I have a confession: “Wilde in Love” is my very first Eloisa James novel.
How can this possibly be? You ask.
Well let’s just say that Eloisa James’ designated narrator for the majority, if not all, her books is none other than… Susan Duerden. Ms. Duerden narrated a large number of Julie Garwood’s novels back when she wrote historical romances. At that time, I found myself preferring to read Julie Garwood’s novels instead of listening because Ms. Duerden’s male voices sounded so painful they caused my own throat to ache. Full of excessive stage-whispering and belting, rasping roars, the name Susan Duerden became anathema and I had to strike any novel she narrated directly off my reading list. Harsh criticism? Perhaps. But I have given Susan Duerden a second chance in listening to “Wilde in Love” and her performance pleasantly surprised me! No more creepy-weird whispering or throat clogging rasps and roars. I could easily recognize Ms. Duerden voice from her former performances, but her male voices sounded so improved as to seem almost unrecognizable from those she previously performed for Julie Garwood’s works. While the female voices occasionally still sounded a bit young or juvenile, her smooth delivery, the energy she brought to emotional and action scenes, and her new phenomenal male voices more than made up for any lack.
The story that inspired this round of second chances, “Wilde in Love” opens with Lord Alaric (aka Lord Wilde) arriving home in London after years exploring distant lands of which he wrote and distributed a number of best-selling adventure novels. The popularity of these novels inspired, not a herd of loving family greeting Lord Alaric upon his arrival, but rather flocks of females enamored of Lord Alaric’s alter ego, Lord Wilde. These fan-ladies nearly attack the poor man as he descends his vessel. A mysterious play that nobody knows who wrote, and details of which become significant to the later part of the novel, only exacerbate Alaric’s mystique and popularity. All this leads Lord Alaric to become the matrimonial target of eligible ladies and the sexual target of ineligible ones. Among this melee of feminine covetousness appears Miss Wilhelmina Everett Ffynche, our heroine and possibly the only female in Georgian England who hasn’t read “Lord Wilde’s” various adventures.
Miss Ffynche knows what she wants and what she doesn’t: Miss Ffynche reads NON-fiction. Miss Ffynche wants a low-key hubby who doesn’t live in the limelight and can give her a couple nice respectable babies well after marraige. Indeed, Miss Ffynche doesn’t give a damn but would never actually say “damn” (or shrug, or sigh – I have no idea why but it’s a thing!).
Honestly, I didn’t care much for Miss Ffynche in the early parts of “Wilde in Love” other than her clear honey-badger like tendencies. And though I appreciated her self-awareness and clear goals about what she wanted out of life, I found it hard to connect with the “bluestocking” who was too pretty and popular to be a true “bluestocking” and spent a lot of time judging the fan-girls and the hero without knowing them or him (which she acknowledges).
So everything goes down at the Duke’s house party, apparently a 6 week gathering to either celebrate: the Duchesses’ impending birth of the 152nd Wilde Child (yes Ms. James, you may freely use that as a title to one of your Wilde novels); Lord Roland’s (Alaric’s brother, heir to the Dukedom, and sometimes referred to as “North”) betrothal to a low-born but highly fashionable ingenue and friend to Willa Ffynche; or possibly the prodigal’s (Lord Alaric’s) return. Alaric returns home to a brother, Lord Roland, who parades like a peacock trying to attract his own fiance and the reality and results of his eldest brother’s death. Alaric is, of course, refreshed, irritated, and bemused by Willa’s disinterest in him and his books but kinda likes her looks and keen brain. Willa puts up a decent resistance to Alaric’s initially tepid but quickly simmering suit. However…. THIGHS!
It’s cool, I get it, and now the part of Alaric will forever be played in my head as Matthew MacFadyen in “Pride and Prejudice.”
So after THIGHS! and a lot of:
Willa: *hand-over-forehead* I can’t be with a reckless adventurer who’s going to kill himself or otherwise up and leave me.
Alaric: Actually I’m thinking of taking a break from adventuring and looking after my holdings here in jolly old England cuz my bro is super stressed managing it all.
Willa: *hand-over-forehead* I can’t be with a man who I must share with known female world.
Alaric: Cool cuz I hate all the attention and would LOVE to live a quite life with you, baby.
Willa: *hand-over-forehead* I simply can’t be with a man who doesn’t LOVE me!
Alaric: Perfect, I do!
Perhaps not a perfect re-enactment of Willa and Alaric’s courtship, but pretty close right up until Alaric discovers *gasp!* that Willa has an alter ego as well. Only fair since Lord Alaric has Lord Wilde, so too must our heroine. Thus the cold, proud, and proper Miss Willa becomes the fiery temptress Miss Evie (a play on her middle name, Everett). At some point the happy couple become engaged and everything starts to get way more interesting: Alaric’s long lost other-fiance arrives on the scene and causes all kinds of trouble.
To avoid spoilers I will simply state that the arrival of the missionary’s daughter-cum-fiance-cum-author heralds pure entertainment and a quick-paced second half that is worth working through some of the monotony of the first half. Much of the details of the first half are likely a set up for future books in this series, possibly to be titled “Taming The Wilde North” and “Wilde Card.” The next book in the series is titled “Too Wilde to Wed” and I hope that it is Lord Roland’s story because I may have fallen more in love with him and his earnest, if wrong headed, wooing of his fiancé, Diana, than I ever was with Alaric.
“Wilde in Love” sets up the series nicely and makes me excited about a number of characters introduced in this novels and how they eventually find their own HEAs. That being said, I award four solid stars for an excellent series introduction with a bit of a slow beginning.
I recommend this book for anyone looking for a low-drama, low-angst, pleasant historical romance with plenty of historical backdrop to keep the history buffs and anglophiles satisfied as well as a sweet romance and sufficient smexy-times for the romance lovers amongst us.