Wicked Becomes You
by Meredith Duran, historical (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-9312-6


Wicked Becomes You is easily Meredith Duran's most lighthearted romp to date. However, that doesn't mean that this book is a fluffy read - there is some exquisite character study here that impresses me. Indeed, the first four chapters of this book reel me in so effectively into the heroine's head as well as heart that it's hopeless to even try to resist liking the heroine Gwen Maudsley. The author makes me understand and feel for Gwen so much and so well that I find myself deciding that I need to see how her story will end.

Gwen is new money. All three million pounds of her dowry were made in dye - a dye of a particular shade of purple that became so popular that it brought in the millions and elevated her parents from trade to new money. It is 1886, when times are changing and more and more of the Ton are starting to invest in businesses. Therefore, Gwen has not much problem becoming the Ton's darling. With her dowry, she is, literally, precious. When the story opens, Gwen's parents had passed away but Gwen is still on the plan to marry into the Ton as per her parents' wishes. She bites her tongue, makes herself as agreeable as possible to people she doesn't like, and she knows how to put on a sunny face even if she doesn't feel that way. She is the perfect belle of the ball... and yet she has two broken engagements in her wake.

She doesn't get it. One broken engagement is fine, but when her latest fiancé literally flees the church, leaving her standing there like a colossal idiot, she realizes with a sinking heart that she could very well be damaged beyond repair in the eyes of the Ton. But instead of being enveloped melodramatically in despair, something inside her snaps. She's had it! She will not spend another round chasing after a man who could very well turn out to be another worthless donkey! She will... she will... not marry! She has three million pounds to do as she will. Why shouldn't she do whatever she wants?

Alexander Ramsey, the spare and the family rascal who openly dabbles in trade, is her brother's good friend. When the story opens, Alex has his own baggage to check through, so to speak - he and Gwen's brother argued strongly before Richard Maudsley died, and now Alex feels responsible for Richard's death even if a sensible part of him knows that he is not at fault. Therefore, he feels obligated to honor Richard's dying wish that Alex looks after Gwen. It won't be easy, since he has always been infatuated with Gwen. But it's going to become even more difficult when he finds himself accompanying Gwen as she embarks on an adventure in Europe. She supposedly wants to retrieve Richard's ring from her MIA fiancé, but she's also hoping to become a wicked and wild woman, to experience life, and to do all those things that will drive poor Alex into being prematurely white in the hair.

I'm sure we all have come across this plot before - the brother's best friend and the girl gone wild combo. But Meredith Duran doesn't play too faithfully by the script. With apparent effortless ease, she exposes her heroine's vulnerabilities, insecurities, and determination to me in the first few chapters, so much so that I find myself relating to Gwen most perfectly. Even if I don't agree with her decisions, I can understand why she does what she wants to do. As a result, Gwen feels like a real person to me. Sometimes she's silly, sometimes she's smart, but she's always a character that makes sense to me. As for Alex, he's an adorable rascal. Like Gwen, he's not easily filed into a label like "rake". He has his playful side, but he also has his responsible side. He has layers, facets, and nuances that come together to create a hero that feels real rather than familiar.

Their interactions are fun, adorable, and a hoot to read. There is intrigue, danger, and sizzling passion to be had all the way, and throughout it all, Ms Duran has Alex and Gwen playing on equal ground. She may be less worldly than he is, but Gwen is by no means stupid. Impulsive, maybe, reckless, sometimes, but she is a pretty good partner in crime for Alex. This is not a story where the heroine behaves idiotically and forces the hero to keep coming to her rescue. It's more than that: it's a tale of two fools in love who do things that may not always be sensible, but they are understandably, magically, adorably foolish. I don't know - all I know is that this story makes me smile when the going is really good.

The reason I can't give this book a keeper grade, however, is because I feel that the middle portion of the story sags considerably. The characters spend too much time psychoanalyzing each other - especially Alex when it comes to Gwen - to the point that these characters come off like first year psychology students trying too hard to impress the other person. When Gwen does something he disagrees with, Alex doesn't just disagree with her, he reprimands her and launches into a long psychoanalysis about Gwen's motives for being disagreeable. It gets really ridiculous after the first few things Alex does this. He doesn't really get to talk and spend so much time with her until this story begins, so what makes him so sure that he's qualified to psychoanalyze her? And why does Ms Duran feel the need to have her characters launch into these speeches where they analyze the other person's insecurities and motives for their behavior? This technique feels like a shrink's version of information dump to me.

Also, the heroine towards the end pulls a melodramatic sort of Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test. I can understand her reasons for being angry at the hero, but her antics are just way over the top and ridiculous there.

Ultimately, I like this book, and a part of my heart resonates with the romance. However, the flaws I've mentioned prevent me from being totally engaged with the story to the point that I am moved to give it a keeper grade. Still, Meredith Duran has done a fabulous job here. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't recommend this book to anyone.

Rating: 85


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