by Alexandra Benedict, historical (2009)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-168931-4
Once upon a time, James Hawkins was the Black Hawk, an infamous pirate that plundered the sea with his Bonny Meg crew. His mistress was Sophia Dawson, and they had wine and everything nice under the skies of Jamaica... until she, fed up of being treated like a whore by everyone just because she was sleeping with the Black Hawk, asked James to marry her and he balked. She walked away.
That was then. When The Infamous Rogue opens, James has reluctantly forced himself to become respectable for the sake of his sister who had married into gentry. When he encounters Sophia in a ballroom, however, he is both intrigued and annoyed. When he realizes that she is determined to marry a nobleman and become respectable, he decides to show her that she is better off being "herself". Meanwhile, someone is using the moniker Black Hawk to resume terrorizing the seas. Would the real captain and crew of Bonny Meg be implicated for this impostor's crimes?
The Infamous Rogue is set up as a story where the hero behaves like a boorish asshole until he comes to his senses late in the proceeding, so you have better take a deep breath and muster some patience for both the main characters when you turn the book open to page one.
To me, for a story of this kind to work, there has to be several important elements in the story.
One, the main characters should show a degree of fondness for each other despite their antagonism. However, in this story, Sophia and James rail and bicker to a point that I can hardly see any warmth between them. James is always imposing and pushing her into doing things that she doesn't want to do, even publicly humiliating her just because he high-handedly believes that she is better off not pandering to the Ton. Any scene of physical contact here is initiated because Sophia's body is weak and she cannot resist his mauling. I can't say I find the whole thing romantic.
Two, the asshole must have a degree of likability. In this story, Sophia has a genuine cause to marry well. She had experienced the degradation of being treated as a whore just because she was known as the mistress of the Black Hawk. A heartbreaking flashback scene sees Sophia being verbally harassed by men as she tries to do some shopping at the market, only to see these same men treat a genteel woman respectfully when that woman walked past them. And then, we have James high-handedly ruining her attempts to fit in to society. Oh, she tries, but alas, he has already decided that he knows what is best for her.
Three, the hero's coming to his senses must be realistic. Unfortunately, by the time James realizes what an asshole he has been to Sophia, I am convinced that James must surely suffer from a mild degree of mental retardation. This man is unbelievably stupid. He is forty years old but is apparently impermeable to common sense. He is somehow completely ignorant of social norms to the point that he behaves like an ill-mannered lout in public. He mauls, molests, and harasses the heroine. I have never seen someone who completely misreads the heroine. It is as if he exists on a completely different reality than the heroine because he is so, so stupid. Therefore, even when this lummox realizes that he has wronged the heroine, by that point he has proven himself to be such a stupid man that I am not sure I'd want even my worst enemy to be married to this man.
If the author has allowed the hero to come to his senses earlier, given the heroine some spine and let her get the upper hand more often, and therefore reduced the power held by the hero over the heroine, The Infamous Rogue may work for me. As it is, it somehow ends up a story of a poor weak-willed woman being harassed all over the place by a creepy sex fiend instead of a romantic tale of love.
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