Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Hint of Wicked, by Jennifer Haymore - Review

It was really kind of a casual thing when I signed up for the blog tour that Hachette is organizing for Ms. Haymore's debut with their Forever Romance line, but I am SO glad I did.

One of the most unconventional Regencies I've ever read, this tautly-plotted thriller kept me turning pages past 2 am. Every time I thought I knew how things were going to turn out, I was wrong. And people, when it comes to romance novels? Honestly, I'm not wrong all that often. </modest>

Nutshell Summary
The bones of the story are not unfamiliar. Sophie's husband Garrett was known to have been wounded at Waterloo, but his body was never found (soap opera fans: red alert!). After more than six years, the courts declare him legally dead, and Sophie weds the third member of their childhood trio, Garrett's cousin and heir, Tristan.

Garrett, of course, is not dead. He finally returns, just beginning to recover from amnesia (soap fans: see? you were right).

A Hint of Wicked is a classic love triangle, stark and uncompromising: Both men love Sophie, and she loves both of them. She is in fact, married to both men.

I'll say this, Haymore knows how to write a Grand Entrance.

Without giving too much away, the scene where Garrett arrives is one long Excruciating Moment - it hits us at the very beginning and never lets up. And through it all, Sophie herself is simply incredible. She handles the impossible situation with dignity and a gorgeous depth of emotion. Within this scene is the DNA for the book: the style and pacing, the tension, the sensuality, and characterization -- they're all pitch-perfect.

The Characters
I have to say, I absolutely LOVE Sophie. If I had to find fault, I could perhaps see some readers feeling that she's too good to be true; that she is too calm, cool and collected for the whole excruciating premise (to borrow and slightly twist a phrase), but I felt that the author did a good job showing us the inner turmoil, and the strain that tests her strength. Sophie is a heroine in the truest sense of the word: she's compassionate, steadfast, honorable, loving, and brave. She doesn't need to do any crazy anachronistic stunts to prove her heroism.

Tristan was an interesting mix here. Within their relationship, he is clearly an Alpha Hero, but the circumstances force him to step back into a more beta role. It chafes him though. It's an understated story arc, but how he handles the situation is quietly fascinating; he is possessive, protective, willing to fight for Sophie -- but unwilling to compromise his honor. At one point he considers kidnapping Sophie, knowing she would not willingly abandon the wounded Garrett, but immediately discards the idea: he knows that this would compromise him in Sophie's eyes and thus defeat his purpose.

Garrett's character probably left the most to be desired. We didn't get much of his point of view, and his state of mind over his long illness and recovery is critical to the story line. I really wanted to know more about what was going on in his head. That said, his personality is an excellent foil for the other two, without being cartoonishly opposite. The glimpses of the childhood relationships between the two men was also lovely -- moments of deep connection as well as rivalry, that leave you guessing through the book as to motives and possibilities.

More Good Stuff
I think even more than the characters though, what sets A Hint of Wicked apart from the crowd is Haymore's knack for pacing and building tension. Initially, when Garrett returns, Sophie refuses to sleep with either of them until there is a resolution for all. She loves and wants both of them, while recognizing the differences, not only in the men but in the changes she has undergone over the years.

There's not actually that much sex in this book, but what there is will not only curl your toes in the nicest of ways, but also reveals important detail on the characters. The delayed-- er, gratification-- winds the tension tighter and tighter without ever feeling artificial.

And that works, because while we get some partial resolution to the sexual tension, the external plot drivers pick up seamlessly and keep the pages turning. I can't say much about the plot without spoilering, but overall the resolution was very satisfactory and the teaser for the next book surprised me quite a bit with the protagonist. (What do they mean, not until 2010?? That's just cruel.)

The book is such an interesting mix of styles -- Haymore modernizes the historical romance with contemporary-feeling pacing and daring erotic content, but at the same time stays true to the best traditions of the Regency subgenre.

My verdict? Best Regency debut since Joanna Bourne (and totally different, I might add, but that's a whole 'nother post).

The Business Part
The blog tour continues through June 6 with tons of give-aways, reviews, and author interviews. For more good stuff on A Hint of Wicked, check out these fab bloggers:

foreign circus library- May 19 review
bookin with bingo - May 19 intro; May 21 review; May 23 Q&A; June 6 announce winners of giveaway
a journey of books - May 21 Q&A
chic book reviews - May 22 review and giveaway
find the time to read - May 26 review and giveaway
Reading With Monie - May 26 giveaway
zensanity - May 26 Q&A
book soulmates - May 27 giveaway
Yankee Romance Reviewers - May 28 giveaway
Darby's Closet - May 28 review - June 1 to 4 Q&A, review, and giveaway - June 1 giveaway - June 2 review, giveaway, Q&A - June 3 review and giveaway - June 3 giveaway - June 4 review - June 5 review and giveaway - June 6 review and giveaway - giveaway


Kati said...

I'm SO looking forward to this one! I keep hearing things about it, a combination of "Love it!" and "Liked it." But overall everything I've heard is "Wow, such an unusual tale."

I can't wait to read it for myself.

Mandi said...

I agree...I keep hearing lots of good buzz about this book. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Phyl said...

Now I really, really, really want to read this book!!

And I howled at your "soap opera" comments. And knew exactly what you meant, heehee!

Stacy~ said...

I just read this book and am trying to put my words down on paper for review. Between the eloquent and perceptive reviews of both you & theBooksmugglers, I'm at a loss LOL. I love what you have to say about the book. It was definitely a story that kept me turning the pages.

Carolyn Crane said...

Okay, I just finished this, and I really liked your review, esp your analysis of Tristan going from alpha to beta and so forth.
And the excruciating moment! SO true.

Nicola O. said...

Doesn't get much excruciatinger.


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