Wicked Nights With a Proper Lady by Tiffany Clare
An inferno of curiosity burned through my veins as I picked up this book. Would the purple prose sear my senses? Have I secretly been craving the sweet torture of reading interruptus, i.e. getting into the dark mystery between the pages only to have my wife walk in on me before the chapter is over? Well, against my better judgement, I talked myself into reading a romance. This folly comes from accidentally picking up one or two books labelled as being in the fantasy genre, only to discover they were actually romances in the old-school style. Finding them some what tedious, I thought it a good idea to read something that actually announces itself as a romance. Not, of course, that I want to make a habit of reading such books. But out of a scientific curiosity to see how far the genre has moved on since I last dipped my wick into some wax to make a candle.
For me, the main interest in Wicked Nights With a Proper Lady by Tiffany Clare (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) does not lie in the second meeting of our heroine and her ex-hero. There’s never any suspense in such events. It’s always obvious they will end up in bed with each other, either literally or metaphorically depending on the house style. Yes, the main publishing houses have formalised guidelines dictating what their couples can or cannot do with or to each other. Some permit only the most chaste of physical contacts while fantasies of clutching and holding dominate the interior monologues. Other allow relatively steamy sex scenes although, of course, the language portrays the intimacy in wonderfully euphemistic terms. I suppose the substance of what’s described could be taken as hard core pornography, but the language will always be suitable for very polite middle-class company.
Anyway, the real interest in the book lies both in its lack of real social commentary and in the viciousness of a subplot. Taking the thin subplot which deserves a lot more coverage, the Countess of Fallon is in a terrible marriage. As is always the case, the question of inheritance dominates the conversation both within the family and in the wider social group. There’s a form of consensus as to who should and should not take title and property when the dominant male dies. For those of you not into the intricacies of testamentary succession, wills can tie up estates for generations, dictating who shall have the right to take based on their full- or half-blood relationships to the original owners and/or the rules of complex trusts. The book opens with the funeral of the husband and the now dowager (Jez to her friends) is slowly shown to be ill. The explanation and its effect on the entail is a classic example of wanton cruelty. Since Jez proves to have some practical relevance later on, it’s a shame more is not made of this. Although, I suppose, it could all be left for a sequel together with the broader political question of the regulation and taxation of sugar production in the West Indies.
Looking overall, there’s modern tenor of disapproval about some of the other social customs of London society in 1846, with some implied commentary on the overt hypocrisy of the social set. I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the relative invisibility of the servants. The world described here was only possible because of the exploitation of the people in service. Yet the author is not intending to write a historical novel so I suppose we can pass blithely over the question of how the women of this class managed to get into and out of their clothes, got their hair to look so perfect, and so on. As a romance, we enter a kind of fantasy version of historical reality where everything is subordinated to the development of the love between the heroine and her man. In that sense, we have a not-unpleasing context for the “drama” between our heroine Genevieve Camden and our potential Lothario, Leonidas Harrow, Earl of Barrington. They had a sexual affair some four years before the book begins and it resumes about halfway through this book.
Given the essentially fantasy nature of the book, there’s little effort to write in a period prose style appropriate to Britain of this period. We’re simply given the usual run of sexually-charged euphemisms and purple prose in contemporary language. It was nevertheless more explicit than I had expected. It seems this publisher is aiming at a more adult niche of the market. Wicked Nights With a Proper Lady is therefore as good of its type as you would expect. As a summary: Leo gets steamy in the greenhouse with Genny and it was Col Mustard with the tongue in the maze with Lady H.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.