Fairy Tale

The Husband Hunt

The Seduction of an English Scoundrel

Wicked as Sin
by Jillian Hunter
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0345503930
I have not been following the chronicles of Boscastles. I haven't been missing very much if the latest episode is anything to go by.

Lady Alethea Claridge lives in the country. The rumor is she has been heartbroken ever since her fiancÚ's death at Waterloo. The fact is her fiancÚ raped her before he left for war. Even though she has managed to keep it a secret, she believes it has ruined her for ever. That's why she has banished herself to her brother's country estate. Things go well until Sir Gabriel Boscastle, her childhood sweetheart, turns up.

Gabriel used to be the local bad boy. He had good reason because his father died, his older brothers took off, and his stepfather mistreated him. The latter even had him pilloried. And guess who defended him?

That was more than seven years ago. In the meantime, Gabriel has been to war, meet up with his cousins in London and become a notorious womanizer and gambler. That's how he won his new house. He doesn't have too many plans for it. Until he meets his one true love, Lady Alethea.

Although Gabriel isn't convinced he is worthy of Althea, he is determined to try. She thinks she may be in love with him, but the silly girl is afraid to tell him what happened to her. I guess this wouldn't bother me so much if she weren't so willing to have sex with him.

And so the story progresses with the usual misunderstandings, predictable twists, and a longish digression whose only obvious purpose is to set up the next book.

As a misunderstood scoundrel, Gabriel is an indistinguishable stock character. Alethea is put in the role of the suffering victim who comes to life with the right man. She doesn't play her part well. Her reactions just don't tally with someone who has been sexually abused.

Althea and Gabriel share some good moments when he first tries to court her. To spend time in her company he teaches local villagers how to gamble and cheat. The rest of their relationship is lukewarm at best, unconvincing at worst. They fall in love and in bed much too quickly. Most obstacles to their happy-ever-after seem terribly artificial.

The large supporting cast doesn't help. The villain and his contribution seem very contrived, the villagers are carbon-cut, and of course far too much time is wasted on revisiting other Boscastles. So they're a supportive family? So they've had adventures in love? Can we now return to this story?

All in all, Wicked as Sin is a rather poor attempt at a rather standard story.

--Mary Benn

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