Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gaelen Foley: My Wicked Marquess


My Wicked Marquess
Series: The Inferno Club, Book 1
Author: Gaelen Foley

Release Date: June 30, 2009
List Price: $7.99

Read: June 30-July 1, 2009
My Rating:

Author Website | "The Inferno Club" | Book Page | Excerpt |

London and Worcestershire, England, 1815

My Wicked Marquess is the first book in Gaelen Foley's new series "The Inferno Club." Foley is generally a hit or miss author with me - I absolutely loved Lord of Fire and Lord of Ice, Books 2 and 3 from her Knight Miscellany Series, however I had a lot of problems with The Duke (the first Knight book) and Prince Charming (the last in her Ascension Trilogy and one of the few HR books that I actively and passionately dislike).

After reading this book's excerpt on Foley's website a few weeks ago I was excited and looking forward to its release ... and I'm sad to say I was somewhat disappointed. It's odd, because the book is by no means bad and it seems to have all the right ingredients - wonderful leading characters with great chemistry, an interesting mystery/action subplot (which doesn't conclude here, but will continue in the other books of the series), and compelling supporting characters who promise to be wonderful future heroes and heroines. However, the book falls short in several areas and I feel like if a few things had been different, it could have been fantastic.

SUMMARY (from back cover)
To restore family honor the Marquess of Rotherstone faces his most dangerous mission - find the perfect bride ...

To London's aristocracy, the Inferno Club is a scandalous society of men no proper young lady would acknowledge. But though they are publicly notorious for pursuing all manner of debauchery, in private they are warriors who would do anything to protect king and country.

The Marquess of Rotherstone has decided it’s time to restore the family’s good name. But as a member of the Inferno Club, he knows there is only one way to redeem himself in Society’s eyes: marry a lady of impeccable beauty and breeding, whose reputation is, above all, spotless.

Someone quite unlike Daphne Starling. True, she’s temptingly lovely, but a jilted suitor has nearly ruined her reputation. Still, Max cannot resist her allure - or the challenge of proving London’s gossips wrong. He would do anything to win her hand ... and show that even a wicked marquess can make a perfect husband.

MY SUMMARY (I know, I know - this section is so long I've practically rewritten the book - sorry, bear with me!)

Max St. Albans, Marquess of Rotherstone, is finally back in England following Napoleon's defeat, ready to become a civilian again after having given 20 years of his life to the Order of St. Michael, a highly secretive group that has been engaged in a fight of good vs. evil (evil being the Prometheans) for hundreds of years. His next "mission" is to find a suitable wife, settle down, and produce children, and he approaches this endeavor as he does all others: with careful preparation and reconnaissance work (is all quite amusing). Armed with a list of the five top candidates who fulfill his criteria, he is ready to pick a wife and get started. ... However, he finds himself intrigued and attracted to the one woman included on the list who, due to unfortunate recent happenings, may no longer be "in the running" - since one of the requirements is a "stainless reputation."

Miss Daphne Starling is daughter to a Viscount and the darling of the ton (seriously, no pun intended with the rhyming - and what was up with the name Starling anyway? Made me always think "Silence of the Lambs" - not exactly mood material). She is known as the "patron saint of newcomers," due to her tendency to befriend those in Society who feel out of place, are newly arrived, don't know anyone, etc. When we meet her, Daphne has recently rejected an offer of marriage from Mr. Albert Carew (a sorry excuse for a human being), who, in an effort to get revenge and salvage his pride, has been going around spewing his mouth off to anyone who will listen to his claims that Daphne is actually haughty and a cold-hearted jilt, as opposed to the sweetheart everyone thinks. This has unfortunately started a small scandal and is proving to be an increasing threat to her reputation.

However, Daphne is determined to continue on and ignore the unpleasantness, not knowing that a regular weekly visit to the orphanage she supports will change her life - and introduce her to the most interesting and compelling man she has ever met ... though the fact that he stumbles drunk out of a brothel does not leave much to recommend him - even if it is at an opportune moment when she is about to be attacked by one of the local street gangs. But Daphne has a sneaking suspicion that it might have all been a ruse in order to distract attention and save her, but then who is this handsome enigma who is such a good actor and can go from sloppy drunk to lethal fighter in the blink of an eye - and why would he go out of his way for her?

Daphne is relieved to see the man unharmed at a ball two evenings later (which Max attends on purpose, of course, knowing she will be there thanks to his detailed file on her) and delighted to finally speak to the man who has now saved her not once, but twice (the second being a nice little maneuver on his part at the ball to manipulate Albert and then warn him off). Max is equally intrigued by the vivacious and friendly young woman and determined to gain her as his wife - though in usual Max-fashion, he goes about it somewhat high-handedly (and that's putting it lightly). And so starts the relationship - and the pursuit! After having a small - though admittedly highly charged - encounter and chat at the ball, Max basically disappears from polite society and Daphne is convinced that he has forgotten about her, only to be presented two weeks after with a marriage between them as a fait accompli. (His marriage "proposal" - if one can even call it that - had me laughing out loud and cringing at the same time, bringing up memories of Darcy's painful first proposal to Elizabeth - what IS it with these guys?!) Daphne is understandably confused and angry; she feels manipulated by both her father and Max, who have taken away any control she might have in the matter and not even deigned to ask her what SHE wants.

Max begins an aggressive campaign to woo Daphne and make her forget her qualms (and yes, calculating man that he is, his methods leave something to be desired). Daphne finds herself torn between her obvious attraction, unwilling fascination, and increasing affection for this remote and complex man and the fear that he means only to control her, add her to his collection of beautiful things and then basically forget her, never really letting her into his life or his heart. Of course, things don't improve when she finds out that well-meaning her father is having money problems and basically sold her to Max, that Max is secretive and intends to remain so, and that he thinks dangling his money and title in front of her will be enough to lure her into marriage. ... All of this takes place in the first 250 pages of the book and essentially makes up the core of the story (with the action subplot going on at the same time - see below for more details). Daphne and Max's marriage and further development of the Promethean-Order battle (which goes hand-in-hand with the set-up for the next book) take up the remaining ~120 pages. (The development/pacing of Max and Daphne's relationship was the main problem, see "CRITICISM" below).

Occurring simultaneously with the romance relationship is the Promethean-Order subplot and I thought it was one of the better and more interest aspects of the book. The series is called "The Inferno Club" because that's the name the Order uses to disguise itself from the world, appearing to be just a harmless rakehell/devil-may-care pleasure club. Despite Napoleon's defeat and the hiccup this causes in their plans, the Prometheans are ready to do what is necessary to achieve their goal once and for all - some type of benevolent (said ironically by Order members) world domination, which is all overly-dramatic, but whatever, use your imagination. Even as the evil-doers continue to seek power they have to contend with warring factions within the organization due to the recent setbacks. One faction's advantage is that it has captured and kept alive a member of the Order - Drake - whom everyone in England assumes to be dead. He has been held and tortured for many months and they now hope to sway him into revealing the Order's secrets.

Foley does a great job with Drake's character - he is extremely psychologically damaged after being extensively tortured and has withdrawn into himself, forgetting his past and who he is (and then starting to suffer a little Stockholm syndrome). All of this leaves the reader unsure of what he will do in the future books - will he succumb to the Prometheans and join their ranks, or will he remember who he is and what he fought for and help his "brothers" from the Order take them down? Personally, I hope he gets his own romance (would make SUCH a great hero!!) - and of course comes down on the side of "good." I think that Foley has added a nice and unusual touch by not resolving the Promethean-Order battle in this book and instead having it continue throughout the series. This will allow the subplot to unfold more slowly and build up to a big (and hopefully satisfying) finale.

Daphne (21) is a wonderful heroine and extremely easy to like; she's friendly, generous, amusing, and intelligent. She's beautiful and although she lost her mother at a young age (10) and has had to contend with her kind-of-but-not-really evil stepmother since, she has led a pretty charmed life - however, she was *not* written at all annoyingly, as is sometimes the case with heroines who are the "belle of the ball" type and come off as somewhat haughty, self-involved, and basically not very endearing. It was easy to see why Max was so drawn to her and considering his character and what he is seeking, she really is the perfect partner for him (see next paragraph).

Max (33) is one of those "tortured heroes" the HR genre (understandably) loves so much - he feels resentment towards his family for basically selling him off into psychologically and physically brutal training at such a young age, even though he knows that it is his family's legacy and that his male ancestors have been involved with the Order since its inception. He feels somewhat lost and basically has no ties or relationships outside of those he he's formed with his "brothers" from the Order; he is "painfully lonely" and what he really yearns for is to belong and feel loved. However, Max fears that what the Order has made him into has also made it impossible for someone to love him, due to all that he's done and seen, all that he's had to be and pretend to be. This is one of the main reasons he finds himself so attracted to Daphne - she is loving and generous to everyone and he thinks/hopes that if anyone could love him, it could be her - this woman who is so giving and has such a big heart. With himself, Max is upfront almost from the beginning about this and that was a nice change; although he is resistant for a long time to speak of his emotions to Daphne, with himself (and therefore the reader) he is very open about his desire to belong and feel needed, loved, and admired by someone.

Although the book had the ingredients for a strong and engaging read that could have really sparkled, it fell short (IMHO) for several reasons, the main and most important one being that completely uneven progression of the book, and more specifically Max and Daphne's relationship. It's a complete stop-and-go production that leaves the reader feeling confused and unfulfilled:

1) They barely know each other when the courtship goes into full-swing - or rather, Daphne barely knows Max, since apparently he has a whole file on her and has gotten to know her that way. I will say though that it was luckily *not* one of those lust-at-first-sight relationships, which I always hate (though there is definite chemistry which they are both aware of - scene at his house in the portrait gallery ... whew, get out a fan, honey, and be prepared ;-).

2) I love the possessive alpha-male as much as the next girl, but Foley makes a significant mistake. Although WE know he is at times high-handed and manipulative only because he is afraid of losing (or rather not winning) Daphne, whom he sees as his salvation and a beacon of light when he's lived in the darkness, the fact is she DOESN'T know this. He acts this way for so long with her that when the scene in the hayloft occurs and he finally reveals his feelings to her, confessing his need to be loved and etc., I felt like it came out of *nowhere*! Page-wise it was well-placed, but not at all relationship-wise: there was no easing into it, no progression as he slowly reveals this side of himself. Instead, it's like wham-bam and next thing you know, they go from Daphne running away in the middle of the night to escape him to them being all lovey-dovey and getting married. All of this makes their closeness seem inauthentic and hard for the reader to truly believe.

3) The ending - ugh, the ending was completely unsatisfactory! Throughout the book there's tension surrounding Max's secret association with the Order and his inability to tell Daphne about that side of his life. Suddenly, we're practically at the end of the book, circumstances are such that he reveals all to her, she's happy that he told her and admiring of what he's done, he vows to end the whole battle soon and she promises to support him, they have great make-up sex there at headquarters ... and then suddenly it's the epilogue, everyone's at a ball, and we get a hint of where the story is going from here with Book 2 - THE END. It was *so* abrupt and there was NO chance to savor the HEA!!

I'm not sorry I read the book, just sorry that I bought my own copy - get it from the library and look forward to the second Inferno Club book, My Dangerous Duke (release date unknown), since I think that the series definitely has potential. We're set up for Book 2 with the end of this one and I'm hoping that the story featuring Rohan Kilburn, Duke of Warrington will be as good as My Wicked Marquess promised - but failed (SUCH a harsh word, I know!) - to be. I'm also looking forward to Jordan's story and though I had hoped Carissa (Daphne's friend) was Rohan's heroine, maybe she'll be Jordan's ... or get her own?

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