Wicked Wallflowers, Book #4
Heat Factor: Regency romance fare
Character Chemistry: emotionally solid
Plot: Everybody calm down while we figure out the return of the lost heir
Overall: Heavy but satisfying
Christi Caldwell was everywhere for me in 2019, so I finally decided to pick up one of her books. “The Bluestocking,” I said to myself. “That sounds suitably nerdy. Plus there’s a marquess.”
Well. This book was an angst rollercoaster. At first I really didn’t feel like “bluestocking” was an appropriate label for Gertrude, because she doesn’t seem particularly bookish as the story progresses. But when her love of books and learning are considered in the broader picture, particularly when compared to her siblings and their collective inauspicious beginnings, I figured I’d buy it.
It’s basically a governess book.
Gertrude is a member of the Killoran family (tracked in the Wicked Wallflowers series), and after years of being underestimated and treated as fragile by her family, she finally decides to grow a spine when their adopted brother, Stephen, is called to take his rightful place as heir to the Marquess of Maddock. I had not read the prior books in this series, and apparently some things go down between Edwin, the Marquess, and Gertrude’s brother Roderick, who may have been responsible for all the bad things that happened to the Marquess leading to his child being kidnapped. While it might be fun to read this series all the way through, I wasn’t bothered by not having done so.
Stephen likes both of Gertrude’s sisters better than he likes her, because they’ve got bigger personalities. But Gertrude, as the sort of bluestocking governess, took care of Stephen when he was young, and she realizes how traumatic the adjustment from gaming hell to Mayfair is going to be for him–especially since he’s not allowed to have any contact with any member of his “family” ever again. So Gertrude DGAF what Maddock says, she’s going to take Stephen to his new home. And when she gets there, she’s going to stay there. Take THAT, Mad Marquess.
Lord Angst–I mean Edwin–is one of the most loving fathers I’ve ever read in a romance. Naturally, though, he has no idea what to say to the son he hasn’t seen since Stephen/August was four, and he makes Pronouncements like things are going to go his way Because He Said So. It is a really good thing Gertrude is there so he can get to know his son again. And also fall in love again. Unfortunately he’s falling in love with the daughter of his sworn enemy. And she was born in the gutter. So that’s an issue.
There is a good deal of heavy emotional content in this book, which is not typically something I enjoy, but for some reason I was really able to sympathize with Edwin–and Gertrude, too, but mostly with Edwin–and I really liked it. Edwin is estranged from everyone since his wife and unborn child died and his older son was taken from him. His in-laws, including his wife’s brother, who had been his best friend, blame Edwin for his wife’s death. He’s withdrawn from society, so he has no social network. He desperately loves his son but has been away from him for more years than he was with him, and he doesn’t know what to do. All that’s keeping him going is the rage he feels toward the Killorans, whom he holds responsible for his agony.
I did have a hard time with a line of reasoning that a marquess would be rejected as unsuitable for a duke’s daughter, so I didn’t necessarily buy the antipathy with the in-laws, but details. The marriage wasn’t very good (because of course), so that can be reason enough, I suppose.
Gertrude enters with grace, poise, and emotional maturity, empathizing with both Stephen (who is a tween, by the way), and Edwin as they grapple with the changes in their lives and the need to get to know each other again after so many years apart. Edwin resents the need to have to go through this at all, having been cheated of his son’s childhood. Stephen is unconvinced that he’s anything but an heir to his father, who struggles to show affection. Gertrude allows them to be who they are while still moving them closer together, and of course she loves them.
The typical points I find particularly swoon-worthy in romance novels weren’t necessarily present in this book. (Edwin is no Derek Craven, after all.) But the emotional depth was hitting all the right notes as three strangers made a family.
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