Book/Author and Year Published: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (2018)
Age/Genre: Period Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: On a dark balcony or rooftop
Reading Accoutrements: The Three Bs: blankets, bourbon, and bon bons! 😉
Content Notes: classism, child abuse/neglect, violence, misogyny, sexual assault
Today is my mom’s birthday!!! If you read my review of (LINK!), you’re already aware that my mom is the person who got me hooked on romance novels. The first one she gave me was a period romance, so in honor of her birthday, I am reviewing a period romance for you lovely readers!
Wicked and the Wallflower is story of Lady Felicity Faircloth. Felicity is the daughter of a marquess and sister of an earl, living a charmed life in London until two years prior to the events in this book, when her fortune seemed to have taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly, Felicity was no longer in society’s good graces. Her dance card remained perpetually empty, the people she once called friends began to ignore her, and she was relegated to the role of wallflower at every ball she attended. It is at one such ball that Felicity, escaping to the balcony for a respite from the snide remarks of her former friends, meets Devil. Feeling out-of-sorts from her meeting with the mysterious stranger, Felicity announces to the entire ball that she is engaged to a duke – a man she’s never met.
Devon “Devil” Culm is out for revenge against his brother, and Lady Felicity Faircloth just presented him with the perfect opportunity. He promises Felicity that he will be able to solve all of her problems, including getting the duke to agree to their engagement, in return for a favor in the future. Little does he know that Felicity is more than she first appears – and the more he gets to know Lady Felicity, the more enamoured he becomes. If only he could have both his lady and his revenge.
Devil’s is a rags-to-riches story; he grew up on the streets of London and made his fortune with a lot of blood and sweat. While he is proud of his accomplishments, he is also bitter about how long it took him to build his empire. He knows that it could have been easier had he been given the same advantages as those of the upper class. Devil can afford all of the fancy clothes and housing of the upper classes, but he is more comfortable living in Covent Gardens – the neighborhood of ruffians where he runs his business and keeps his apartments. He also spreads his wealth through the neighborhood, giving his employees and their families what they need to survive and earning their loyalty in return. Technically, Mr. Devon Culm could easily join high society – though it might not be a comfortable fit – but Devil prefers the loyalty of his friends in Covent Gardens to the backstabbing ways of the ton.
Felicity is tired of the backstabbing ways of her former friends. After she learns that her family has been lying to her and trying to marry her off to fix their own fortunes, Felicity feels that she can’t trust anyone. Except for the mysterious stranger from the balcony, who seems to understand her thoughts and desires better than any of her own class. When he approaches her about a deal to fix her family’s fortunes (and her own) in exchange for a favor, how can she refuse? (I mean, I’m pretty sure I would be hesitant to make a deal for a vague favor with a person who calls himself “Devil,” but what kind of story would that make?) Her bond with Devil makes her brave to learn more about him, and the more she learns about his world, the more she wants to belong there. She has skills more suited to Covent Garden anyway, like her lockpicking hobby.
Honestly, the thing that bugs me the most about Devon is his complete inability to believe in himself. He knows he doesn’t belong in the upper echelon of society, so he feels somehow less-than, even though he is aware that he has better business acumen and ethics than pretty much all of the upper class. It’s for this reason that he convinces himself to lie, over and over, to Felicity about his purpose for helping her and his feelings for her. Felicity goes so far as to tell him that she loves him and would prefer to live in Covent Garden with him rather than be married to a duke and return to high society. Yet, Devon continues his lies because he thinks himself too far below Felicity to be good for her. It makes a really good point about the effect of classism on the psyche: some upper class people let the entitlement go to their heads while some lower class people are convinced by society that they’re not worthy of happiness because of their station in life. It’s also very annoying in this love story.
Felicity and Devon are equally obstinate. They are so stubborn that I thought the words, “They deserve each other!” on more than one occasion. But I have to admit that their love story was a really fun read, with emotional highs and lows that had me engaged the whole way through. I’m pretty sure my mom would like this book as much as I did; she likes reading the (what she calls) “brain fluff” romances that engage her but leave her feeling lighthearted.
If you’re looking for a period romance with a view of the seedier side of London, Wicked and the Wallflower is worth a try. It’s also the first book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series, which follows three half-brothers (and one half-sister) through fate-twisting circumstances that have the power to destroy them all, so you might want to check out the whole series!
Have you read Wicked and the Wallflower or the Bareknuckle Bastards series? If so, what did you think?