Converted to Romance: A Rogue by Any Other Name

February 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Before this year, I had exactly zero interest in reading romance novels. I had this deep-seated perception of romance novels as being tawdry, poorly written and full of vapid, fainting females and emotionally unavailable men – no thanks.

I’m not going to say I was wrong. I’m certain that there are some novels out there that live up to the stereotype I had in mind. But, thanks to the glory of the internet, I have found a whole world of romance novels that leave the outdated standard of the flimsy heroine in the dust.

I am in the habit of visiting Book Riot every day. I love their articles and their ideas for bookish gifts, and I’m always interested in their insightful book recommendations. Their article “Our First Time: The Books that Made Us Romance Readers” convinced me to finally give the genre a go. I decided to start with Sarah MacLean, purely because the cover art made her books seem more accessible and modern than some of the others on the list.

I expected to encounter a formulaic story with cookie-cutter characters that probably took itself too seriously. I expected to close the book and feel vaguely ashamed of having bought it in the first place. I also expected to feel proud of myself for at least attempting to break down my preconceived ideas about the genre, even if I did assume they were correct.

But A Rogue by Any Other Name was so, so good. I was addicted after the first chapter.

1In the opening pages of this novel, the first in a series of four, Sarah introduces us to the Marbury family. It would be impossible not to connect the Marburys to Bennets of Austenian lore; a number of sisters, a mother fearful that her daughters won’t marry well, and a father with an apparent disinterest in the goings-on of his family. I did enjoy the sly caricature that MacLean painted, because it ever-so-subtly harpooned the Bennets. It was almost as if she gave Austen a cursory nod, and then signalled to the reader “ditch your Austen-fixation, we’re moving on from here.”

“Penelope! Marriage proposals from wealthy, eligible young men do not blossom on trees!” Particularly not in January, I wouldn’t think.”

Penelope Marbury, the heroine of Rogue, suffered the scandal of a broken engagement some years ago. The eldest of her siblings, she may have cursed her sisters to spinsterhood, unless she can secure a suitable marriage for herself (cue histrionics from her mother). Penny is mostly unconcerned with marriage, except for the fact that it might hold her sisters back, so she finds herself considering a proposal from a very friend-zoned acquaintance.

At twenty-one, Michael Bourne lost his family’s land, Falconwell, in an ill-fated game of cards. In the years since that night, he has rebuilt his fortune, and is now one of the owners of The Fallen Angel, London’s most notorious gaming hell (casino). When he finds out that Falconwell has been added to Penelope Marbury’s dowry, he sees his opportunity to return the land to its rightful owners. In the most unromantic of negotiations, he marries Penny and thus commences their oddly unhappy marriage.

“Even now, even as she faced a lifetime with him, she thought of her sisters. She was legions too good for him.”

This is not how I thought a romance novel would begin. The love story – such as it was – took a back seat as the rest of the plot unfolded. Bourne is focused on exacting revenge upon the man who took his land from him in his youth, and coldly neglects his wife in the process. Penelope has accepted that her life with Bourne will not be a fulfilling one, but she’s determined to ensure her sisters’ marriages will be.

Summarising the plot of this book in its entirety would take away so much of the enjoyment of reading it. I do want to make mention of the setting, though – far from the parlours and garden walks of typical Regency romance, Rogue draws us into the world of the Fallen Angel, where aristocracy meets vice, and the lines of societal hierarchy are blurred. The characters, too, are another element that makes A Rogue by Any Other Name an outstanding book. All of the characters, from the hero and heroine to the background payers, are brought to life by snappy dialogue, well-balanced personalities and a healthy dose of humour.

I loved this book so much that I jumped straight into its sequel – One Good Earl Deserves A Lover – immediately after I finished it. And I loved One Good Earl even more. So more on that, and peculiar Pippa Marbury, in my next post.

I’m currently reading the third book in this series. I have enjoyed each even more than the last. Although I was surprised to find that Rogue broke away from many of the genre stereotypes I was expecting, there were still some that held true – namely, the hero and the heroine fall in love. A whole lot of other stuff happens too, making for a dynamic and exciting narrative, but it must be said – there is something really comforting about reading a book destined to have a happy ending.

Thanks for reading – feels good to write a review again. Stay tuned for more.

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