For the first book review of the year, 2014, I wanted to do a special book that meant a lot to me. And so, Wicked Designs by my friend Lauren Smith fit the bill nicely for several reasons, primarily though because I was privileged enough to see the book grow from a seed of an idea through revisions and drafts, world building and backtracking, to see it germinate into the novel it is today. And I am happy to report: it’s a wicked good time!
So without further ado, here is my review of Wicked Designs:
Warning: This novel includes a lady who refuses to stay kidnapped, a devilish duke with a dark past, and an assortment of charming rogues who have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.
The League of Rogues takes what they want—but have they taken on too much?
For too long Miss Emily Parr has been subject to the whims of her indebted uncle and the lecherous advances of his repulsive business partner. Her plan to be done with dominating men forever is simple—find herself a kind husband who will leave her to her books.
It seems an easy enough plan, until she is unexpectedly abducted by an incorrigible duke who hides a wounded spirit behind flashing green eyes.
Godric St. Laurent, Duke of Essex, spends countless nights at the club with his four best friends, and relishes the rakish reputation society has branded him with. He has no plans to marry anytime soon—if ever. But when he kidnaps an embezzler’s niece, the difficult debutante’s blend of sweetness and sharp tongue make him desperate for the one thing he swears he never wanted: love.
Yet as they surrender to passion, danger lurks in Godric’s shadowed past, waiting for him to drop his guard—and rob him of the woman he can’t live without.
Emily is a heroine after my own heart: she’s young, spirited, well read and smart. She will not give up on herself and fall into despair at the scandal she finds herself in, nor will she go into that night quietly. She knows who she is and what she wants, and doesn’t care a whit over whether or not those plans fall together with other plans. She is also a product of her time – the regency era was not a particularly forgiving era where women were concerned, and Lauren has done a wonderful job of sussing out the time period in order to make Emily as realistic as possible. She’s young, yes, but then young girls were expected to grow up rather quickly, and though she may talk a lot about marriage – she recognizes it as her only solid option to grow away from her uncle. Emily – her daring escape attempts and her smart responses and careful secret keeping, is a delight to read. She truly is a heroine for the ladies!
Emily wasn’t just born for this, though – the reader has the sense that Emily’s pragmatism and strength evolved off screen, in the happy years she spent with her parents, and the year before the novel is set, while she is essentially trapped within the confines of her uncle’s townhouse following their deaths at sea. She comes from a place easily recognizable, and she deals with the new circumstances of her life graciously, if not completely obligingly. You can almost hear her screaming “Plot Twist!” and moving onto the next part of her story – using sharp elbow jabs and daring windows escapes, if necessary – and definitely utilizing her riding skills in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, to pair with our feisty heroine is our Hero, Godric, and he truly is the stuff of fantasies. The man had a hard life, despite hiss wealth and privilege, and it shows in the layers Lauren had woven into the nobleman. He is not broody so much as thoughtful, a very still river that runs very deep. He recognizes the moral and ethical dilemmas he engages in when he kidnapss Emily, but also articulates his own agenda, the logic of it (according to him, anyway) and a lisst of all the things he can offer the now-ruined Emily in exchange for her help in his revenge plot. He is a good guy – he’s just also a very prideful man. The striking scene for me was when Emily noted a portrait of Godric’s mother and they shared a deep acknowledgement of the grief they both share at the loss of loved ones.
Being a good guy however, does not make him immune to his own idiosyncrasies: he is prone to acting out in unorthodox ways – taking the niece of an opponent of his in order to ruin the family’s reputation, a peculiar type of revenge that works marvelously as it pits the young Emily against the stubborn Godric and lets their chemistry fly.
And that’s the thing about out two main characters – they have palatable chemistry – they meet under circumstances of high emotions – Emily fighting to evade, Godric grasping to trap – and their relationship goes through the ups and downs expected between two people who want different things. Even at the most tenuous, though, Emily and Godric have to fight off their mutual attraction for one another – though it sometimes may seem that Emily is doing most of the fighting, Godric saying he would love to ruin her for real if she’d let him …
These clashes are rife with sexual tension – the battle of wills especially, as Godric glowers and Emily dismisses him, and as Emily plans an escape and Godric attempts to thwart it. They’re eventual union is definitely fireworks and insanity, and it carries the whole plot forward by leaps and bounds. The sexual nature of their own desires towards the other are tempered with witty discourse and the gradual discoveries of the other person: that they both like to read, that Emily has a head for business and that Godric has had a terrible childhood. They realness of these little truths are interwoven in the whole of the book so that, even thought he story takes place in a short span of time, you believe the two are falling madly in love in a way that seems honest and real. Especially since they do no exist in a bubble all their own, but within a larger cast of delightful characters:
No, it’s not all about the Lovebirds in this story! Lauren has a talent for writing good secondary characters – people who jump off the page, even if they only have a single page in which to jump out at one. She crafted an entire league of Rogues – Godric and his friends, with their differences and similarities all complimenting each other with assorted, well thought out histories, and attitudes and inclinations that round them out. There is cool-headed Ashton, steadfast Cedric who we think may be besotted with Emily’s friend Anne, and then meditative Lucien with his quips and dark humour, and finally Charles, the youngest Rogue with a story that connects them all. Without giving up any spoilers, I can say that the friendships of these lords is a highlight of the book – bringing the story back around to reality, and couching the romance in the very real politics of the time and situation.
Also – they’re brilliant. They’re roguish, noble and slightly bored – born into privilege but all with their own tragedies and ambitions. They are a family to one another, and their camaraderie, easy and steeped in years of secrets and adventures, comes alive through their interactions with one another, not the least of when they all try, in one way or another, to catch the eye of their young captive. The League is one of those institutions in a series of novels that keeps readers paging through the books, re-reading the beginnings of each character before their own stories begin and reading the ends, relishing in the unofficial epilogues that peek out in other stories.
The plot of the story is intricate but fast paced – we begin the book as Emily steps into the carriage that will take her to her own downfall, and she already knows something is wrong. The story carried on in much the same way – action packed with the cat-and-mouse antics between Emily and Godric interspersed with calm moments of character building and real danger. The novel reads like a comedy of errors and a historical action novel – the characters being witty and smart, but the action of the story moving right along.
All in all, it’s a fast read, perfect as I was waiting for my plane to come home this Christmas. The scenes are funny, romantic and a lot of them leave you salivating for what the other Rogues will get up to in their own stories. Emily and Godric are the perfect first couple for a series of stories based on these friends – opening the floodgates to the world of these delightfully sinful characters and their strong-willed intendeds with mind of their own. Lauren is a master at creating over the top stories that keep you glued to the page, and she doesn’t fail in this one – go pick it up!
The ebook is on sale beginning January 7th on Amazon here. And you can check out the Goodreads page here, as well as Lauren’s Facebook, Twitter and her own website. I recommend the website for all the added content, including thosse beautiful pictures above by Joanne Renaud.
Go out and read Wicked Designs and hopefully the second book in the series will make an appearance soon!