it’s fishing a soggy stranger out of the Thames or assisting a fetching lady into his bed. If the stranger becomes a friend and the lady a mistress, all the better. He certainly welcomes the opportunity to help Laura Davenport, a dazzling young widow with a rebellious stepson. Her gratitude, he hopes, will take an amorous form. But from the moment he sets foot in her drawing room, he gets far more than he bargained for …
LEAD THE LADY ASTRAY?
It was a moment of desperation. On the brink of losing her stepson, Laura turned to the notorious Lord Bellingham for help. Suddenly she, a vicar’s daughter, is in the precarious position of resisting his tantalizing advances. How Bell earned his wicked reputation is clear; the surprise is how much more there is to him than the gossip sheets could possibly reveal. Now every moment with this dangerously desirable man puts Laura’s good name at risk-and promises pleasure unlike any she has ever known …
I should preface myself with a bit of disclosure: Last summer, I read and reviewed Dreiling’s novella/short story, A Season for Sin, my introduction to her writing. I liked it, though I took exception to its lack of independent story arc. It was a teaser novella but not a free one, an introduction to the What a Wicked Earl Wants, and I worried about that trend in general: pay $0.99 (not that much, admittedly) for a “novella” or “story” that turns out to be just a ploy to get you hooked on the full story, out in a few months, retailing for $7.99. I haven’t seen a lot of people complaining about that kind of ploy — probably because $0.99 is not a lot of money — but honestly, it disturbs me.
But, you know what? I liked Dreiling’s writing style, and I liked her characters, and I really did want to know where they went from their abrupt end in A Season for Sin. So when I saw What a Wicked Earl Wants come up on NetGalley, I clapped my hands and rushed to request it. I tried not to let my misgivings about that not-quite-a-novella interfere with my reading of this book. The thing is, I don’t feel right blaming this book for the novella’s issues. Readers who pick up What a Wicked Earl Wants never having heard of the novella won’t be irritated by the retreading of ground already covered. So these two paragraphs are just a way-after-the-fact update to my Season for Sin review: oy.
Back to this book, then.
Contrary to everyone in the world who seems honestly to love this book, I didn’t love it, and I’ve waffled around with this review for a long time trying to figure out what it was about the book that I didn’t like. In reality, it was a combination of factors and largely the result of my own reading peccadilloes. In keeping with my reputation for employing far greater detail than anyone could ever possibly want to read (in other words, every post I write qualifies for tl;dr, and people have just been too nice to point that out to me… I know, guys, I know.), I’m going to lay out why I didn’t exactly like this book and hope that the world in general will forgive me (for everything… also, for wearing lace-bottom leggings in 1993 and thinking it was TOTALLY cool).
1. I couldn’t connect to Bell as a character, and he didn’t resonate with me as a hero. There are a lot of reasons for this, including:
- I know it’s silly because I read historical romance, and men, historically, were total d-bags who chased tail without any real regard for whether or not that tail wanted to be caught. But, however true it might be that dudes are sometimes assholes, I don’t actually enjoy reading those stories. So Bell’s whole ‘I need to bag a widow… ooh, that one looks good!” thing just didn’t work for me. It made me kind of hate him, right from the get go.
- The narration told in Bell’s POV repeatedly refers to Bell’s inability to love and his deep-seated emotional issues, but these issues don’t show up consistently in his behavior. As a result, he just seems a bit confused. I enjoyed Bell’s two hapless friends, Harry and Colin, but I didn’t enjoy his scenes with them being derailed by exposition about his emotional state.
- Bell’s whole ‘Yeah, so you’ve been doing this parenting thing for years, and I have no experience per se, but I’m a man, so I’m automatically more qualified than you to do this whole parenting thing, and — check it out — I am actually better at it than you, and isn’t that something!’ thing relating to Justin really bugged me. A lot. And maybe it isn’t right to hold that against Bell as a character, but I did.
2. I couldn’t connect to Laura as a character, for a variety of reasons, including:
- I did not understand what Laura saw in Bell. While he’s charming and fun to his male friends (whom I loved, by the way), he’s overbearing, disrespectful, and vaguely creepy to Laura (Wait, what do you mean you don’t want to have meaningless sex with me… what’s up with that? No lady has ever turned me down…). All he really has going for him is that he’s hot. Even when he takes Justin under his wing–and HONESTLY, what mother is really going to be like, “I just met you, and I’ve heard that you have a terrible reputation, and you’ve just propositioned me for meaningless sex, but, sure, go ahead and take my son out and teach him how to fence. It’ll be awesome!”–and Laura starts to have all the “ooh, he’s helping my son!” maternal feelings, it still didn’t make any sense to me.
- This objection isn’t precisely fair, but Laura was so ineffectual in dealing with Montclief (The Villain… more on him later), that I ended up judging her as being a bit weak-sauce.
3. Montclief is perhaps the least dastardly (and effective) villain since Dr. Evil.
Montclief is constantly lurking in the background — and frequently brought up (no joke, Laura thinks or says some variant of, “I worry that Montclief will take my son,” 8 times, and three or four times worries that Montclief will reveal her secret engagement with Bell) — as a danger to the characters. Will Montclief swoop in and take Justin? Will Montclief reveal that Laura and Bell are secretly (but not really) engaged (to what end??)? Will Montclief write a strongly-worded letter? In the end, what Montclief does is break into Laura’s town house one night when she isn’t there and steal her jewelry. This behavior gives Bell the opportunity to play hero, to take Laura and Justin to his
heavily guarded stronghold country estate. After a lot of hand-wringing at the estate, all of Montclief’s villainy is resolved in 1 page.
4. Don’t even get me started about the mysterious plot device that drives the last third of the book… or about the totally abrupt ending (Bell: “uh, we have to get married.” Laura: “no, I don’t want to. You don’t love me.” Bell: “OK… well, give it some time…” Some time later Bell: “Hey girl… I love you.” Laura: “LOL. Let’s get married!” The Freaking End… and all of that takes place in four pages.).
I don’t know… a lot of folk really loved this book, and that’s great. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to reading, there’s only what one does and doesn’t like. This book, to me, fell in the latter category, but that by no means implies that it isn’t, to a lot of other people, a piece of awesome-sauce amazingness.
For more information about What a Wicked Earl Wants, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads. For more information about Vicky Dreiling, please visit her website.
*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*