Title: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
Author: Sarah MacLean
Genre: Regency Romance
How I got it: personal purchase
Where to buy it: From your local indie bookstore; from Powells; from the Book Depository.
In a nutshell: Our Hero's family gains an extra member when a spirited long-lost sister comes to town; his only hope for introducing her into good society and making her the belle of the haut ton is to rely on the patronage of Our Heroine, whose good breeding and spotless reputation will smooth over any scandal.
Little does he know that, armed with her new list of Nine Ways To Become a Spunky Heroine In A Sexist Society, she's chosen just this moment to throw off her bonnet and have a little fun!
Do the characters make you want to rip your own face off? No! At least not until well into the book, and then it's just the hero, mainly, which I will talk about!
Does the plot make sense? Yes! - but there's a bit of a trade-off in pacing due to the hero and heroine's reluctance to get together at the defiance of general logic.
Is the prose abysmal? Not at all! It's charming and light and quite well-written, very much in the best Regency romance pastiche style-- until you get to the any of the numerous sex scenes, wherein the writing suddenly becomes quite flowery, overly euphemistic, and very heavy on the heaving bosoms. But those sections were all very tongue-in-cheek, so it didn't really bother me. (To be fair, the internet and the intended audience will tell you that Sarah MacLean's sex scenes are smoking hot, so I am in the minority here.)
Does it end on a cliffhanger only designed to make you buy more books? No, but it did make me want to read the sequels. There is a definite setup for a plot that doesn't show up again til the third book in the series, I believe, and that's the one you'll want to get your mits on.
The Verdict: I really enjoyed this book. I found all of the characters, bar the hero, to be exceptionally engaging and endearing, and not in the odious way where the author keeps trying to show you family bonds by way of having the peripheral characters constantly telling the heroine and hero how they need to get together. This book had a lot of family conflict that felt very natural and well-handled, and by the end of it I really wanted to read the rest of the books in the series to find out what happens next to all of the other members of the cast.
Wanting to follow the family is almost unheard of for me regarding romances--in fact I generally tend to stay away from series romances for just this reason. But Nine Rules is perfectly fine as a standalone, and it's testament to the light, humorous, warm qualities of MacLean's writing and characterization that I was left wanting more.
However, I did have a ton of problems with the progression of the relationship between the two main characters, specifically with the fact that our hero more or less becomes an insensitive prick as the novel progresses.
Quibbles: Warning: book spoilers below the cut. semi-adult language ahead as well!
So here's my problem with this book. As the plot develops, our hero becomes less heroic and more like a self-centered asshole. It's rare that I dislike a romantic hero LESS as the book goes on, because normally the trope of the rake is that he gets less rakish as he falls in love, not more.
But growing increasingly familiar with our heroine just means that the hero of this novel feels free to be a bigger dick. Witness my two favorite examples:
A) That time he pulls her aside in the opera house, forcibly kisses her (she fights him at first - "fight" is the book's word, not mine) and slams her up against a wall for supposedly sexy times.
Then, when they're done making out, she's like, uh, excuse me, not okay? and he mocks her, all, "you know you enjoyed it."
Then she tries to slap him, because shit yeah if someone grabbed me, manhandled me, groped me, and refused to let me go, then mocked me for giving in and allowing myself to be kissed, I'd slap the shit out of him. But he stops her hand before it can find its mark, and then glowers at her like he's all righteously angry, which. EXCUSE ME, NO.
and THEN SHE FUCKING APOLOGIZES. TO HIM. FOR WANTING TO HIT HIM. DFJLAKSJDDJSAJSD;LDJ;ASKDS.
okay, deep breath.
The incident above is a pretty minor one in the scheme of things, and lord knows there are far more objectionable moments in eight zillion other romance novels, so I'm not saying SARAH MACLEAN YOU FAIL FOREVER or anything. But it was enough to make me go, UH, WHAT JUST HAPPENED? -- and from then on i was pretty downright pissed at our hero, because he has this habit of forcing his patronage on the heroine in the name of providing her a respectable chaperon.
Ah, the respectable chaperon, the gentlemen responsible for keeping her safe from men who would ravish her in out of the way hallways and carriages and --
-- OH, WAIT. >:E
Which brings me to my next example, B) The oh-so-lovely moment when our hero, having given our heroine several orgasms, proceeds to call her plain and unattractive, and mock her for having a crush on him.
Okay, i'm sorry, maybe that feels like a legitimate way to act around the girl you like when you're TWELVE. (There's also a moment when the hero STEALS A PIECE OF PAPER from the heroine, and, oh, no, WON'T GIVE IT BACK. seriously, TWELVE.)
But when you've actually just shagged someone? NO. NO. NO.
I am not obligated to like a hero who could say something like that about the woman he's in love with without any shame or twinge of conscience at all. No, wait, I take it back--he's sorry that she overheard him dissing her. But even then he's not really sorry about it until he realizes that, oh, wait, she's really beautiful after all. He's not sorry because he was a total asshole, he's sorry because he MISTAKENLY THOUGHT SHE WAS UGLY. because it totes would have been okay to sleep with an ugly chick and then complain about how ugly she was.
It's really, really, awkward enough that the 'love-makes-you-beautiful-in-my-eyes' trope is played up so much in this story. Throwing in the 'I-am-ashamed-of-our-love-for-no-good-re
The book also does a kind of handwave to sexual mores that seems more like flimsily applied attempts to keep the hero and heroine from getting together too quickly. By halfway through the book I was wondering what the problem was. They obviously wanted each other, they were obviously going to get married, so what were we all still doing here, again?
It was even less logical to me because the primary conflict hinged around him not wanting to cause any scandal while his sister was having her first season, so wouldn't the least scandalous thing of all be to MARRY A WOMAN OF SPOTLESS REPUTATION? But, okay, whatever, everything's a scandal in regency England, so we'll let that one go.
Except that it was KIND OF RIDICULOUS how many stupid reasons they found not to get together, especially when they were continually throwing themselves at each other. Like, okay. At one point the hero says something to the heroine like, 'oh, I'm sorry, I realize now that I've almost compromised you every time we've been together!'
sfk;kjksd;aj okay, wait. So far when you've been together, you've:
- made out with her in a private bedchamber
- stripped off her clothes and groped her in a carriage
- fondled her against a wall in an opera house
- fingered her to orgasm in a public fencing room
- given her head in a private drawing room
Excuse me, how is any/all of that ALMOST compromising her? Brother, you are so far beyond compromising you've entered the realm of gleefully cooperating.
And, lol, maybe it's just me, but it seems like at some point the (apparently really thin????) line between, "i am a respectable lady, i must not be seen doing anything uncouth!" and "wow, we have got to stop almost-having public sex!" has been crossed so many times that bringing it up at all is KIND OF ABSURD?
(Also the whole, IT'S NOT ACTUALLY SEX UNTIL MY MAN-THINGS PENETRATE HER LADY THINGS!!!!!!)
(Also the fact that I was totally shipping their confirmed bachelor brothers. They never actually speak to each other, I just kept waiting for it to happen. Gay characters, please exist in my Regency Romances.)
(Also, lol at the fact that their two sisters are named Juliana and Mariana. OF COURSE they become BFFs.)
I am making it sound like I hated this book. I actually really enjoyed it, apart from the sex scenes, which were far better than a lot of romance writing but still ridiculously cheesily euphemistic, with lots of "stroking tongues" and the like.
I think my biggest problem overall, especially regarding the hero and the tropes off which MacLean is building, is that this feels like a much better, but equally self-indulgent, version of the novel I wrote when I was 17 and voraciously reading every Georgette Heyer I could get my hands on. This novel doesn't even try not to go straight down the list of Heyer Hero attributes.
Seriously, I could make a bingo card. The prototypical Heyer hero:
- always wears polished Hessian boots
- is ridiculously skilled at everything, especially curricle-driving and gambling
- always has horses that are better than everybody else's in London's (except, presumably, the other Heyer heroes; I always wonder if there's a universe where they all meet each other and then implode because NONE OF THEM CAN BE THE BEST)
- has a great and manly loathing for the poetry of Lord Byron
- is always manfully attired in perfectly styled cravats
- turns up his nose at anything foppish or dandyish, because fops are totally queer and he is a manfully restrained man's man, a diamond of the first water, a Corinthian of the ton
So, Sarah McLean totally has all of this down with her hero, he is a by-the-book Heyer standard, except for how he is also an asshole. He tries to apologize for much of his asshole behavior, but he does so in ways that seem to indicate he is just going to continue being an asshole, and isn't really going to change. So I keep being reminded of all the Heyer heroes (okay, really just Mr. Beaumaris from Arabella, because he is just dskj;j;s;sdkdfjasdjklssfsdfsad he is the Nonpareil, all right) and thinking:
YOU, SIR, ARE NO NONPAREIL.
P.S. The questions in my general run-down of the book were provided me by two_if_by_sea when asked what primary things she wanted to know about a book. (She also wanted to know, on a scale of one to Orson Scott Card, how many babies were in the book. Answer: none!) What primary things do you want to know about a book? Let me know!