A Wild Justice by Gail Ranstrom
(Harl. Hist. #617, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29217-1
***
A Wild Justice is a mixed bag. It is a book that perhaps tries to do too much, containing one romance, two mysteries, and an ongoing theme dealing with the roles and treatment of women during the Regency period. Individually, all of these things are quite interesting, but something is lost when all are combined in one book. The end result is a book with surprising strengths and frustrating weaknesses, making it a difficult one to review.

It is 1816, and Lady Annica Sayles is living a busy and satisfying life as a spinster. The daughter of an abusive drunk, Annica has vowed to never subject herself to the control of another man again. Since her parents were both killed in a coach accident, Annica now resides with her uncle and aunt. She devotes her time to the “Wednesday League,” a women’s group that works to obtain justice for wronged women. As females of the time are unable to obtain justice in the courts, the Wednesday League must use other methods to acquire a “wild justice” (thus the title of the book). Annica is known throughout society as a bluestocking who speaks her mind and often behaves outrageously (gambling, smoking cigars, etc.). She is happy to be perceived this way, since it serves to keep potential suitors at a distance.

When the story begins, Annica and the Wednesday League are working on avenging the brutal rape of their friend and fellow group member, Lady Sarah. They are performing an investigation to discover the identities of the men who perpetrated the crime, so that they can make them pay.

In the meantime, Tristan Sinclair, Lord Auberville, has decided that the time has come for him to marry. Because his own mother ran away with a ship’s captain when he was young, Auberville feels that women are an untrustworthy lot. He is searching for a woman who is capable, intelligent, and loyal. He decides that Annica will fit the bill nicely.

Auberville approaches Annica with a business deal. He lies and tells her that he is writing a publication about flowering shrubs, and that he would like her to illustrate it. She is flattered, and accepts the offer. This “business deal” puts them in regular contact. As they work together, their mutual attraction becomes obvious, much to their dismay.

The first half of A Wild Justice is concerned with Tristan’s courtship of Annica. Underlying tension is provided by the fact that neither is being completely honest with the other. Tristan is not actually writing about plants, but is, in fact, working for the Foreign Office. His work makes him mysteriously unavailable at times, leaving Annica suspicious of him. Likewise, Annica does not inform Auberville of the activities she is engaging in. She is participating in some rather foolhardy schemes (visiting brothels, wandering around nasty sections of London alone at night) all in the name of justice. Auberville finds her in dangerous situations on several occasions, and becomes increasingly exasperated by her behavior.

The second half of the book deals with how the Wednesday League solves their mystery, and how Auberville accomplishes his mission for the Foreign Office. In both cases a “wild” form of justice is served. In addition to this, Annica and Auberville, both very strong willed characters, find a way to come to terms with their relationship.

The character of Annica is well developed. I grew to really like her for her intelligence and dedication to her beliefs. Her vulnerability and fear of commitment seemed real. However, it was absolutely maddening that she would at times seem to lose all traces of common sense. Wandering around alone in close proximity to rapists and murderers is just not a smart thing to do. Tristan is a likeable enough hero, although he is a bit self-centered. He also seems slightly impulsive, selecting Annica as his prey after seeing her only once at a ball. While he does learn to trust Annica towards the end, his character never seems to have the depth that Annica’s does.

Other characters included the women of the Wednesday League, who were potentially interesting, but seemed like they were just there to give Annica a purpose; and the “bad guys,” who were a sorry lot if I ever saw one. One of them went so far as to describe his crime, even naming the victim, in the garden during a ball, where any number of people could have overheard him. Not the behavior of an intelligent criminal, to be sure.

The plot of A Wild Justice was interesting, but the pacing was uneven. While the first part of the book dragged, towards the end the plot tightened up a bit, which really kept me reading..

When I put this book down, I was still not sure what to make of it. It was such a mixed bag that it was hard to have strong feelings about it either way. I will say that Gail Ranstrom certainly has both writing talent and original ideas. I’m just hoping they come together in a more cohesive package next time.

--Kerry Keating


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