When He Was Wicked, by Julia Quinn

>> Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Julia Quinn remains one of my very, very few auto-buy authors. With most other favourite authors, I'll at least check out what their next book is about before deciding, but with Quinn, I don't care, I know I'll want to read it.

Luckily, I was able to get a copy of When He Was Wicked pretty quickly. I asked about it at one of the lists I belong it, and Mad was kind enough to send it to me :-)

In every life there is a turning point.

A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one's life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London's most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca's surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer -- the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.

But that was then…Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love…until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms, and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets…
From what I've seen on-line, quite a few Julia Quinn fans are a bit unenthusiastic about WHWW. Me, I loved it. Plain loved it, even though there were a couple of little things that could have been improved. My grade: an A-.

I got this on a Thursday, and it took all my self-control to be able to save it until the weekend. I wanted to be able to sit and read, and read, and read. So, Saturday morning I sat down on my favourite chair, made some coffee and dived in.

Maybe one of the reasons I was so crazy about this book was the fact that one of my favourite romance plots is a man loving a woman for years from afar, most especially when she's married to someone the hero likes. There's the potential for lots of emotional intensity there, and even the guilt, when it's done well, can be good.

As WHWW starts, Francesca is married to Michael's cousin, John. I really liked how Frannie really did love John and I especially appreciated that he was deserving of her love. 99% of the times, first husbands in romance novels are either evil or boring and bland and the heroine doesn't love them. Those first scenes, with Michael being forced to witness first hand how happy these two are, were truly poignant.

It was very interesting (and also quite fresh: I don't think I've seen it before) that we were there when Francesca was widowed, that we saw and felt her grief and Michael's first hand. I thought this made the interval between Francesca being widowed and the start of the main action feel more natural. What I mean is, after reading the first scenes, the 4-year-long interval and Michael's running away to India, which I might have thought a bit too long and unnecessary otherwise, felt the right thing to happen, even necessary. Even not seeing what actually happened in those 4 years, when we got back into the action, things felt right. I thought Francesca's progression from bereaved young widow to a woman ready to marry again felt (there's that word again) natural. Except for the intense desire for a baby part, but that's something I never get, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of doubt.

Once Michael and Francesca meet again, the scene is set up for a romance with plenty of the stomach-clenching emotion I love so much, and Quinn makes excellent use of it. It was wonderful, both Michael's torment at seeing that Frannie is now theoretically within reach, and that he might have to see her yet again with another man, and Frannie's newfound awareness of Michael as a man.

And here came one of the little possible improvements. The pacing's not perfect. In this section in London, right after Michael's arrived from India, there's a bit too much running around in which basically nothing happens for pages and pages, just both Michael and Francesca going around London being pursued by legions of elegible partners and Michael torturing himself with guilt. It might have been better if this section had been tightened a little bit, and the final part of the book, once Michael and Francesca are in Scotland, lengthened a bit. That part felt a little bit too short.

Still, once the action moves to Scotland, all my "come on, already!" mood was dispelled. I thought it was really good that once Michael decides it's all right that he loves Francesca, he goes all out in trying to win her, even being willing to seduce her into marrying her. I find that single-mindedness much sexier than "oh, no, we shouldn't, but I can't help it".

And wow, the book was hotter and more sensual than I expected from this author, something I always enjoy, when done right. And Quinn got it right. The love scenes are well done and full of feeling and emotions, which meant that I actually read them, and not skimmed them, which is what I do when I come across a love scene which focuses on what's happening (tab A into slot B) and not on what the characters are feeling as it happens. The only thing which could have improved this element would have been having more of Michael's POV once they've made love for the first time. I guess I was expecting massive emotional pay-off when Michael finally, finally made love with the woman he'd been desperately in love for so many years, but I just didn't get quite as much as I was hoping for.

On a final note, I've seen this book criticised for not being enough of a "Bridgerton" book. Now, I like the Bridgertons, but not having them overpower the book was, to me, a relief. My least favourite moment in To Sir Phillip With Love was when Eloise's brothers chase her to Phillip's house and interfere (the scene with them snickering over a barmaid's tits made me shudder). Here, though we did see the family, Francesca had her own life, and I enjoyed the fact that she was a bit more distant to her family than the others. Again, not that the closeness of the others was wrong, or that I disapproved of it... far from it, what I enjoyed was that Francesca was not just yet another Bridgerton, exact to all the others.

All in all, an excellent book. And now, to wait again until my next Quinn :-(


Bona Caballero 1 April 2015 at 18:41  

A very interesting review. I understand what you find interesting in this book. Sadly, I don't connect with Julia Quinn's books. This novel was no exception. The first part of the novel is quite interesting, real, human, emotional,... but then Michael came from India and it went south from there. At least for me.

Rosario 3 April 2015 at 11:04  

Oh, that's a shame. But yes, if you don't connect with an author's voice, there's not much you can do. I have a couple of authors like that. I see reviews and want to read them, but after having given them a couple of tries, I know there's no point.

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