The Rogue And The Rival
by Maya Rodale, historical (2008)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22452-6

The Rogue And The Rival is an uneven read that succeeds on the strength of its ability to charm me over despite my initial reservations about the story.

Angela Sullivan, our heroine, is currently living in Stanbrook Abbey, Sussex. Ruined by an ill-advised but understandable affair with some man who turned out to be a lying piece of dung who only wanted a wife with a big dowry, Angela had been banished by her humiliated father and she now doesn't see any possible future for her apart from maybe taking up vows. The abbess knows better, however. When the nuns discover a battered gentleman named Lord Phillip Kensington on the ground just outside their abbey, it is their Christian duty to take him in and do their best to tend to his injuries. Guess who gets to ply the bedside TLC to our hero. But given that he's a debauched rake, gambler, drinker, and current target practice for every moneylender he owes money to, can he and Angela ever be happy? Or will he lose her to the very man who ruined her thanks to his own nonsense?

I was not sure at first whether I would enjoy this story due to the various little silly lack of communication or wrong assumption drama that arises in the earlier half of this story. Angela has a degree of awareness about her situation as well as Phillip, however, which makes her initial "Oh! I'm so cute, am I not?" antics toward Phillip less painful and more bearable than they otherwise would be.

It is only in the later half of the story that I find myself oh-so-entertained by these two silly people. I have a weakness for arrogant rakes convinced that they are God's gift to women falling so hard that the joke is on them, and boy, Phillip really delivers in that department. That man is so besotted that his world doesn't just tilt to one side, it pretty much turns one-eighty. He begs, he pleads, and he changes his whole outlook and world for her. I'd have pointed my fingers at him and laugh if he wasn't so earnest and adorably pathetic in the process.

Angela is still pretty silly in the second half, because the poor darling is stuck in the thankless position of having to try to find reasons to not hook up with the hero in order to keep the story going. Ms Rodale, however, wisely shows me that Angela's admittedly silly recalcitrance isn't because she is blind to the villain's nonsense but rather, she's blinded by her own insecurities. That doesn't make Angela any smarter, but it makes her a sympathetic heroine.

My only complain in this is that sometimes Ms Rodale goes a little too far and has Phillip psychoanalyzing things like a shrink rather than... well, Phillip. She does this with other characters as well, although at a less frequent or obvious degree. During those scenes, I feel as if Ms Rodale has forcefully inserted herself into her characters to deliver a lecture. The characters at the receiving end of the lectures need to hear those lectures, but the person delivering the lecture more often than not doesn't have any reason to be so unnaturally wise in that moment.

The Rogue And The Rival turns out to be an unexpectedly charming story of an adorably naughty hero and his equally adorably girlfriend. They may not come off like the smartest people around, but their love story is too cute for words. I was on the fence about Maya Rodale about reading her debut effort, but this one has me putting down on foot onto her camp. Let's see how the next book will be like, shall we?

Rating: 82

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