In Love with a Wicked Man
By Liz Carlyle
October 29, 2013
Ned Quartermaine, a man whose own notoriety exceeds that of the gambling establishment he owns, is visiting Somerset to check out an estate he has claimed from a customer in lieu of the man’s substantial gambling debts. Quartermaine has a specific purpose in mind for the property if it proves suitable, but before he can carry out his inspection, a riding accident renders him unconscious. When he regains consciousness, he not only has forgotten his purpose; he doesn’t even remember his name.
Kate, Lady d'Allenay, a baroness in her own right, is the mainstay of her family. Upon the deaths of her improvident father and brother, in the absence of a direct male heir, she became the one responsible for the family estate. It is important to her that she feels her grandfather would be proud of the steps she is taking to redress the damages inflicted by the poor stewardship of her father and brother. Although her younger sister has a male guardian, the day-to-day supervision of that stubborn, impetuous beauty also rests on Kate, as does meeting the expenses of their volatile mother. All of these concerns are weighing upon Kate when she inadvertently causes a riding accident that leaves her with a new responsibility: an injured man who doesn’t know who he is.
Kate has the stranger taken to Bellecombe Castle where she can oversee his care. Since the initials NED engraved on his personal effects provide the only clue to his identity, Kate calls him Edward. In the absence of conventions that would limit their time together in ordinary situations, the two become friends. Before long, both are aware that feelings stronger than friendship are drawing them together, but Edward’s amnesia is an effective barrier to a more serious relationship. While they struggle with temptation, the twists and tangles of the past are drawing closer to complicate and endanger the present and all its promise.
One of the things that keep me reading romance fiction is the joy of seeing a skilled author take even the most overworked plots and tropes and produce something that is different and captivating. Liz Carlyle does exactly that in this story. Amnesia can be an intrusively obvious device, but Carlyle makes it work here. She gives her readers a real sense of the panic that hits Edward when he realizes he has lost his memory, a panic magnified by his particular nature and experience which make control essential to him and by the sense of something important that taunts him just beyond the edges of memory. She balances this with the unexpected peace and feeling of home that he finds at Bellecombe with Kate.
The bad boy-good girl pairing is surely one of the oldest tropes in romance fiction, but Carlyle makes it fresh because Edward and Kate are never merely types. They are always fully and particularly themselves with unique histories and personalities. I adored Kate, a woman of intelligence, humor, and grace who knows her strengths and has confidence in her competency, yet is aware of her vulnerabilities. And she is not anachronistic! She truly is a strong heroine, in the best sense of that carelessly tossed about description. And while she is ever aware of her responsibilities to her heritage and to her family, she is never a martyr immolating herself on the altar of duty.
Carlyle also excels in weaving new stories into her fictional world. She sometimes does this with clear connections and sometimes with subtle subtext. Carlyle fans familiar with her recent Fraternitas Aureae Crucis series will recognize Ned Quartermaine as the owner of the Quartermaine Club, the gambling salon located across the street from the St. James Society. I always enjoy visiting the world Liz Carlyle creates for her readers. In Love with a Wicked Man was a special treat since it is less fraught than Carlyle’s books often are. If you are a fan of historical romance that is true to the period and peopled with characters who will engage your interest and affection, I highly recommend this book.
I cherish historical romance authors whose world building skills rival those of authors in other genres. Liz Carlyle and Jo Beverley top my list of such authors. What romance authors demonstrate world-building skills that you especially appreciate?