Beauty & the Spy

The Runaway Duke

Ways to be Wicked
by Julie Ann Long
(Warner Forever, $6,50, R) ISBN 0-446-61687-7
Books like this are what make historicals worth reading.

Sylvie Lamoureaux is looking for something more in her life. Being a prima ballerina is wonderful, but she fears her lover may be ready for something a little permanent. So, only having recently discovered the existence of her sister, Lady Susannah Grantham, Sylvie sees this as the perfect opportunity to get away from her lover Etienne and reconnect with her family. But what Sylvie doesn't know is that Susannah is at that moment coming to Paris and all of London is claiming to be the missing Sylvie.

Of course, for someone as resourceful as Sylvie that wouldn't be a problem, except that her coach is robbed, and she's left with nothing but the clothes on her back and the name of her seat mate. Without identification she has no recourse but to seek out Tom Carpenter. And when she does, she's stunned to find that he not only runs a burlesque house, but also expects her to work for her keep. A prima ballerina flipping up her skirt to shake her bottom at a crowd of lustful men? Unthinkable. But a woman does, as a woman must to survive.

Sylvie and Tom are a delight. From the first moment they meet, Sylvie keeps him on his toes. She's either sticking him with a hidden knitting needle (in case strangers get too fresh) or kissing a bandit to save the coach. Tom knows there's more to her than meets the eye, but he just can't place it. And Tom himself isn't quite the open book, with rumors of a love child and more than a passing acquaintance with men such as the coach robber.

Sylvie is a refreshing heroine. She's independent, and believably so. Living as a ballerina has given her certain freedoms in the Regency era. She's also quite forward. Sylvie doesn't let the rumors stand between Tom and her. She's direct with him, simply asking what she needs to know. In a genre filled with women as victims and big misunderstanding's Sylvie and Tom's relationship is a breath of fresh air. By the end of the book, I wasn't sure whom I loved more: the dashing Tom or spunky Sylvie.

Long weaves in many subplots throughout the story: Daisy, the aging dancer and her tumultuous relationship with show-runner "The General;" Molly, the jealous ingénue and her mysterious admirers and the mystery of Tom's backers suddenly losing interest. There are so many angles working here, a lesser writer might've had trouble securing ever loose end. Not Long, by the end of the book, the reader knows and cares about every secondary character just as much as they do Sylvie and Tom. Not an easy task for writer to accomplish, by any means.

Ways to be Wicked is a quick, laugh out loud read, perfect for those long winter nights. The reader leaves the story laughing, hopeful and feeling like they just left a great set of friends. What more can a writer hope to accomplish than that?

--Amanda Waters

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