by Ciji Ware, historical (1992)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-29518-7
Ciji Ware claims in her Author's Note that she intends to write a story about women playwrights. Thus Wicked Company is born. Silly me, I am expecting a nice account of a naughty, ribald, and saucy woman the way Drury Lane is colorful and boisterous. What do I get instead? Silly Miss Martyrly Bluestocking Protesting Her Virtue.
It is enough to make me want to build a huge pile of Regency novels and start an early Guy Fawkes bonfire out of spite.
Then again, readers who want a transplanted Ms Bluestocking Of Virtue in Drury Lane will love this one. At least, there's the novelty of a heroine acting all morally holier-than-thou in a den of sin, the favorite of all aspiring missionaries in us.
The heroine is Sophie McGann, who loves her absent-minded bookstore/scholar/play-lovin' Daddy oh-the-mostest, ariba mamba momba yai-yai-yai. When Daddy, in his ineffectual negligence and stupidity - sorry, I mean "Daddy's charming absent-mindedness, because we all know that while our moms are evil sluts of the first degree, daddies are the bestest!" - gets himself pilloried and jailed for selling "subversive porno" (Shakespeare and other fun jolly stuff), our heroine testifies against her daddy. Why, don't you know? Heroines can't lie. You don't suggest... why, you evil hag! Shame on you. We're all virtuous bluestockings here, we suffer because we can't save our loved ones by hook or by crook.
Heroine also gets molested by a porn-loving nobleman, and she is saved by this handsome trabadour/actor/plot cipher Hunter Robertson, who then plays a role in getting our heroine her start on her penmanship tour de force. Sophie becomes a star, but alas, like a Danielle Steele heroine, she soon has to make a choice - fame or boyfriend? What a difficult decision, poor thing.
There are very well-written scenes and atmosphere of life on the stage, and that's a good thing. But at the same time, this story is filled with stereotypes, and the heroine goes around trying to be virtuous, truthful, honest, and just plain dull that it's like watching Corelli giving a tour of the brothels in town. Dull as dishwater.
Wicked Company wears the trappings of a grand historical epic, but strip away the gaudy curtains and I get a typical ho-hum Regency moral preachfest featuring all the cardboard stereotypes cloned from the Handbook for Colorlessly Virtuous Characters. There's a grand thing shimmering in here somewhere, but it never gets to shine.
What a waste, really.
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