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There's Physics involved in the story of The Wicked Wallflower, specifically, of Newton's Third Law of Motion, the idea of action and reaction -- it's dazzling to see this brilliant theory at work, not just in theoretical objects, but in actual characters.
Action/Reaction #1: She's one of London's premier wallflower and he's London's most sought-after bachelors -- their paths would never have crossed, until a notice appears in the newspapers, announcing their engagement. It was written on a lark, one drunken night in which three lovely wallflowers were discussing their fates, and never should've seen the light of day -- but, now it's out there. Lady Emma Avery sees it as a scandal in the making, but, Blake Auden, the Duke of Ashbrooke, sees it as an opportunity to get the much-needed funds for his Difference Engine project.
He convinces Emma to join him in his Aunt Agatha's Annual Fortune Games. Emma is wary of Blake, but she needs to win the Fortune Games if she wants her dreams to come true: to marry her long-time love, Benedict, and to give her family some financial security. It's a few days of suffering Blake's company for a lifetime of (perceived) happiness, so Emma goes along with the charade. But the charade slowly stops being a charade, when Blake starts to see and appreciate Emma's quiet beauty and grace, and when Emma starts to see beyond Blake's arrogance and good looks -- and both decide that they want their pretend love story to be real -- but, can they make it so?
Action/Reaction #2: To the world, Blake seems to have everything going for him: he's a duke, he's reasonably wealthy and he's incredibly handsome -- so handsome, that the ladies have something they call "The Ashbrooke Effect" to describe his impact on people. But Blake is also an orphan, who lost his parents to a tragic mistake that could have been avoided. He's a man with numerous estates, but only considers one place home: his Aunt Agatha's house, and whose one constant anchor in life (Aunt Agatha) seems to have given up on him (by not writing or inviting him to the Fortune Games).
He was the Duke of Ashbrooke, which meant he was invited everywhere. Always. As a rule. Especially by his own aunt. Though all the facts dictated otherwise. He had been snubbed by the one person whose good opinion and favour mattered to him.
- Chapter 2
Blake knows he's led a really questionable life, but he's trying to change his ways and raise funds to build his Difference Engine, a machine that would solve human/mathematical errors. Unfortunately, no one want to bank on him because of his reputation. When the announcement appears in the papers, Blake sees it as a much-needed opening -- and he takes it.
While Blake tries very hard to impress Emma, she doesn't appear to be affected by his charm (outwardly, on the inside, however, is a different story) -- and it's a revelation for Blake. He realises that he cannot "finesse" his way through Emma's heart and really needs to work to get her to notice him, or to smile at him, or to accept him. It starts out as a novelty, but, our hero slowly realises he likes the person he is when he is with Emma.
I really loved Blake's character -- there's a surprising depth and humanity to his story and imagined him to still be a little lost boy at heart, and he needed a compass to find his way through life.
Blake said all of that, aware that no one heard him. People looked at him and saw duke or reckless scoundrel or notorious seducer. He supposed it was his fault; that was the version of himself he presented to the world. It was the version Emma -- and potential investors, and his peers -- had judged him on, before they even met.
In moments like these he began to regret all the brandy, women, and scandals.
When it really mattered, no one believed him.
- Chapter 7
There's a really wonderful scene towards the end, when Blake meets with his potential investors and he cites this particular law of Physics, and I was in awe of his eloquence and determination. This is Blake Arden, when he fully applies himself to doing something good.
"And I'm asking you to trust me," he said softly, the truth of it occurring to him as he spoke the words. "Every force possesses an equal and opposite reaction. My aunt didn't invite me to the games, for it was the most certain way to ensure my attendance. My previously outrageous behaviour rightfully caused you to withdraw your support from my project. true to the equation, I have responded with an equal and opposite reaction: I have reformed. Where I was once a drunken wastrel, I have become sober. Where I was once an unconscionable and unfaithful rogue, I have now become hopelessly infatuated with and devoted to my fiancee."
- Chapter 16
Action/Reaction #3: Emma is known is the "Buxom Bluestocking" and is London's Least Likely to Misbehave. In the beginning, she reacts to Blake the way all the other women do -- her knees weaken and her stomach turns into knots because of his physical appearance -- and it was easy for her to pretend not to be affected. But, as she discovers the Blake beyond the good looks, she experiences a very different variety of the "Ashbrooke Effect" -- and it's one that is a little harder to hide.
There's a love triangle in Emma, Benedict and Blake -- and, for once, I didn't mind that the scales were tipped heavily in Blake's favour: he isn't one to do things on a small scale, and really pours his whole self in every endeavour. I've seen grand declarations of love, but what Blake does is just amazing -- but, it's all grounded in sincerity and honesty.
"You'll just have faith, Emma, that my intentions are good and that I want you, and only you."
- Chapter 20
What this story captures perfectly is the exhilaration and the reward of taking the leap of faith -- Blake Auden was not the safest bet in the world, but I'm glad Emma chose him, because he won me over with his passion, resolve and clarity -- he was the only one to truly see how beautiful and worthy Emma was.
I will end this review with my favourite part of this book, and it's Aunt Agatha and the Fortune Games. Maya Rodale has a gift for making her secondary characters relevant. At The Fortune Games, we see a gamut of characters all vying for Aunt Agatha's money -- and they aren't cookie-cutter flat, but they all have very different stories. Aunt Agatha's story with her fourth (and favourite) husband was heartwarming, and Harriet Dawkins's story was a sobering look at what happened to women in those times who had little-to-no resources at their disposal.
Admittedly, this is not a story without flaws (the shifting POVs, and the too-modern language), but this is a story with so much joy and dynamism and fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be following this series.
The Wicked Wallflower is the first book in Maya Rodale's Bad Boys & Wallflowers series. To find out more about Maya Rodale and her books, click below: