Something Wicked - Jo Beverley Sigh. I'm a bit mixed up and muddled up about Something Wicked. This is the third in the Malloren series and features Lady Elfled Malloren and Fort Ware. Elf is the twin of Lord Cynric (My Lady Notorious) and Fort is the older brother of Chastity Ware (now Malloren - wife of Lord Cyn).

I'm not going to rehash the plot of the book other than to say the Jacobite plot to murder King George III and replace him with a Scottish king was interesting and kept my attention. I also enjoyed and appreciated the historical ambience of Georgian England that Ms. Beverley so skillfully has woven into all these first Malloren books. The fashions for both men and women, sedan chairs instead of carriages, barges traveling down the Thames all lent that air of being in Georgian England. "Shooting the bridge" (London Bridge) while in hot pursuit of a treasonous villain was a bit puzzling as I read it but sounded exciting. As a side note, I believe my puzzlement stems from thinking of the Thames as just placidly rolling along, but there were rapids caused by the current flowing around too close and irregularly placed arches and starlings or pier supports. Apparently, some brave souls or adrenaline junkies opted to "shoot the bridge" and it resulted in many lost lives.

As for Lady Elf, she seemed to lose a bit of personality after the unveiling of Lisette. I understand that she's bored, a bit lonely, and restless. Her longing to experience one wicked adventure as her twin, Cynric, encountered all his life by virtue of being male, Malloren and just by his adventurous spirit is also understandable. At 25 and unmarried she feels she lacks purpose in life. So she dons an outrageous scarlet and gold costume, goes to Vauxhall with her friend, Amanda, and becomes a French miss named Lisette. I enjoyed the scenes in which Lisette is evading an amorous admirer, and Lisette's interactions with Fort showed there was more to him than his near-villainous behavior as seen in "My Lady Notorious" and "Tempting Fortune." It's in this disguise that she realizes she is attracted to Fort despite his hatred of all things Malloren. As Lady Elf she and Ware are antagonistic, constantly butting heads. But as Lisette, there is laughter, teasing, passion between the two and these scenes were engaging.

Fort is not easy to like. I hated that he stood by and let his father abuse Chastity in "My Lady Notorious" as well as his threatened rape of Portia, his childhood friend, in "Tempting Fortune". The latter was especially appalling as it was part of his "getting back at the Mallorens" mindset. Rape is wrong, no matter what circumstances, but it felt even more disgusting because his target was a long-time friend who just happened to marry a Malloren. Although redemption of Fort is attempted in "Something Wicked", it just never felt complete because of the way he treats Elf after he finds out she's Lisette and his mysterious conversion.

First he is scathing in his insults to her, including providing a running account of Elf's debauchery to Rothgar and Cyn. If he had cared one iota for her, I don't think he could have been so cold and cruel. Second, when Elf pursues him relentlessly (and I'll get to that), he pursues another woman for marriage after making it clear that he will not ever marry Elf. (And there's an implication that women are interchangeable like waistcoats.) Despite the possibility of an illegitimate child. He leaves the country without a word, and she finds out through gossip. His nickname for her is "Vespa" or wasp. Yes, nothing says love like an endearment meaning "I think you're a pesky insect whose sting hurts like hell." Lastly, despite her continued attempts to see/speak to him, he rebuffs her at every turn. That doesn't sound like "love" or "attraction" to me. It does read "active dislike", however.

As for Elf, she bothered me in trying to create a more romantic version of Fort than was actually true and offering excuse after excuse for his rudeness, his cold uncaring actions. She sends him flowers, and she's encouraged he didn't throw them out. She sends him a ring; he returns it. She writes poetry to him; he makes absolutely no effort to see her. If it were me, I think I could have figured out he's just not that into me, to paraphrase a popular book/phrase. She finds out he's finally out in society, makes plans to be at the same function, and finds out he's practically engaged to a young miss currently taking London by storm. Does this deter her? No. No, it doesn't. I like when a a woman pursues a man. It's assertive, confident, and can be sexy as hell. But when the gentleman says he's not interested and shows zero interest, it borders on stalking to me.

I did understand Fort's anger at Rothgar who admits that he manipulated Fort into killing his father and then offered no support for him afterward. Rothgar recognized Fort's hatred of his father and assumed Fort could commit patricide without those pesky guilt feelings showing up later. As an added bonus, Rothgar didn't have to pull the trigger which made his life less challenging in dealing with court intrigue and schemes. But that was Rothgar, not Bryght, not Cyn, and not Elf. Fort's hatred of ALL Mallorens was not justified and bordered on irrationality, and unfortunately, his change of heart is completely offstage.

The last little wrinkle for me has to do with the ultimate resolution of hostilities between Elf and Fort. There is a separation of several months before this "HEA" is achieved. Just as suddenly as Fort scurries off to Italy, he returns and apparently has decided that Elf is the only woman for him. How did this happen? I never saw it. I wasn't privy to his thoughts and actions as he's navel gazing. I didn't read why or how Fort overcame his hatred of all Mallorens. Poof! He just shows up at the annual masquerade ball at Rothgar Abbey, seeks Elf out and coolly says they need to talk. On top of that, their reunion is about as passionate as watching paint dry on the walls. It was anticlimactic and completely lacking in emotion. Where was the passion?

But I did like Elf's struggle trying to find an identity for herself beyond being one of a set of twins, or Rothgar's sister, or a wealthy lady who's pursued for her fortune. I liked that she does reach a point of self-understanding that allows her to be comfortable just being Lady Elfled Malloren. By the end of the book, Lady Elf knows her likes and dislikes, knows she has worth beyond the Malloren name, and has begun to find some satisfaction, responsibility and adventure in running part of the Malloren empire.

So "Something Wicked" was very much a mixed bag for me. The parts I liked were terrific such as Elf's growth as a character, the historical ambiance, and the glimpses into Fort's past with his father which helped to explain some of his previous actions. While I was inclined to forgive those previous actions, Fort's continued mistreatment of Elf and an offstage change of heart regarding his hatred for all Mallorens meant an incomplete redemption. "Show, not tell" is an important element especially when trying to make a near villain into a hero. In "Something Wicked", there wasn't even a narrative of how he reconciled his guilt and anger about his father which leaves me feeling ambivalent to downright disappointed.