by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2008)
Pocket, $7.50, ISBN 978-1-4165-5151-5
Let Sleeping Rogues Lie has a plot that I suspect will not hold up to scrutiny if we are to hold it up against the tenets of historical accuracy. We have our hero teaching a bunch of young girls in finishing school about the methods of persuasion used by a rake on susceptible women. Also, the reader will have to accept that the hero and the heroine can exchange naughty flirtatious lines with each other while pretending that they are throwing impromptu demonstrations for the students and get away with this. While this plot may work for an X-rated film, I have a feeling that some readers will find this one too implausible for their liking.
But I have to say, I find this well worth the effort of suspending my disbelief about the basic premise. For one, it has me laughing out loud at the various most amusing scenes in this story. Secondly, the main couple sizzle in their interactions even if some of those kisses and caresses take place under circumstances that may not be the most logical. Thirdly, this story also has plenty of really amusing and even satirical jabs at courtships and sexual politics prevalent in other historical romances set in 19th century London.
I like Ms Jeffries' treatment of Anthony Dalton, the hero. Our rakish Viscount Norcourt may not be a truly debauched rake like the rumors say about him - he doesn't sleep with married women, only widows, and he displays far more scruples at times that would get him kicked out of the bad boy club were he for real - but he nonetheless isn't the best behaved fellow around. The reason for his behavior is due to his insecurities and self-esteem issues rather than because of some evil ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. You see, due to his father deciding that he was too busy to waste his time on the spare son, Anthony was raised by extremely overzealous religious fundamentalist uncle and aunt who wouldn't hesitate to inflict all kinds of physical and mental "corrective measures" on the poor kids.
Anthony grew up with a warped view of his sexuality. I won't say more since I will be spoiling things (don't worry, there's no incest or sexual abuse), so let's just say that years of living under the "care" of those crazy people made it inevitable that a part of him believed - still believes - that he is a wicked person with unnatural needs. He would make a terrible father because of his inherent wickedness, for example. Therefore it's a vicious cycle of sorts for the poor man, where the more he engages in debauched activities to contain what he believes are his unnatural needs from going out of control, the more he feels that it has to be true and he is indeed a wicked person.
However, his older brother croaked as time passed and Anthony is now Viscount Norcourt. Due to the late brother neglecting to do the necessary, Anthony's niece Tessa is now without a guardian. The same uncle and aunt who made his childhood days pure hell are now trying to become the legal guardians of Tessa. As a result, Anthony decides that he has to spare Tessa from the same childhood that he had by cleaning up his act and petitioning the court to make him the legal guardian of Tessa instead. But because of his reputation, Anthony needs to do something to prove that he is capable of being such a person. He decides that he can start by getting Tessa enrolled in the super-exclusive and very respected School for Young Ladies. However, the headmistress Mrs Harris is adamant that she cannot accept one more student for the upcoming term.
A teacher, Madeline Prescott, steps up to the rescue, much to Anthony's surprise. She suggests that Anthony can demonstrate his ability to be a respectable and discreet gentleman by working with the staff for the remaining two weeks in the current school term. He will teach their young students how to spot rakes in society and how to avoid their seductive ways. Hey, get your mind out of the gutter, we are talking about a series of lecture and carefully supervised demonstrations that extend as far as sweet talks and maybe a kiss at the back of one's hand. This isn't that kind of story. Anthony knows that Madeline wants something back from him but he doesn't buy her lame reasoning. She knows about his family more than any ordinary teacher would know. Who is she? What does she want? He knows what he wants, of course - some hands-on lessons on the sly for Miss Prescott here on the mechanics and pleasures of the act of seduction by a most charming rake.
At the surface Madeline seems like a stereotypical bluestocking heroine willing to do anything for Daddy while blinking like a confused goldfish when the hero awakens her libido for the first time. But despite the stereotypical "Oh my, and here I am thinking that I am a scientific woman who can view passion objectively!" thing she has, however, Madeline isn't too bad. She's like an Amanda Quick heroine to me in that she can sometimes be very wise and yet sometimes be so, so, so stupid, but still, I can't help liking that silly dear. Madeline is more book smart than street smart, but given that she's not the cosmopolitian town girl type, I can understand why she is that way.
Someone really should whack her head for me, though, for that infuriatingly stupid stunt of inhaling nitrous oxide when she's supposed to be on an undercover mission. I deserve that much, at least, for having to follow her through that. I can overlook Madeline's occasional random bouts of stupidity or her tendency to play the martyr card when the going gets tough for her, but that one is too much for me to take. Make it a hard whack on the head please. Still, that scene leads to a really sweet moment of Anthony deciding that he has no right to take advantage of her condition to extract her secrets from her and defending her when his best friend insists that Anthony is a fool not to press the truth out of her when he has this golden opportunity. I have a weakness for
fools men who know that they are being used by a woman they have the hots for but don't mind it too much.
Anthony, I find, is the best thing about this story because he's the one bringing out the best in Madeline even as he mellows so beautifully - if reluctantly - into a well-behaved gentleman under his flowering attraction to her. Oh, he lusts after her, yes, but he also slowly begins to like her very much as well. I have to laugh at how he starts finding all his old habits most lacking or even repulsive to go back to. If only guys in real life can be trained to be this well-behaved so easily, I tell you. This isn't some kind of preachy moral story, let me make this clear. Ms Jeffries does make it clear that men will be happier if they settle down and make magic with that one special woman they are in love with, but Anthony's mellowing is one that I find credibly done here since the evolution seems like a natural part of his character growth that began when he first saw Tessa being "corrected" by his aunt for crying at her father's funeral and started having flashbacks to his own childhood under those tyrannical zealots. Anthony is as close to the epitome of a woobie as can be, and heaven knows, woobies can make such attractive heroes when they are wounded inside and so in need of TLC and yet so adoring and protective of the heroine.
I also have plenty of fun with the earlier chapters of this book when Anthony's classes commence and Ms Jeffries uses the opportunity to make humorous and sometimes satirical observations about how rake heroes and self-proclaimed feisty heroines tend to behave in historical romances of this sort.
I am torn about Let Sleeping Rogues Lie at the end of the day. I love the hero and much of the story, but I also have to say that the resolution of both the problems faced by Madeline and Anthony is brought about by a timely deus ex machina revelation that I just don't like one bit. That, some of the more problematic aspects of the heroine's behavior, and the rather implausible notion of a rake teaching young ladies about those things do cause a few bumps here and there on my enjoyment of this otherwise most entertaining story.
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