A Touch Wicked
by Katrina Kendrick
Remember to bring your mask, for this is a masquerade unlike any other…
He’s London’s most eligible bachelor
James Grey, the Earl of Kent, is at the top of every debutante’s list for marriage. He’s handsome, titled, rich as Croesus, and on the lookout for a bride. When an invitation to the Masquerade — an illicit club where members carry on affairs in complete anonymity — arrives on his doorstep, it seems like a last chance to revel in bachelorhood. But after he meets the mysterious Selene, he gets more than he bargained for.
She’s keeping a secret identity
Emma Dumont is a commoner. An illegitimate nobody with desires far too lofty for her station — including a hopeless infatuation with James Grey, who also happens to be her employer. When she overhears his plans to attend the Masquerade, she decides to act: go under the guise of a lady, seduce him, and spend one night in his arms. As it turns out, one night isn’t enough.
They are an explosive pair
The arrangement is supposed to be straightforward: anonymous lovemaking, strictly no attachments. But matters of the heart are a lot more complicated . . .
Recently I talked about my relationship with the Romance genre and how it’s a genre I’d like to read more of, and the same night I wrote that blog post I went to bed and sped through this Historical Romance novella.
To be honest, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I didn’t think I’d hate it by any means, but Historical Romance is a genre I’ve been so wary of for so long that I was worried I might find myself reading some issues with consent or with descriptions of rippling pectorals that would make me roll my eyes. I needn’t have been worried, though, because Katrina Kendrick is the Romance pseudonym for SFF author Elizabeth May, and if you follow her on Twitter you’ll know how much of a brilliantly feminist voice she is in that community.
A Touch Wicked is such an easy read. I was pulled through this story set in 19th century England, in which servant Emma Dumont finds a way to attend a masquerade ball, dedicated to giving people a private space to sleep with one another with no strings attached, so she can seduce James Grey, the earl she’s been working for and pining after. Naturally, after one night together he wants to meet her again, and Emma must try to keep her true identity hidden when James begins to fall in love with her, knowing that class boundaries will get in the way of their happy ending.
I ended up loving the character work in this. I particularly loved James’s relationship with his family, the brother and sister he’s been forced to be more of a father to thanks to their parents’ turbulent relationship, and James himself was a likeable hero. He is flawed, but when people point out that he’s being a prat, whether it’s Emma or one of his siblings, he learns from his mistakes.
Emma, too, was a likeable character, and I loved that she and James’s sister, Alexandra, wrote pamphlets together to promote suffrage and call out the misogyny in 19th century Britain, especially as Emma has more of a working class perspective. Having said that, I would have loved it if Emma were a little more working class. She can read and write and speak French and English fluently (although considering she was born and raised in France, that’s understandable!) but while she is lower in status than her employers she is still the illegitimate daughter of an English lord and his French mistress, meaning that while she is technically working class she tends to get on better with people such as the Greys than the rest of the staff in the house. The one other worker we meet is the Greys’ butler, who Emma tells us doesn’t like her very much because she’s neither working class nor upper class.
I feel like there’s a real lack of working class people in fiction like this, so I would have loved Emma to have been a little rougher around the edges. I did like her friendship with Alexandra, though!
My only other slight issue with this book is the whole ‘hidden identity’ element. I actually think the idea is really fun, and I love the idea of someone taking advantage of the opportunity to spend the night with someone with no strings attached in a sex positive, consensual environment. Consent was given on both sides here, but while James thinks he’s sleeping with a stranger Emma already knows exactly who he is and I had to ask myself: if their roles were reversed, would I find this uncomfortable?
I think I probably would. The whole idea of this ball is for anonymous hook-ups, so if a man used it as an opportunity to get into the pants of a woman he knows without her knowledge I’d probably find it quite creepy.
Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a sex positive book and I love how Emma often took control when the two of them were intimate, and how she points out just how difficult it is for women in the 19th century to be sex positive at all. James doesn’t need to go to a masquerade ball to sleep with as many women as he wants to – he’s a wealthy white man, he can do what he likes – whereas women like Emma literally need to don a mask to live out the kind of fantasies James can have whenever he likes. Still, I feel like I had to point that out – if your partner thinks they’re sleeping with a stranger when you really know who they are, can they really give consent?
That aside, this was a fun, fast-paced, sex positive read, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the rest of the Grey family in Kendrick’s other work.