Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.
Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.
Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.
But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . .
Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2017
Time and Setting: Cheshire, England, 1778
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Sara
Eloisa James is an author who tends to be hit and miss for me. Her stories are always well told and charming tales on the surface. Unfortunately there’s often an undercurrent of cynicism that pulls me out of the story, coloring my feelings about the characters, their motivations and even the author’s intent. Wilde in Love is a perfect example of the lighter story tone hiding some biting commentary on celebrity culture and those who cherish the superficial over substance.
Lord Alaric Wilde has traveled the world for ten years, publishing his journals telling of the exotic people and places he’s encountered along the way. Unbeknownst to him, the Tales of Lord Wilde have become hugely popular back home in England and the female population has elevated the handsome adventurer into a celebrity on a par with Byron and the like. Returning home from his latest trip, Alaric is surprised to see swarms of women waiting at the dock just to catch a glimpse of him leaving the ship. That surprise turns into dismay when his brother informs him that his fame is based in part to a romantic play called Wilde in Love, an exaggerated tale of Alaric’s journey to Africa and a tragic love affair between him and the daughter of an English missionary.
While his family is amused by Alaric’s new fame, Alaric is angry at seeing his life becoming fodder for dramatic plays or his likeness used on prints sold across town. Any chance of finding respite at his family’s home, Lindow Castle, is ruined by the house party being thrown to celebrate his brother’s engagement. All the young women invited to attend seem to be obsessed fans of the romanticized Lord Wilde of the play. Their constant questions about his fictitious encounters with cannibals or how he feels about losing his love in Africa begin to test his patience. Only one woman seems unimpressed by Alaric’s notoriety, Miss Wilhelmina Ffynche.
Willa Ffynche has no interest in getting to know such a public figure as the famous Lord Wilde. Her cousin Lavinia may be one of his ardent admirers but Willa is more interested in men who aren’t fame seekers. Having finished her first season in London, Willa’s patience for posturing men has run thin and from everything she’s heard about Alaric Wilde he’s probably the worst of the worst. Willa gets her first glimpse of the man himself during an afternoon tea and it unsettles her perceptions. Lord Alaric seems intelligent, well-spoken and isn’t happy with all of the women fawning over him. Under different circumstances Willa could imagine herself even liking Alaric; however it goes against all of her proper rules of behavior to fall for a rogue who chases adventure across the world.
As the house party continues Willa has to keep reminding herself of those rules as Alaric seems intent on getting past her defenses. For as much as Willa tries to dissuade him from focusing his attention on her it’s still flattering to be singled out from a room of women who hang on his every word. To Alaric, Willa’s disinterest seems like a challenge that he must overcome, but as he begins to see the woman behind the cool demeanor it becomes a pleasure. When a delusional young woman finds her way into Lindow Castle claiming to be Alaric’s wife, he turns to Willa in order to fake an engagement to convince the other woman he’s unavailable. Willa’s willingness to help encourages Alaric to believe her feelings for him may have changed. With his passion for Willa getting stronger every day, thoughts of a future with her in truth could be the greatest adventure of them all.
Wilde in Love is a character driven story stuck in first gear for most of its length. I appreciate a strong, spirited heroine who knows her own mind, and Willa fits that description to a tee. She’s also very stubborn, slightly arrogant about her own appeal and she’s too dismissive of things she doesn’t like. The book’s description of Willa having a love of books and bawdy jokes is misleading because those traits don’t come across as positives for her character. She reads historical texts and demeans anyone – including her cousin – for enjoying popular novels or plays that are intended as entertainment. Willa’s initial thoughts on Alaric are based on her prejudice against those who seek adventure and the extraordinary over normal, regular pursuits. Her reasons for these feelings are understandable when we learn them, but it shows an immaturity that resurfaces many times as Alaric shows her he cares and she pushes him away.
It’s very hard to like Willa and to care about her enough to want to see her find happiness with Alaric. Alaric is likeable hero, but you can only see him get rejected a couple of times before you start to question his choice of a lady love. His single-minded pursuit of Willa is stale by the time the delusional young woman is introduced and he and Willa have to fake their engagement. If I were creating the outline for the story this plotline would have come into play much sooner as it’s perhaps the strongest part. Having a character who is obsessed to the point of being dangerous is intriguing. It gives Alaric and Willa something to partner against and strengthens their relationship.
With all of that said, Wilde in Love does have enjoyable moments and there are several secondary characters who almost steal the show from Willa and Alaric. It’s the slow pacing of the romance and the vague problems keeping them apart that prevent me from rating the book as much more than a merely decent read.