Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-4096-5
Historical Romance, 2018
Lady Aurora Lawrence is nicknamed Roaring Rory Lawrence, but don’t cringe. Mary Jo Putney doesn’t do idiotic imbeciles running wild, and Rory’s only sin here is to want a life more than being someone’s noble wife, and she happened to be at the wrong ship at the wrong time when it was seized by Barbary pirates. Oops. Fortunately, her all-Anglo Saxon beauty is predictably bedazzling and what not, and she manages to convince the pirate boss Malek Reis to hold her ransom in exchange for the safety of her companion and the ship crew.
Unfortunately, her father is like, “She… what? £50,000? I have more daughters to raise and they aren’t cheap, so bye dear, have fun getting rogered by sexy hirsute Middle-Eastern Sultans!” Fortunately, her mother can’t bear the idea of Rory starring in a Bertrice Small story, so eventually our hero Gabriel Hawke receives the summon to go rescue Rory. Going back to Barbary Coast isn’t something he does on a lark – he was once in the Royal Navy until he was dishonorably discharged for doing what he thought was the right thing, and given that both the crashing down of his life and him rising again like some phoenix took place in that region, going back there would stir emotions he’d tried hard to forget. Nonetheless, how can a hero resist the call to rescue a fair damsel who has fallen into the clutches of a lecherous horde bent on rape and worse?
Only, Rory is bored while in captivity. As she puts it, there is nothing romantic or glamorous about it, as she is actually being treated very nicely. She thinks Malek may be thinking of adding her to his own harem, as he seems to be very gallant for a pirate dude who is holding her for ransom. When Gabriel shows up and begins bargaining with Malek for her – he doesn’t have the £50,000, but he has a ship at his command, so maybe he can run some errands for that guy in exchange for Rory? – Rory really gets bored and suggests that maybe Malek try auctioning her virginity off to raise the money. Both men look at her and basically go, sis, what do you think this is, some Avon historical romance, sheesh, with Gabriel even sarcastically asking whether she’s going to pull that “Okay, you’ve purchased my virginity, but you’re not getting any because I’m a heroine and I say so!”” stunt on him after he’s forced into bidding.
I have to laugh. Come on, I’m sure most people will too. Once a Scoundrel, like the author’s books in the last few years, lacks the emotional intensity found in her much older books. In fact, it’s more of a seafaring adventure. It’s all there on the box. You may be thinking, “Wait, so where does all the excitement come from, since Rory isn’t going to be ravished or something?” Well, it turns out that Malek isn’t that bad, as he’s just a poor fellow trying to raise funds for an understandable family emergency, so it is only natural that Rory and Gabriel set off to set things right for everyone in the world.
As I’ve mentioned, the characters aren’t deep. Rory is all-around competent, with talent and awesomeness oozing from every pore of her beautiful form. Gabriel is a Carla Kelly hero on steroids and Marvel superhero complex. Together, there is nothing they can’t do, and even when they claim to be fearful or worried, their actions suggest that their idea of anxiety stems from the hard decision on whether to crush their foes with their right or left pinky.
On paper, the whole thing should be boring, especially with such flawless lead characters in charge. However, Once a Scoundrel has enough campy moments to deliver a pretty fun ride. I have no idea whether some of these moments are intentionally campy or not, but when I come across scenes such as Gabriel comparing Rory’s beauty to that of some miniature horses he had been admiring earlier and finding her so much hotter, I can only throw my hands up and laugh.
If I do have one complaint, though, it’s that there should have been more scoundrel antics here. Readers of this author’s books will know that she doesn’t do naughty or wicked main characters much, often going for sensible and capable instead. Still, this story would have been more adorable, I feel, if at least one of the main characters had been allowed to let his or her hair down and bring on the rascal charm. A naughty main character would also go some way in reducing this feeling that I’m starting to come across the same hero and heroine in each of the author’s stories. Oh, and rascals are fun. Much of this story is just too… polite and proper, for the want of a better description. We’re at sea! Pirates! Mean people! So where is all the messy drama?
Once a Scoundrel is far from a masterpiece, and fans wishing for the author to go back to her old ways would likely end up wishing harder for a little longer. However, for a seafaring caper with some moments of campy fun, it’s perfectly adequate. I just wish the author had let loose a little more and gone wild with a story like this.