... or maybe 3.5 stars, if I'm having a good day!
A more appropriate - although less enticing - title for this book might have been "The Importance of Employing some Common Sense", because there were times I really wanted to knock some into the heroine.
We first met Caro in the novella The Second Seduction of a Lady
which I enjoyed very much. During the course of that story she meets and elopes with Robert Townsend when she is just seventeen years old.
This books starts some seven years later; she is now a widow and in straightened circumstances, Robert having gambled away all their money. Her debts are mounting up and she has no way to pay them, yet she still keeps "open house" for her friends, who are quite happy to eat her out of house and home with no thought as to how she pays for the food and drink they consume.
Caro is what would probably, at the time, have been termed "fast". She is vivacious and almost proud of the fact that she isn't respectable (which is understandable in some ways, given the rigidity of society at that time), and she flouts convention, even when she is supposed to be acting as chaperone to her cousin.
There were times I felt some empathy for her, as her thoughtlessness and generally carefree attitude was obviously just a front to cover for her anxieties and insecurities, and to stop her thinking about things she didn't want to think about. But at other times, I just wanted to yell at her to grow up, and to be fair, towards the end of the book, she realises she needs to do just that.
Our hero, Thomas, Duke of Castleton, nicknamed "Lord Stuffy" certainly lives up to the epithet a lot of the time. He's very proper and has come to town with the intention of securing the hand of Caro's cousin, Anne, who is an heiress. Castleton owns a lot of land, but most of it is entailed, and he has sisters to provide for - his father having been rather profligate - and so he isn't particularly flush with cash, either.
So those are the two protagonists, and while I didn't dislike the story, I have to say that I found it hard to engage with either Caro or Thomas very much. Caro is immature and headstrong for the sake of being so, which lands her into hot water on several occasions. Thomas has a stick up his backside; and for all that he occasionally displays a dry sense of humour and, at times, a willingness to learn which is verging on adorable, he is a fairly bland hero.
Caro and Thomas fall almost immediately into lust with each other. That's not uncommon in romances, but I didn't really feel that we got to see the progression from lust to love. Thomas seems to suddenly decide he loves Caro, while for most of the book, Caro is honest enough with herself to admit she married Thomas for financial security and because she desperately wanted to sleep with him. It's only towards the end, following a tragic event that she begins to see his true worth and finally starts to grow up and put the past behind her; and from that point, I found I could like her. Grown-up Caro is capable, sensible and loving and will make an excellent duchess, and at last, the relationship between her and Castleton begins to become romantic rather than just sexual.
"The Importance of Being Wicked" was enjoyable enough despite my reservations about the main characters; but I'm not sure it's a book I'll revisit.
With thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for the review copy.