I knew if I excavated the TBR Pile Of 2009 that eventually my patience would be rewarded. Whew. I was starting to fear I’d entered some odd black hole of genre quality, but Liz Carlyle saved me. Remember when I was expressing my distaste of the hermetically sealed heroine? Zoe Armstrong is anything but a shining example of rectitude. I’m kind of going to gush, so let’s get the negative out of the way early. Why does a heroine with sexual agency so often have the uncaring whore for a mother? You don’t need Mommy Issues to get your freak on. (Not that Zoe is that freaky, except for the whole brothers thing.)
Alright, let’s just get into it. Zoe’s mom was a paid sex worker, I mean mistress, of her father. She wasn’t even English! (Eye roll for hot blooded as veiled racism / race diversity allusions.) She happily traded infant Zoe for a roll of banknotes and went on with her life. (I feel another essay coming on here – it would detail the glorification and victimization of women in the sex trade by genre convention. Hey, why don’t you go read Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd instead? Save us both.) So Zoe is parked with some less than interested child care workers and the result is that even after the application of a caring step mother Zoe is a woman who has decided to live down to the expectations of others. You want sexy? You want scandal? You want self destruction? Zoe’s got it.
On the other side of the coin is Stuart, known as Mercer since he attained his title as a boy. A distant cousin, Mercer has stood outside the circle of Zoe’s childhood bond with his brother Robin. First too old to be interested, then old enough to know better, Mercer has long viewed Zoe as the addiction he just can’t afford. Often stepping in to keep her from destroying herself, Mercer keeps her on the edge of ruin until the night he finds her half dressed and straddling his brother at a party. Zoe and Robin have already realized they don’t actually want to have angry sex, but it’s too late. Marriage surely follows such an indiscretion. A seasoned genre reader cynically expects this to be the point at which Mercer steps up to offer himself as the sacrificial spouse, but Carlyle isn’t letting anyone off that easily.
Robin and Zoe retire to their own private hell as the cost of their self destructive impulse plays out in both their lives. Mercer can only stand by and watch them both fall apart. Despite their deep love they do not make a healthy pair. It’s that exploration of a bad romance that makes Wicked All Day so refreshing. Zoe does not castigate herself for stepping outside of her engagement with Robin for a few moments with Mercer because she abhors her sexuality, she castigates herself for her disloyalty. Mercer does not express anger at Zoe for her physical impulses, he is angry at her lack of foresight and her unerring ability to diminish herself through her romantic partners. Robin is not evil, or cunning, he’s just wrong for Zoe and she for him. It was refreshing to read about reality based conflict in a romance about personal growth where there are neither saints nor sinners, just people finding their way. (Ok, I take it back. There is a saint and a sinner both in Wicked All Day, but neither of them are members of the primary triangle.)
I’ve got another Carlyle in my TBR and one in my ARC stash. We might be on a roll here. Unfortunately, Wicked All Day is Agency. You can order the e-book for $8 USD or a paper copy for $3 shipped. (I can’t help publishers that don’t want my help. Would that be Publishers Anonymous or Agency Anonymous? It is to ponder.)