Kaitlin O’Riley – “When His Kiss Is Wicked”

27 Jul

O'Riley, Kaitlin - When His Kiss Is Wicked
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Zebra Books, 2009

SERIES: “The Hamilton Sisters,” #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: This review at The Romance Reader

After her father’s death, Colette Hamilton is left with four sisters, an invalid mother and a failing bookshop. The only way she can save the family business is with her unconventional ideas…or let her uncle marry her off. As for the handsome stranger in her bookshop? He’s Lucien Sinclair, son of an earl, and a known rogue uninterested in marriage.

Unknown to Colette, Lucien has begun an urgent search for a bride, so that his ailing father might see him married before he dies. He knows what he wants–a plain, biddable woman without the curse of beauty to endanger his heart. Yet no matter how he tries, Lucien finds himself unable to stay away from Colette. And as sinful pleasure lures them ever closer to the edge of ruin, the only question that matters is whether they can survive the fall…

When His Kiss is Wicked is one of the novels I find frustrating in that it could have been a great read (IMO, of course) if not for a few distracting things. I rather liked the author’s voice but I’m not sure if that helped my overall impression of the novel (made it seem “better”) or not (made it seem “worse” because the problems seemed more jarring).

Apologies in advance. I probably give even less an idea of the story itself in this post than I usually do but the blurb gives you a fairly accurate idea. And contrary to all appearances, I enjoyed reading When His Kiss Is Wicked quite a bit.

Problems

I don’t know of course and I really wasn’t all that bothered by it for all that it was present in a lot of scenes (I guess I decided to go with it), but I had the (strong) impression that a major plot element and a lot of the characters’ behavior didn’t seem to fit the time (1870). Especially the characters’ behavior seemed too modern to me (“Call me Lucien”). The only exception there is probably that Lucien is flabbergasted that Colette – a woman! – is in charge of a business. That seemed rather true to the time. But the way Colette “modernized” the book shop for example – I think she overshot there by more than a century.

I was a bit meh about all sisters being so stunningly beautiful and I had some trouble keeping them apart with the similar names. But that’s me, although it also might be because they weren’t really all that fleshed out as characters yet. More bothersome, some of the plot lines just wandered off, conveniently IMO. For example, the plot line with Colette’s uncle wanting to marry her off to the highest bidder starts conventionally enough. Colette is only introduced to lecherous old men as possible husbands and warned off of the young and handsome men (rakes), especially Lucien and his friend Jeffrey. But then somehow, there’s nothing and then her uncle and aunt are perfectly happy with Jeffrey and Lucien as prospective husbands. Huh? These two had their money and connections at the beginning of the story.

But funny enough, I didn’t think characters that appear too modern in their behavior and rather conventional and convenient plot elements a deal breaker (probably because I liked the author’s voice). The biggest weakness of the story is that I thought the romantic conflict, why Colette and Lucien couldn’t be together, paper-thin. The reason for it is that at the most, I only got a few sentences as to why Lucien was adamant about not marrying Colette for much of the story. Lucien had enough scandals in his past and a woman owning a business = scandal! He wants a nice, biddable wife who blends in with the wallpaper. Which also means, Colette’s stunning beauty alone is a problem. Without really knowing why Lucien wants to avoid scandal I couldn’t take his “I can’t marry Colette!” and the romantic conflict serious. Instead, I asked myself: what’s the problem? And in particular: what’s Lucien’s problem?

“It seemed he was in love with Colette, and apparently everyone knew it but him”

That’s on page 297 of the novel and thirty pages later, the novel is over. Yes, it takes Lucien that long, even longer actually, to recognize his feelings for Colette.

I actually didn’t mind much that Lucien didn’t know what he was feeling even though it was painfully obvious to me as a reader. In fact, I don’t think knowing it would have made any difference to Lucien’s conviction that he couldn’t possibly marry Colette (because of his past experiences with love). More likely, it would have set him running in the other direction even more. But in connection with the seeming flimsiness of his reasoning why he can’t marry Colette and his ungentlemanly behavior towards Colette after they’ve been intimate…

Well, Lucien is plain and simple a cad. Not once does he seriously entertain the idea that he has to marry Colette because they’ve been intimate. Not once does he think about the fact that what he does to Colette now is the same as what was done to him by his fiancé. Not once does he think about how devastated he’d been and how devastated Colette must be. It’s all about him.

So why did I enjoy reading this novel?

Because I saw this novel exactly as being more about Lucien than about Colette.

While at first glance you’d expect Colette running into all kinds of problems as a woman who runs a business when women weren’t even allowed to vote, who has to take care of her sisters because her mother is too weak of will, and who has to fight of the unwanted husbands her uncle sics on her, it’s Lucien who has to struggle, who has his beliefs and expectations questioned and challenged. It’s Lucien who needs time getting used to the idea that he should take a woman’s advice about books, let alone the idea that a woman should be allowed to run a business on her own. It’s Lucien who expects women to fall in with his views without stating otherwise. There’s a nice little scene when his nice, biddable prospective wife questions him:

“Would you please kiss me, Lord Waverly?”
Certain that he had not heard correctly, Lucien asked, “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me,” she said softly. “Please don’t make me repeat myself.”
He could not conceal the incredulousness in his voice. “You wish for me to kiss you?”
“Yes.”
Lucien cleared his throat. “May I ask why?”
She gave him a funny little look, as if she had proven her point. “If you have to ask why, then it is evident that you have no desire to kiss me.” (240/241)

Lucien’s biddable prospective wife wants to marry for love. Colette, if she thinks about marriage at all, entertains that idea only if she marries for love. There’s a thread in this story about marriages that came into being for reasons other than love. Lucien on the other hand never thinks about love as a reason for marriage. In fact, he doesn’t even recognize love even though he so clearly is in love.

Lucien changes the most in the story; Colette goes more or less her merry way. That’s why I think this story is more Lucien’s story and why in some way I wasn’t so bothered by his non-existent self-awareness. Lucien has a few things to learn.

I also thought that O’Riley was rather good at showing the attraction between Colette and Lucien. That, together with my impression that When His Kiss Is Wicked is sometimes a look at marriage and how love fits in with marriage, is what made this novel an enjoyable read for me despite that I listed several things as problematic.

Verdict: An enjoyable read with a few things that rubbed me the wrong way (3,5/5). I’m looking forward to reading more novels by Kaitlin O’Riley.

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3 Responses to “Kaitlin O’Riley – “When His Kiss Is Wicked””

  1. nath Monday, July 27, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

    Great review Taja!!

    this book does sound interesting, but I can see what you mean by some part feeling so modern. I feel it’s hard to keep track of, the time period… 1870 seems so far away, but it’s not really. I wonder sometimes at the historical accuracy of things…

    I’ll look out for this one 🙂 Thanks for the review!

  2. Taja Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    Nath – thanks!

    Writing this review was weird because I wasn’t so sure what I thought. LOL Usually, I’m more bothered by sensibilities that feel too modern for the time, but this time… *shrug* Then of course, what do I know about historical accuracy? I didn’t study history. So I’m left to wonder, too, most of the time.

    I saw two reviews for this novel. The one I linked above (positive) and one at “The Good, the Bad & the Unread” (negative, a D). Maybe you want to take a look at them (especially the D, I could see the points), before you decide. 🙂

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