4 stars

Historical Romance Review: Angel in Scarlet by Jennifer Wilde

Angel In Scarlet
Angel In Scarlet, Jennifer Wilde, Avon, 1985, Elaine Duillo cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

The Book – Angel In Scarlet

Jennifer Wilde, aka Mr. Thomas E. Huff, wrote a few bodice rippers before writing romances that weren’t bodice rippers but not quite traditional romances either.

Angel In Scarlet isn’t a bodice ripper. It’s a Georgian-Era chick-lit. This is a hard one to categorize. It’s not just a romance, but more of a heroine’s journey through life and her relationships with several men she meets along the way.

The Plot

Angel in Scarlet begins when our heroine Angela Howard is a child. At twelve years old, she meets Hugh, the man who will haunt her for her entire life. They have a strange first meeting: she’s a peeping Tom trying to catch an eyeful of some action, when Hugh, who’s 16, discovers her then gives her a spanking as a discipline!

Angela grows up with her cruel sisters and mother. Poor Angie, she’s so unattractive with her rich, chestnut hair, violet-gray eyes, and enormous boobies. Who would ever love her?

She goes through ups and downs. Angela carves her way into society, falls in love, and has her heart broken. She then moves to London to make it big as an actress. She gets married and is widowed, her heart broken once more.

Three men vie for Angela’s love: Hugh Bradford, the bastard son of a nobleman, whose passion for Angela is surpassed only by his desire for legitimacy & a title. There’s the arrogant womanizer, Lord Clinton Meredith, Hugh’s half-brother, who is more than what he seems. And last, the famous playwright, James “Jamie” Lambert, has a tumultuous professional and personal career with Angela.

Highlight to View Spoilers Below

In the end, Angela picked the last man I thought she should be with. It broke the rules to end up with the guy she did, but that’s what Mr. Huff was good at, breaking the rules. I can’t forget how shocked I was at the end of Love Me, Marietta.

So it was the “right” choice because the man she loved could never be content with just loving her.

(Highlight the white area below to read spoilers.)

Past the age of thirty, a person shouldn’t blame their parents for their shortcomings, yet Hugh had a rough childhood, so I couldn’t fault him. His life was so difficult, and he had nothing except his dreams. They were absolutely shattered at the end. He got what he wanted, but it wasn’t worth it without Angela.

Still, I felt bad for him. I guess that’s the mark of a good writer if you can make your “villain” sympathetic. He was single-minded and wrong, but Angela was so harsh because he wanted to get his fortune. Finished! Angela, you broke that man’s heart! He was cruel and misguided, but he loved you. After what happened to Clinton, she had every right to be. Clinton was not the man for her, but I loved him. He was so sweet (plus a blond) and got teary-eyed when he made his exit.

As for Jamie, he was a great character, but Angela lived with him for years and never realized she loved him until they were through. Certainly not the kind of epic love you’d expect in a romance. I wish Hugh hadn’t turned into a jerk for her to have to make that decision.

The scene where Jamie revealed his true feelings for Angela was fantastic, and if it had been more of those, I don’t think I’d feel as conflicted.

Let’s Get It On

Wilde never met a word that wasn’t a friend. Adverbs, adjectives, subjective clauses, it’s all there, and then some! One particular passage struck out to me as ridiculously cartoony:

We ate slowly, looking at each other the whole while, silent, anticipating, savoring the sensations building, mounting inside. Utterly enthralled I watched him eat chicken, his strong white teeth tearing the flesh apart, and it was thrilling, tantalizing. I observed the way his neck muscles worked when he swallowed his wine, and that was thrilling, too and I watched with fascination as his large brown hand reached out, fingers wrapping around a fuzzy golden-pink peach, clutching it. He took up a knife and carefully peeled the peach and divided it into sections and ate them one by one, his brown eyes devouring me as he did so. The tip of his tongue slipped out and slowly licked the peach juice from his lips…

ANGEL IN SCARLET

I think this was supposed to be a sensually-tinged scene like the one out of the film “Barry Lyndon.” As for me, I was reminded of the “3rd Rock From the Sun” Thanksgiving episode where Harry and Vicki have leftover foreplay, eating turkey legs and dipping their fingers in gravy. Then Harry puts a turkey carcass on his head, and the loving begins.

“3rd Rock From the Sun,” Carsey Werner Company/NBC

Final Analysis of Angel in Scarlet

This was the story of the rise of actress Angela Howard and her (not too many) loves.

At 600 pages long, Jennifer Wilde’s Angel in Scarlet runs a tad overlong. That might have been due to Wilde’s penchant for purple prose, clothes porn, and food porn. Sex porn? Nah, Wilde uses a stream of consciousness perspective and euphemisms for love scenes. Hardly porn.

Mr. Wilde could have cut out 100 pages of description. I didn’t need to know the details of every outfit worn by every character in every scene.

Although I enjoyed it, I’m not 100% certain Angela made the right decision in the end.

I wanted to hate this, but something about Huff’s writing pulled me in. Yes, it’s as purple as grape jelly and full of run-on sentences, but for some reason, I can tolerate it more than Kathleen Woodiwiss’ prose. The tension of not knowing who Angela was going to choose and the resulting emotions when she did are feelings I won’t forget.

3.88 stars

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