Wicked For a Day, by Liz Carlyle, like so many great romance novels that have come before it, suffers from Stupid Title-itis. It honestly gives the reader no idea as to what’s in the book, just feels slapped on, along with the obligatory clinch cover. I don’t know if Carlyle came up with it herself (If so, sorry! But I do feel your pain, as I hate coming up with titles and headlines) or if it was bestowed upon the book by the publisher. Either way, it’s too trite for a book this good.
Just a few pages in, I quickly realized that Wicked For a Day was part of an expanded universe. The family connections were incredibly detailed, with a genuine sense that the reader should know these people. But in a really believable way — a way that made me want to read the prior books. I think that’s the advantage of writing historicals and Regencies. Dealing with the London ton, you can build an entire social order and then continue to reference the same people as time goes by. It’s not like Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ What I Did For Love, where the author flew her heroine some BFFs from clear across the country just to give her character some weight. The inclusion of Jonet and Cole from A Woman Scorned and Rannoch and Evie from My False Heart, doesn’t take the place of giving Zoe and Mercer their own distinct personalities and their own richly crafted story.
And it’s definitely Zoe and Mercer’s story. Zoe Armstrong, the illegitimate and incredibly indulged daughter of the Marquis of Rannoch, has grown up with distant cousins Stuart, Lord Mercer, and his rakish brother Robin. Robin’s her best friend and serious Stuart is the one who is forever getting them out of their scrapes. However, when an ill-advised romp with Robin threatens to ruin Zoe’s reputation, it’s one scrape that Stuart may not be able to solve without his own heart becoming a casualty in the process. All three characters are finely drawn, and painfully human, and while the reader will probably want to spend the bulk of the book throwing something at Robin’s head, that Mercer and Zoe both love him and want the best for him —all the while realizing that they love each other — is a key element of the novel.
It’s an enjoyable read, with a beautifully crafted story and an entire cast of characters who feel authentic. Not for nothing, but Mercer and Robin’s mother, Jonet, is probably the savviest character in the whole piece. If she existed today, she’d probably have a Zoe/Mercer fan message board up and running and be sponsoring a fan fiction contest…while Zoe and Mercer themselves were still figuring out how to boot up the computer. Watching her watch her sons and Zoe figure out their lives is half the fun of Wicked For a Day. The other half is Zoe and Mercer themselves.