Once Wicked
by Sherri Browning, historical (2000)
Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-23528-6

By Chapter Four, every instinct of mine screams that Once Wicked is definitely going to be either a big headache of a read or an ultra-cool guilty pleasure read. There is an absolute lack of sense, atmosphere, or even steady characterization in Once Wicked, and the plot comes close to being a complete mess at times. But shining clear through the whole schizophrenic garble is the author's voice. I don't know how to explain it, but this is one book that seems to have a personality of its own. And it is saying Like me! Like me!. It's so easy to succumb.

This is, of course, what I noticed in the author's debut as well, The Scoundrel's Vow. Unlike The Scoundrel's Vow, however, Once Wicked have characters that act like ninnies. Irritating Let me get my saucepans out and spank a few backsides ninnies.

Kind, giving, selfless Amelia Benedict is a wealthy heiress who hates the Ton but oh, she has to be nice to them so that she can get them to donate money to her pet charities. The Ton are so frivolous and inane, she says. Read too many Regency historical romances, eh, Amelia? She is also unable to make a decision without changing it ten times, altering it, readjusting it, worrying over it, and finally, wringing her hands.

One night she is kissed by a highwayman who robbed her of her precious late momma's ring. She is heartbroken, of course, because she so loves her dear momma. But ooh, that kiss! Maybe marriage isn't so bad after all. So with a new vengeance and reawakened sexual awareness, our heroine starts strutting the Almack catwalk. She even has a man in mind, and he is not Dylan Marlow, that no-good too-handsome rogue who sends shivers down her spine.

Of couse, Dylan is the highwayman. And he is robbing the rich to finance his poor run-down shipping business. He wants to rob her. But rob her of what, I'll leave that to the more lascivious readers to decide.

Now, I don't mind my historical romances lightweight in history, as long as the romance is fun. OW can be fun, if the two main characters aren't so glib and one-note. Dylan is the worst. He talks nonsense, acts like a male Ally McBeal in all his indecision and neurotism, and prances around the ballrooms like a gorilla suffering from some embarrassing itch in his unmentionable body parts. And Amelia can't seem to think of anything on her own without letting into getting into her way her overdone concern for seemingly everyone from the poor, her dead momma, the starving kiddies, the hungry mommies... everyone but the most important person in the equation: herself. Too much is never a good thing. Hence the courtship between these two people is like watching a dog chase its tail. Round and round and round and round they go, but never going anywhere.

Maybe if the author has created a bit more depths to level the manic kookiness going around a little, this story would be better appreciated by me. Amelia and Dylan so hate the Ton, but why? Oh, because the Ton are so shallow. Amelia is so charitable, why is she so? Oh, because... just because. There seem to be very little under the characters' motivations and behaviors.

It's just too bad, because the author does have a very nice storytelling style.

Rating: 59

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