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Vivienne Taylor is breathing a sigh of relief: she has secured the much-needed proposal from John Vandergrift, which will save her father from financial ruin. All she needs to do is to behave like a perfect and virtuous lady until the wedding. This proves difficult because Vivienne isn't naturally mild and meek (it's an act) and becomes even more difficult when her neighbour, childhood friend and reluctant partner-in-crime, Lord Dashiell returns home from his expedition.
Lord Dashiell never looks for trouble, but trouble seems to follow him everywhere. On his first day home, he receives an unexpected visit from Vivienne, informing him that his uncle, the Earl, is running naked in her aunt's front garden -- said visit happens to coincide with a very loud confrontation between a French dancer and a Mrs. Harmon, who is throwing priceless artifacts at Lord Dashiell.
It's all the same but also strangely different, for Vivienne is no longer the young girl who sits and waits for Lord Dashiell to come home from his adventures -- she's grown up (quite beautifully) and is ready to have adventures of her own. And her first adventure is to discover who the man in the blue suit is and what he wants from her aunt. And Lord Dashiell is honor-bound (and blood-bound thanks to a childhood pact) to keep her safe.
The opening chapters of this book sets the tone: Aunt Gertrude's bible group, and a naked Earl streaking across the front lawn bordered on farcical but it also made an interesting commentary on religion and how it oppresses Vivienne.
In fact, it is a major theme in the story: Vivienne bears the burden of having to please so many people. She needs to help her father and sisters. She needs to please her Aunt, whom she lives with. She needs to please her fiancé, who will save her father and her family. What is sad about Vivienne is that, not once, does she consider pleasing herself.
Could the future wife of John Vandergrift excuse herself to the privy and escape? Would that be the action of a Biblically virtuous wife?
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Lord Dashiell is the only freedom she experiences in her life. From childhood to now, she has allowed herself to pursue the things she really loves and it is Lord Dashiell who has encouraged her. So it comes as no surprise that Vivienne is in love with him.
While our heroine is free to dream, she is not free to do -- and she struggles with her feelings for Lord Dashiell with all the lessons in propriety that she has been taught her entire life. On top of her personal troubles, she has to contend with a mysterious man who is causing her Aunt Gertrude a lot of trouble. Vivienne does not expect that her "harmless" inquest will bring her into the dark and seedy parts of St. Giles and of the world of prostitutes. Vivienne is obviously out of her element and this experience is the acid test that will reveal Vivienne's strength of character and, at the same time, reveal the truth about the people around her, exposing the hypocrisy that existed within her small group and of society, as a whole.
Wicked Little Secrets highlights the very difficult demands society has on young ladies and the very clever and creative ways these young ladies will find to bend the rules.
I was a little uncomfortable with all the lies that Vivienne was telling -- and I didn't like how she was abasing herself to John but I thought Susanna Ives was able to convey her plan all along: to contrast between Vivienne's behaviour when she was with Lord Dashiell and when she was with John. Our heroine is a well-meaning, very earnest girl who is, admittedly, a little bit unsophisticated and naive -- but her heart is in the right place and she deserves her happiness. And that happiness is with Lord Dashiell.
Lord Dashiell's character and background isn't as complicated: he knows he's a rake and knows that rakes should stay away from innocent young ladies like Vivienne, but Vivienne is irresistible: she's beautiful, intelligent and she's Vivienne -- the one person who has made his stay in London bearable and worthwhile.
"If I really loved Vivienne, I wouldn't love Vivienne. She is the one female I care about whom I haven't hurt, and I'm keeping it that way."
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He feels something for Vivienne but is trying to deny that it is love, even when it is very obvious to everyone (including his uncle). All throughout the novel, Lord Dashiell is fairly consistent in his internal conflict -- but there is one moment (Chapter 15) when he acts so out-of-character that I wanted to hit him over the head because of his boorishness. (Then I didn't like how he justified it with a "scarred by childhood memories" explanation. Sigh~)
The mystery of the man in the blue suit was a strong point in this story, though it got a bit complicated with all the personalities involved:
1. Lawrence James, the famous painter,
2. Aunt Gertrude and Vivienne's late uncle, Jeremiah,
3. Mr. Teakesbury,
4. Mrs. Angelica Fontaine,
The missing James's paintings, the blackmail, how everything directly affects Vivienne -- Susanna Ives created quite a tangled web of intrigue that has spanned over 20 years and it is being unraveled by our hero and heroine. I thought the author resolved this quite nicely and it was quite satisfying to see all the pieces fall into place at the end of the book.
I would have loved to read more of Lord Dashiell's uncle, the Earl of Baswiche -- and I thought his character could have been explored more: he served as the jester but he also made very accurate observations about the situation Vivienne and Lord Dashiell found themselves in.
Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives will be released on December 3, 2013. To find out more about Susanna Ives and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC copy through Netgalley. Thank you to Susanna Ives and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.