Mary Balogh: SLIGHTLY WICKED

Slightly Wicked by Mary Balogh
Bedwyn Family Saga #2
Piatkus 2003
342 pages
5/5 stars

Yet another series I’m not reading in order, hooray! And this time I realise what a mistake it is. Anyway. Slightly Wicked is an excellent seduction novel, with a very strong theme of consent and a masterfully secondary intrigue plot.

(Spoiler warning: I wax analytical in this review and if you want to avoid all plot points, you should probably not read what I’m saying.)

The charming and aristocratic hero, Rannulf Bedwyn, and Judith Law meet on the road after a carriage accident and, under assumed names, decide to conduct a brief affair. This in itself is a delight, as there is certainly seduction here – but none of it is forceful. Rannulf constantly leaves the door open for Judith, letting her call the shots while still making it clear that he is game if she is. And she is – having a wastrel brother who is on the brink of making her family destitute, Judith has very little to look forward to in life except practical servitude in the household of her aunt. By setting these two up, Balogh excellently allows for female sexual curiosity while showing us the hero’s colours.

We also have a villain, who with the hero forms a contrasting double, something Balogh used also in Dark Angel (1994) although with less subtlety. Horace Effingham, Judith’s step cousin, does not respect her personal boundaries – and I think you all know what I mean when I say that – and is petty and cowardly. This is explicitly wondered about by Judith, and she is even confronted by the hero with the question when she claims there was nothing but curiosity and lust in their liaison: if these were the things she was after, would she have entered into an affair with Horace if he had come along first, when he and Rannulf are both well-off, well-born, and handsome? The answer is, of course, no, and although Judith is not sure why this is it’s perfectly clear that we are talking about respect.

Judith herself is an example of the effect of words, especially of those whom we love and respect. She has all her life been made to hide her red hair and her curvy body, and has been made to understand that she is ugly. Very carefully, in the course of the novel, Rannulf works on trying to bring her out of her shell and to find her confidence in her looks, as does her grandmother. Years of putting oneself down do not shake off easy, but Rannulf is relentless but gentle in luring her out into the open. This is not only restricted to her looks, either: he also persuades her to perform at a gathering of a group of her same-age social peers, because he knows her to be an accomplished actress. Even here he emphasises that he will not force her in yet another assurance of her safety with him.

Another show of concern with her safety comes in the form of the subplot of theft. I will not go into the details, although I found the plot predictable and so imagine it must so to all – and I’m sure Balogh knows very well that it is very see-through. I would argue that the point of the subplot is not to be a conundrum and a mystery, but it functions to further illustrate Rannulf’s character and, more importantly, his relationship with Judith: although his language towards the end of the novel turns too possessive for my tastes, it must be admitted that he gives her her head when it matters, and she has a way of making him see what is fair.

I hugely enjoyed this novel and had severe Bedwyn feels towards the end – we meet some of the rest of the family before the novel is over. I have some other series to finish first, but right after that I must get back to the Bedwyns! I have three more books to read, and I cannot wait!

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