Justiss, Julia - Wicked Wager

>> Wednesday, May 18, 2005

From what I've been able to find out Julia Justiss' Wicked Wager is a spin-off of an online serial she wrote for E-Harlequin.

Wealthy Jenna Fairchild’s brave husband died at Waterloo, while Anthony Nelthorpe, the scoundrel she rescued from the battlefield, lives on. Now Tony issues a shocking challenge to the woman he once tried to coerce into marriage and has never forgotten: in honor of all the heroes who fell, let Jenna try to reform the character of the rogue she saved...before he can seduce her.
I mostly liked this, but in the end, it was a bit lackluster. It was verging on a C+, but I'll give it a B- just because I really liked the hero.

The setup was very similar to the one in the only other Justiss book that I've read, My Lady's Pleasure. It was one I liked then and I liked it quite well here, too, because it's just so unusual. Romance heroes are not usually destitute. If there's a difference in economic position, it's usually the hero who's well-off and rescues the heroine from a life of penury. And even in those cases when the hero needs to marry a heiress, it's because he needs loads and loads of cash to rescue his ancestral lands, or something like that.

The finances of a romance hero absolutely can NOT be in such a state that he has trouble living day by day, that he really does need to marry for money. Justiss took things a bit further with Teagan (from My Lady's Pleasure), since Anthony soon manages to palliate his financial troubles a bit with the help of a friend, but the whole situation caused a reversal I found interesting in the balance of power of Jenna and Anthony's relationship.

As I said, I liked Tony very much. What I liked best was that his past as a rake really did come back to bite him in the ass. This is not a case where the hero's a bit of a rake because he's done some womanizing, and the heroine is sooooo attracted by this. That is, Jenna is attracted by Tony's irreverence and mildly outrageous behaviour, but his past really does make her distrust him and almost cause her to refuse to have anything to do with him.

I also appreciated that he didn't change for Jenna. He changed because he grew up, for himself, and I thought this was much more believable. No reforming the rake fantasy for me, no sir!

Jenna I liked quite a bit less. There's a duality in her character that didn't work for me. On one hand, she's very much the army wife, sensible and pragmatic, caring nothing for society's idiotic dictates and foolish rules and determined to live her life as she sees fit. On the other, however, while she thinks all this and resents her late husband's family's and other meddling members of society's interference, she never does put her foot down and ends up doing quite a few things she doesn't want to do. This just didn't jive with the person the author was telling us Jenna was.

I didn't think the romance worked that well, either. There's chemistry between them, but I guess I just didn't see romance. The love scenes are nice, though they're strangely similar to each other. In both, Jenna's very much the aggressor, the one who initiates the lovemaking and actually even carries it through, climbing on Tony and having her way with him *g*. It's not that I didn't like this... on the contrary, I thought them very erotic and I liked that Jenna was a widow who had enjoyed sex so much that she was comfortable doing this. It's just that they both read so much the same that it felt like the same scene, only in a different setting. The feeling of deja vu distracted me.

And my final problem was that the suspense subplot was very, very blah and obvious. The villain was so evident from the first time that person appeared, that the author might as well have put a sign over his/her head reading "murderous intentions here". Plus, this was a short book, and way too much time was spent on the suspense that should have been spent developing the romance.


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