The Wicked Lady
by Brenda K Jernigan, historical (2000)
Zebra (Splendor), $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-6527-2


There is something very disconcerting about a story where most sentences end with an exclamation mark. Yikes! She must run! Oh my God! and on and on the whole shebang goes.

Not the mention the plot. It's like this: The Duke of Chatsworth, Trevor Clairmont doesn't want to marry, but his poor dying granny wants to see him married. So to fulfill his grandson obligations, he decides to find a bride-in-name-only. Someone he can ditch off easily the moment the old biddy croaks.

Our poor, unlucky, damsel-in-distress is Kristen Johnstone, who is a pickpocket. Guess whose pocket she picks one day. She gets caught - here come sentences like She must not be caught! She must run! - and is sentenced to marry the Duke by the Duke himself.

Cool or what?

Trevor can see what a slender, doe-like, emerald-eyed beauty Kristen is at once (I wonder how Kristen, in her pickpocketing activities, find time to bathe and primp in flattering dresses... oh well). Can they pretend happily about the marriage thing, or would it soon get a bit too real for comfort?

There's also some obligatory suspense thread in here.

But the sentences! So many exclamation marks! She doesn't love him! Oh stop it!

Likewise, the whole plot just somehow rings hollow. Kristen is the typical spineless, insecure heroine popular among romance novels. If I'm a pickpocket and given a choice to live in a big rich man's house and eat good food, you'd bet I'd shove Trevor out of my way and race him to his London house myself. But no, Kristen is torn up in guilt! She hates lying to old ladies! She can't love a man who doesn't love her! What a ninny. She spends so much time wringing her hands, worrying, and acting like a particularly clinging species of ivy that I am hard-pressed not to go Eeeuw.

The hero is almost as bad. A typical I don't want to love because I don't want to get hurt dumbo who acts in just the same tired push-and-pull manners typical of all the romance heroes of his ilk.

And the most tragic thing about this story is the fact that the whole plot never makes sense, making the whole story an exercise in wide-eyed incredulity on my part. Granny Chatsworth dotes on Trevor and indulges him even at her most crankiest, and Trevor has never taken her seriously before. So why now? Why marry a pickpocket, of all thing? Is divorce that easy to obtain in Regency England?

Okay, maybe I can try and overlook all the weird and illogical aspects of the plot and think of this story as some sort of Cinderella fairy tale story. But the characters are so contrived in their characterization, they are more wooden than tree (except for Granny who is quite fun), and the whole romance ends up feeling calculated and mechanical. If The Wicked Lady is a fairy tale, it's the one you read to knock those screaming kids off to sleep ASAP.

Rating: 37


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