Wonderful & Wicked
by Carola Dunn, Valerie King & Isabel Linton
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6630-9
***
I have always believed that writing a good short story or a novella is a greater challenge than writing a full length book, especially in romance. The shorter format limits the author’s ability to develop the characters or their relationship. Thus, it takes great skill to convince the readers that the hero and heroine meet, fall in love, and arrive at their happily ever after in such a short compass. Of the three novellas in Wonderful and Wicked, one succeeds admirably in meeting this challenge. The other two don’t quite pull it off.

Interestingly, the shortest of the three stories is the most successful. In “The Pirate,” Carola Dunn solves the shortness problem very cleverly. Alicia, Viscountess Ransome is delighted that her two young daughters are a success. Eighteen year old Emily and seventeen year old Frederica have made quite a splash in London, winning the admiration of even so high a stickler as Mrs. Drummond-Burrell. At Almack’s one evening, the widowed viscountess notices that she has attracted the attention of a gentleman and, to her amazement, recognizes “Pirate” Pendragon, the man she has loved all her life.

Dunn than takes us back to 1781 when five year old Alicia first met eight year old Peter Pendragon. We see the two grow up together and we see them separated by family considerations. Thus, we really get to know the characters and see their relationship develop in the most charming way. “The Pirate” is a charming “second chance at love” story.

Valerie King takes another approach to the “falling in love” problem. Her heroine, Alexandra Peatling, saw Lord Rotherby five years earlier in Bath and was entranced by his person and the kind way he treated his young, natural daughter. Despite his reputation as a rogue, she has held his picture in her mind and it has kept her from accepting any of her suitors.

Now, she has come to his home with his niece, whose governess she is. Ernestine’s mother is trying to force her to marry a nasty old roue, and Alexandra is seeking her uncle’s help to prevent the marriage. She also hopes, it would seem, to either exorcise Rotherby’s image or perhaps to see if something more can develop.

Alexandra and Ernestine are pursued to Rotherby’s house by the latter’s ill assorted suitors and the former’s mother and nasty betrothed. Rotherby’s estranged mother also arrives. There is so much going on in this story that there is not much time for the romance to develop. I do wish that King had concentrated a bit more on the love story.

Isobel Linton’s tale, “The Rake” uses the “love at first sight” plot device to solve the problem of limited length. Serena Huntington has arrived at Castle Leighton to marry Alastair, Duke of Leighton, a man she has never met. Her family’s difficult financial circumstances make such a marriage necessary. As she arrives she glimpses two figures on the parapet. When she takes a long walk and gets lost, she encounters one of the gentlemen at the local inn. She assumes he is the duke.

In fact, her rescuer is Lord Jack Leighton, the duke’s rakish younger brother. Realizing that her prospective husband does not recognize her, she gives a false name and agrees to accompany him to visit a local ruin. She also allows him to kiss her and tumbles into love. For his part, Jack is amazed to find himself enamored with the charming young woman. But then he discovers her true identity and feels betrayed. I must admit that Jack’s reaction didn’t ring completely true to me and that the end seemed both rushed and too dependent on coincidence.

I enjoyed “The Pirate” very much but found the other two stories less satisfying. Hence the three heart rating.

--Jean Mason


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