I had high hopes for So Wild A Kiss, Nancy Richards-Akers' new
romance novel set in 17th century Ireland.
So much so, that I bought the book myself off the rack at Safeway, instead
of getting a free reviewer's copy. I want to support publishers who are
willing to put out books with settings other than Regency England (though I
love it, it has unfortunately become, if such a thing exists, a generic
historical setting) or 1870s Montana (ditto). Nancy Richards-Akers is an
author with a great deal of feeling and knowledge about Ireland. But
unfortunately, the fact that So Wild A Kiss was set in Ireland was
the best thing I liked about the book. I wish I had my $5.99 back.
So Wild A Kiss takes place in Wicklow, when Oliver Cromwell's army is
busily spreading terror across the countryside. The Irish gentry, both
native and Norman, are losing their estates left and right, taken over by
English profiteers. In the midst of this turmoil, young Eleanor Archebold
desperately tries to hold on to her ancestral estate, and to keep her family
Eleanor's father, a Norman descendent, has been executed for his political
views; her mother, daughter of an Irish chieftain, has recently died. This
leaves Eleanor as mistress of Laragh and its people, as well as responsible
for her younger brother and sisters. But as all the estates around her have
been seized, their rightful owners turned out, she knows she hasn't much
time to act. A new English landlord could show up any minute to evict
Eleanor's family and leave them destitute.
Eleanor devises a plan to bribe English officials, to prevent her home from
being forfeited, but her plan goes awry. In Dublin, she is mistaken for a
prostitute, and Eleanor decides to sell her body as a last ditch effort to
fend off disaster. Innocent, unworldly Eleanor is terrified, but the English
stranger is uncommonly handsome and kind. They do not exchange names, but
their passionate night together dazzles them both. They part, but Eleanor
continues to he haunted and disturbed by the encounter.
As is Sir Garrett Neville. Garrett, a young baronet, is newly arrived in
Ireland. He is however, no supporter of Cromwell and his rapacious cronies;
he deplores the violence and injustice done to Ireland. In fact, Garrett has
a secret connection to the country, and was raised by a foster mother who
filled his imagination with Irish tales and legends. Garrett has come not to
grasp wealth, but in search of the land and people of those legends.
But Garrett has also come to buy land and settle down. By preposterous
coincidence, Garrett purchases the debentures for Eleanor's home. He
arrives, hoping to quickly get cozy in his new Irish abode; but he is
shocked (though why is baffling) to discover his dream house still occupied.
And occupied by none other than the beautiful, mysterious Eleanor, whom he
thought never to see again.
As for Eleanor, she is even more shocked to see Garrett. Naturally she is
frightened that he will reveal her terrible secret, and oust her from her
home. The tension ought to have been unbearable at this point, but for me it
wasn't. This meeting which takes place on page 151, could have been the
starting point for the novel – in medias res, as Horace would have it.
The previous 150 pages, which monotonously chronicle Eleanor's dire
circumstances, Garrett's background and hints of his Irish ancestry, and the
supposedly charming doings of Eleanor's siblings, could have, and should
have been backstory.
Even Eleanor and Garrett's night of passion would have been better explained
later. Perhaps this is just my weird personal prejudice, but showing the H&H
who have just met, making passionate love, under the circumstance of
prostitution makes my eyes glaze over. I find it a little
unbelievable – okay, Laura Kinsale could have written it and made it fly, but
as it is, I found this situation too grim to really root for Eleanor's
orgasm. And I'm growing tired of heroes who only have intercourse with women
of the lower classes, but never ladies of their own rank. How is Garrett's
restricting himself to prostitutes, who are usually poor women desperate to
survive, supposed to make him more attractive? More virtuous? More
From here on, the story of So Wild A Kiss is basically a variation on
what I call the "Norman knight takes over Saxon lady's castle" plot. Garrett
proves to be a genuinely nice guy, charming old women and children, and
saving an outlawed priest from English dragoons. He even assures Eleanor of
his good intentions and proposes marriage. She consents to a marriage of
convenience, but despite Garrett's good deeds, she continues to rebuff him
at every turn, until his final, inevitable exoneration. This leaves Eleanor's character, already flat, coming off stupid as well. Of course, I thought she ought to have thanked her lucky stars things turned out so well, but then the book would have ended on page 151.
Okay, if the book could have begun on page 151 and ended on page 151, what
more is there to say? I really wished I had liked this book better, but I
didn't. I have added a heart in the rating for the Irish setting. Another
weird personal prejudice of mine.