Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Wicked Designs by Lauren Smith

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Godric, the Duke of Essex is part of a group known as The League of Rogues, whose only pursuit is pleasure and whose exploits are well-known to all the ladies through the gossip columns. They are all men of means and consequences and, while it may look like they take everything lightly, The League of Rogues protect their own and will exact their pound of flesh if necessary.

Such is the case of Emily Parr, whom the League has kidnapped because of her Uncle Albert's debt against Godric. Godric had meant it to be a ruthless and cold-blooded act but, when he finally comes face to face with his captive, he begins to have second thoughts about his intentions. Emily takes him and the rest of The League by surprise: she is dauntless in her attempts to escape, fearless in the face of these men, and disarmingly beautiful and innocent. Godric and his friends are out of their element: they don't know if they ought to fall in love with her or tickle her or throttle her --

It is a similarly strange experience for Emily, who has lived an isolated and lonely life with her uncle since her parents died tragically. She is on her way to London for her first Season, hoping to make a match so that she can finally access her inheritance and enjoy a little bit of freedom. When she wakes up in Godric's house, her first (and second, and third) instinct is to escape but, as she gets to know The League better, she realises that her captivity might not be such a bad thing after all.

Wicked Designs is the first book in Lauren Smith's The League of Rogues series and introduces the five gentlemen: Godric, Cedric, Charles, Ashton and Lucien -- all quite young, titled, and handsome. Usually, books in a series would focus on individual members but Smith has chosen to keep all five rogues as active participants in Godric and Emily's story. I see this as both a plus and a minus. On one hand, we see the dynamics of the League and the unique personality of each member. (Ashton stands out as being the sensitive and perceptive one.) The author does a good job of giving each member his own voice and identity and I am already very curious about Lucien and Horatia's backstory. (Horatia is Cedric's sister.)

All five members are attracted to Emily and some of the members have seriously considered pursuing her -- and, if the rules of The League are any indication, this is not the first time it has happened. It's clear what these gentlemen love and it's clear what they are, rogues. What makes The League interesting is that they know who they are and don't apologize for it. "We're rakes not bastards. We seek to love women, not spurn them." (loc 1034)

On the other hand, the romance falls on the wayside as the emphasis of the story seems to be on the camaraderie within the group and how Emily fits in. With so many characters and conversations, I thought this story dragged a little and Emily and Godric's relationship wasn't developed as deeply or as convincingly. Granted, the author did share a bit of Godric's backstory (via Ashton) but I didn't think Emily and Godric interacted enough to merit an "I love you" declaration so quickly.

There is already conflict between Godric and Emily: Is it Love or Lust? Should she stay or go? Etc -- but things becomes more complicated when a man named Blankenship enters the picture. This man is the epitome of villainy and evil intentions. It makes Emily's situation very difficult: if she stays with Godric, her reputation will be beyond repair and she will be living with a man who desires her but not love her. But, if she escapes, her uncle will marry her to Blankenship. She is truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

There's a lot to enjoy in Lauren Smith's first foray into writing historical romance -- one scene especially stands out (and is the reason why I will follow this series). Emily encounters Evangeline, Godric's former mistress and this is the conversation:

"It is not an easy decision, I understand. You are a pawn in other men's games. Although I am loath to admit it, at the moment, I am as well. Pawns are always sacrificed. It is not fair, but that is our lot, n'est pas? ..."

Evangeline was right. ... What choice did she have? She was a pawn.

"The thing about pawns," Emily said, almost to herself, "is if they reach the other end of the board, they become a queen."

A smile flitted across Evangeline's lips. "You play chess. Tres bien. ... You are a beautiful girl, and I believe you are no fool. You can find a protector." Again, she paused, as though lost in memories. "It is how I survived. I am still crossing the board, as it were."
- loc 3369 to 3381

I felt the story was a bit too long and it took too long for the conflict to be resolved, despite an opportunity presenting itself in an early chapter (Chapter 9) -- but there's something about Smith's storytelling that keeps you interested and reading until the very end. Overall, a good read.

To find out more about Lauren and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the author. Yes, this is an honest review.


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