Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-185205-3
Historical Romance, 2010
Sarah MacLean’s succinctly titled Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is her debut historical romance with Avon, and it’s exactly how a typical Avon historical romance tend to be: rife with familiar tropes, featuring stock characters who will think, speak, and behave exactly like every other stock character in this kind of stories. The thing is, if I think even a little about the plot, the whole thing falls apart and becomes nothing more than an admittedly well-written pastiche of romance clichés.
When her younger sister snags a man who adores her, 28-year old Calpurnia Hartwell experiences an epiphany – perhaps her prim and proper status is partly to blame for her being firmly on the shelf. Yes, she’s buxom and curvy, which makes her so unfashionably attractive, but that will not stop her from experiencing adventures. She will… will… drink in a tavern, smoke a cheroot, and run wild! Gabriel St John, the man she has always adored from afar, has her pegged as the perfect proper lady to help his half-sister get settled in society, so he is not amused when Calpurnia starts doing a bad imitation of Kathy Beth Terry having a wild night out with Rebecca Black.
This story doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so I strongly suggest that you put aside any expectations of historical authenticity, strong logical plot lines, and refreshing newness. For example, Gabriel is said to be “one of the most notorious rakes in London”, but in this story, his behavior doesn’t extend beyond having a mistress and visiting an occasional tavern. How is he even considered a rake? I’d think he’d at least spend five days a week passed out in an opium den, but no, he’s concerned about his family image. Later in the story, there will be mentions of his reputation taking a hit. If he’s already known as known as one of the most notorious rakes in London, how much lower can his reputation go? And why does it even matter to him? And why is a notorious rake so concerned about following the footsteps of his playboy mommy who left behind a string of broken hearts? Shouldn’t a rake not care about these things? Let’s just say that in this story, “the most notorious rake in London” is just a short cut for “here, this is your romance hero”, the 19th century equivalent to the present day Greek billionaire.
As for our heroine Calpurnia Beth Terry, she is said to be curvy, but she can also pass herself off as a boy when she dresses up appropriately. I guess those big breasts magically shrink when the situation demands them to. I know our heroine is not exactly right in the head when she has Homer’s The Iliad pegged as one of the grandest love stories she has ever read, so maybe that explains her approach to getting an adventure like an IRS agent armed with an AK-47 and kicking down the doors of every Colombian drug lord’s house. Smoke cheroot! Must smoke cheroot or die! Must go drink in tavern! Must get kissed! Or die. As you can imagine, when she finally puts out to the hero, she balks when he offers to marry her. Callie Beth Terry must be Greek for the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test because she’s a one-woman textbook of that trope. She expects the hero to read her mind and let her live out her romantic fantasies, so she pouts and turns him down whenever he offers to marry her, because his actions are clear evidence that he doesn’t love her. For Calpurnia, “love” seems to be nothing but the guy constantly working to reassure her that she is beautiful and lovable. It’s all about what he does for her, from start to finish. While I certainly approve of any woman wanting to be pampered by hot studs, I can’t help but to feel sorry for Gabriel. He has it right early on when he says that he wants a marriage based on mutual respect and such, but Callie Terry pooh-poohs him, saying that love is everything. What is he going to do when his lust for her sputters out and he begins to tire of her constant need for reassurances and validation?
Ms MacLean has a nice way of having Callie Terry come to her various epiphanies in this story, but unfortunately, those epiphanies are of the wrong sort as they lead Callie Terry to prolong her Avon Boyfriend Test on poor Gabriel. When the guy has to almost get himself killed to get through her thick head that he is actually crazy about her, that’s how ridiculous Callie’s determined stupidity is.
The author writes well, so it’s really too bad that this is just another Avon historical romance – a story is fueled by the heroine’s stupidity and the stringing together of overused historical romance clichés in ways that don’t always make sense.