The Importance of Being Wicked is a romantic comedy of manners of the “you are everything I never knew I always wanted” variety. Victoria Alexander’s dialogue is wonderfully droll. I should have loved the book and yet it took me forever to get through. As my romance total climbs, I sometimes think I am losing interest in the genre, but the real issue is that it is taking better stories to claim my attention.
Winfield Elliott, Viscount Stillwell, has been engaged and left at the altar three times. He has retreated to his home to manage his family finances and estates, as one does in a historical romance. When a fire destroys part of his ancestral home, he hires the only firm willing to do the work in the short timeline he requires, and this brings Miranda Garrett into his life. She is a widow continuing what she claims to be her husband’s work, but is really her own. With the prevarication of a silent partner, she is able to work as an architect and oversee the rebuilding project. Miranda and Winfield (Win) spark and banter and fall in love.
Set in 1887, the subplots show women on the cusp of their first sustained attempt to win rights for themselves as voters and people. Win is conservative and needs to acknowledge that his views are entrenched in tradition rather than rationality. Miranda is trying to escape the people pleasing she was taught and undertook in order to be a “good” wife. They each find in the other their necessary foil and catalyst.
The Importance of Being Wicked is frequently laugh out loud funny. The characters are wry and self-deprecating, but at times it came across as a saucy P.G. Wodehouse novel. There just didn’t seem to really be anything at stake. I know that sounds odd for genre with clearly proscribed expectations, but the story needed a little less aplomb and a little more fire to be truly successful. Just a little more, and less civilized, smolder, and the novel would have achieved a better balance and had more oomph.
But wait! There’s more…
Remember when I mentioned that the hero of The Importance of Being Wicked has been engaged three times? Well, the version of the book I read also had a novella at the end which follows said aforementioned betrothal hijinks. In Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements, the reader meets each of Win’s fiancées at that crucial time when wedding planning culminates in cancellation. The women are not awful, okay, maybe the first one is a little bit awful, they simply reflect the obligations Win is trying to fulfill through matrimony: succession, decorum, duty.
Win almost gets it right with his third fiancée, but pulls the rug out from under himself. With the fourth time ready to be the charm, the novella closes with Win having sufficiently matured that he is genuinely ready to meet his match.
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