Lady Gwyneth is a do-gooder widow who has decided she will reform Britain's prison ships and set the Americans impressed by the British Navy free! Ammurika thanks you, Lady Gwyn. But the ship she wants to reform is run by the wicked Marquis of Morninghall, an evil bastard who isn't about to be intimidated by her. Naturally, Lady Gwyn finds him infuriating in a v e r y intriguing way. Will these two crazy kids get together?
So. This book had a lot problems, I'm not going to lie. But for some reason I got a freaking kick out of it.
First of all, the problems. The dialog is super-anachronistic. I had to laugh when Morninghall said, "What is this, question and answer time?" And the characters say things like, "Jeez, Toby!" Gosh golly gee willikers! This is the 1810s, not the 1920s. There are other things that don't make historical sense, too, like the fact that Gwyn--the widow of an earl--and her sister don't seem to have any servants and do everything themselves, including making tea. If Gwyn has a moral imperative against employing servants, fine, but that needs to be mentioned. Also, the way she boarded the ship wasn't accurate: she climbed the ladder up the side of the ship! No lady would do that; they'd sit in a sling and the sailors would haul them up. Women's fashions weren't especially friendly to climbing ladders back then.
Also, the book goes on for way too long. There's a subplot involving a Robin Hood-type character called the Black Wolf who rescues people from the prison ship, and Danelle Harmon spends unnecessary time filling us in on the tangential characters connected to that, including 1. the escapees, 2. the accomplices, and 3. the prison guards who are arseholes. Just skim over those bits. I give you permission.
Of course, as I've said before, historical inaccuracies in novels usually don't bother me unless they're so egregious they throw me completely out of the story. So, despite allllll those problems, I kind of loved this book. Like this is the most enjoyable historical romance I've read in a long while. Morninghall (whose first name, naturally, is Damon) is sort of a cliche, but I found myself fascinated by him. When Wicked at Heart first starts, it appears that he's having a heart attack, but his friend doesn't seem terribly concerned. What is wrong with this guy? Is he high-strung? A hypochondriac? Epileptic? I had no idea, but I was concerned.
Gwyn is very likable, too. She's pushy and unreasonable, but not annoying, and her and Morninghall's relationship developed in an unusual way. So even if the characters were a bit cliche, the romance wasn't. At first they fight all the time (I'm a total sucker for novels where the hero and heroine fight), but they definitely have chemistry. The turnover from loathing to love was a little abrupt, but whatever, I'm willing to go along with it.
Furthermore, it's pretty obvious from the start of the novel who the Black Wolf is, but Harmon does a great job of double-blinding the reader as to how or why. And how many books do you read that are set on board a prison ship? It's not the romantic setting, but I thought it gave the book a lot of atmosphere, not to mention it was a great backdrop for the characters. There's Morninghall, ruling over a prison ship like Hades in the Underworld; and then there's Gwyn, with a bright cottage and garden on shore. Heavy on the symbolism, yes, but it worked for me.
Wicked at Heart may not be a perfect novel, but you know what? It was a fun read and quite frankly that's saying a lot from me in regard to romances these days.
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