Monday, March 17, 2014

ARC Review: The Wicked Widow Meets Her Match by Stefanie Sloane

Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon, release date: April 1, 2014
Click here to pre-order the paperback at The Book Depository

I've followed this sub-series and was drawn in by the mystery of Sophia's mother's murder, which has haunted the four friends and started a pact to find the killer that would consume them their entire adult lives. It was a curious case: a locked room scenario -- and hints that the motive for this crime ran deeper and had a farther reach than any of the children could have imagined. As the investigation continued, more clues were unearthed and it was finally concluded that a dangerous gang known as the Kingsmen were involved.

Then Stefanie Sloane picks up the momentum when focus shifts to the Kingsmen and how truly nefarious an organisation it was -- I loved reading about the structure of this criminal syndicate and was fascinated by its inner workings.

Then you have the three Young Corinthians involved who, together with their childhood friend, Sophia, had been the first at the scene of the crime -- it was a moment that changed their lives forever.

Finally, all would be revealed in this book, Langdon's story and there were three reasons why I was looking forward to reading this:
1. I wanted to find out who killed Sophia's mother.
2. I wanted to see how the problem of the Kingsmen would be resolved.
3. After being "jilted" by Sophia (in favour of his own brother), I wanted to read Langdon's happy ending.

After the novel opens with Grace and the murder of her husband by the Kingsmen, it is followed by a rather long (and very detailed) summary of what has happened so far. It's understandable why the author decided to do this, considering that it's been more than a year between the last book and this one -- still, I'm not a fan of the idea of an info dump, especially at the beginning of a much-awaited story.

The story finally becomes interesting when Langdon is tasked to make contact with Grace Crowther, the widow of Dr. Rupert Crowther, a suspected Kingsmen. She "witnessed" her husband's death and has been in hiding from the Kingsmen since then. What baffles the Young Corinthians is what the Kingsmen would want from Grace, who, from the reports they've gathered, lived a quiet, withdrawn life and had no connection to her husband's dealings with the gang. Grace has a very tragic backstory: she was gambled away by her father (a duke) in a game of cards and it was the doctor who won her in that game. From then, her life turned from bad to worse with the doctor being just as uncaring and abusive as her own father -- add to that her ruined reputation and the shame of her fall from society. But Grace has managed to make the best of her life: cultivating a group of trusted friends and saving what little she has in hopes of, one day, escaping from this life.

Grace had done many things differently when she first came to 3 Bedford Street. She'd still been nothing more than an optimistic, foolish girl, full of hope for her future despite all that had transpired. Yes, hers had been a childhood filled with the unpleasant effects of a father too fond of drink and gambling. And it was true he'd offered her up in a game of cards after spending every last coin he had, only to lose.

Still, Grace had held tight to her hope, believing the doctor could be a kind, caring man underneath his cold, leering facade.

She'd been proven wrong, of course, many times.
- loc 407

The attraction between Langdon and Grace is instant -- and this did not sit well with me. First, Grace is newly-widowed (only three weeks). I know it could be justified that her husband was not a kind man and theirs was not a happy marriage etc., but I think it diminished a bit of Grace's personal honour to entertain another man so soon. Second, the attraction seems to only be physical. It is Grace's beauty that draws Langdon in -- although Langdon does talk about how strong and amazing Grace is and how much he admires her for what she has gone through. There's just something a bit ... off ... about how their relationship starts. Last, Langdon gives Grace a fake name, so Grace knows him as Langdon Clark, leader of the Hills Crossing gang, from Liverpool.

I especially wondered about the third point. It's a relationship based on a lie and I can't help but feel disappointed about this fact: I know that Langdon needed to get close to the Kingsmen and Grace was the key, but:
1. Given that Langdon is a peer, wouldn't the Kingsmen have known who he was?
2. Given that Grace is the daughter of a duke, wouldn't she know who Langdon was?
3. Couldn't anyone have investigated if the Hills Crossing gang really exist in Liverpool?

I felt sorry for Grace, who is trusting Langdon with her life and her future -- and she has no clue that he lied about who he was. I know that Langdon's alter-ego is meant to be an added layer (and complication) to his relationship with Grace: how could she love another criminal? How different would Langdon be from her late husband? (There's a very convenient conversation between Grace and Mrs. Templeton wherein they try to justify the attraction in Chapter 11.)

For all of the questions in this novel, there are very brilliant moments in this story: the presence of the Queen in the Kingsmen and the introduction of Marcus Mitchell. In my humble opinion, Marcus steals the show. A lawyer who is bound by a debt to serve the Kingsmen -- and he happens to be an expert marksman and a good friend to Grace. His character and backstory are very compelling and I would love, love, love to read more about him. In truth, his scenes were the best written in this particular story.

He was counting the days until he had paid off a debt he owed to the gang and then he would leave the city, bound for America, where he would be able to practice law without the threat of retaliation and a damaged reputation lingering in the air.

They were two of a kind. And when he'd told her that the Kind would not let him go, Grace had cried for him -- and for herself, too.
- loc 1221

The introduction of the Queen is an interesting development in Sloane's series. As I've mentioned earlier, I love the idea of the Kingsmen and I also love that Sloane uses chess as the metaphor for this organisation. I love the idea of the Queen, whom outsiders would think serves a supporting role to the King, but, in reality, the Queen is the most powerful and most versatile piece on the board. I'm trying to imagine how the series would be if her character was introduced earlier (maybe in book 2 or 3) but I also appreciate the plot twist it presents in Langdon's story.

While this was not my favourite romance story in the series, Langdon's book does what it was intended to do: resolve everything that was unresolved in the previous stories. I was satisfied with how Sloane solved the mystery of Sophia's mother's murder and enjoyed how Langdon and the Young Corinthians dismantled the Kingsmen.

My favourite scene in the book?
"Now, Mr. Clark," she said firmly, watching as he stood upright and turned around. "If you will have a seat?"

"Once you are seated, my lady," he replied, and waited.

"I am no longer a lady, Mr. Clark," Grace told him. "And I will stand."
- loc 651

The Wicked Widow Meets Her Match is book 6 in Stefanie Sloane's Regency Rogues series and book 3 in the sub-series involving the murder of Sophia's mother and will be released on April 1, 2014. To find out more about Stefanie Sloane and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received this ARC via Edelweiss. Thank you to Stefanie Sloane and to Ballantine Books/Random House for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.


  1. Hi, Ki! If you've been following the series, then it's a must-read. ^_^



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