Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-257236-3
Historical Romance, 2016
I know, I am a few days late for this month’s TBR Review Challenge, but hey, here it is. The theme this month is something different, which I’ve interpreted to include authors new to me. That’s a kind of different, right? At any rate, Christy Carlyle has shifted home from Avon’s digital line to the Avon main imprint, so I thought it’s timely to see what her earlier books are like before finally taking a peek at her mainstream Avon debut. Rules for a Rogue is the earliest book of hers buried somewhere in my pile of unread books, so here I am, reviewing it.
How is it? It’s not too bad from a technical standpoint, but oh boy, the emotional gymnastics of the hero Christopher Ruthven and heroine Ophelia Marsden can be a test on one’s patience.
Kit’s father didn’t love him enough, so he’s since then run off to London to write bawdy plays, cavort with loose women, and high-five men that are clearly designed to be heroes of the next few books. It’s a painful and tough life, really – the constant pouring of alcohol down his gullet as well as the pouring of his manly goo down into various feminine orifices are symptoms of the torment eating away at his soul, and I suspect I’m suppose to shed a tear or something. Anyway, his father is now dead, and he slinks back to town only to be dismayed when he realizes that his sisters aren’t too pleased with the return of the prodigal son… who has abandoned his responsibilities to the people around him, forcing his sisters to take up skills to be the responsible one, and now is still acting like growing up and being a man is a terrible thing indeed to happen to a man like him. All because Daddy didn’t love him enough, of course.
Also back in the country home is Ophelia, the woman he left behind along with everything else, when the inadequate love from his father forced him into being a useless wastrel of a rake. Our heroine has written a controversial book on feminism or something like that, and it’s a bestseller, but she is still in need of funds as poverty is the best plot device ever to force a heroine to open up those legs and give the hero access to her inner vulnerabilities. Rules for a Rogue has a kitchen sink feel to the whole thing, although most of these things are cosmetic in nature – the basic plot remains that of a whiny hero forcibly dragged into growing up by the powers of a heroine’s personality-altering honey pot.
The best thing I can say about this one is that the narrative is competent. Occasionally, I feel faint pangs of genuine pathos in certain emotional scenes… faint pangs, that is, but still, this means that the author has the potential to take me somewhere good in future books. Also, the author shows some self-awareness here, when she has various secondary characters accurately pointing out the main characters’ tomfoolery.
However, the fact remains that these characters’ tomfoolery is allowed to happen, and worse, it is allowed to drag on interminably. In the early half of the story, Kit is the true test of my patience as I struggle to empathize with a hot, well-liked, well-shagged young man who whines constantly about how he doesn’t want to be responsible for anything… all because daddy didn’t hug him enough. Maybe it’s just me being on the mature side of life, but the more Kit whines, the more I itch to pull his earlobe and tell him to man the eff up. Seriously! The author could have done something to make Kit more sympathetic here, like maybe having a terrier rip off his testicles when he was a boy, so that he has a more sympathetic reason to act the way he does. Right now, he’s just a whiny brat being a whiny brat.
Ophelia is portrayed as a more level-headed character who understandably is wary about the man who dumped her without a word back then… except, our heroine here has no willpower at all and melts like cheese on a hot day each time the hero even breathes in her direction. This apparent weakness of the heroine feels like a cheap contrivance to push Ophelia into Kit’s arms without the author having to expend more effort into creating believable emotional scenes.
As the story progresses, both the hero and the heroine seem to have a personality exchange. He grows up a bit more, straightens up his act, and tries to win Ophelia’s trust as well as heart. That’s good, but that good stuff also comes at the expense of Ophelia’s character development. Because it is now up to the poor lady to keep the romantic conflict going, she turns into a standard dingbat heroine who refuses to believe anything the hero tells her unless it is beaten into her head with a pickax, culminating in the usual, predictable “Clearly he doesn’t love me, despite all evidence pointing otherwise, so I must run away!” nonsense that every other romance heroine in a 19th century romance set in England tends to do in the last few chapters of her story.
Rules for a Rogue is, to paraphrase Ingrid Michaelson, almost home but isn’t quite there yet. I’m giving it three oogies mostly because it’s not a very tough story to swallow – the narrative is clean and I sense glimmers of potential for the story to be better here and there. However, the emotional tug-of-war plays out inconsistently, dictated by what the plot needs at that certain point, and it’s quite the relief to close the story knowing that I’ve reached the end of these characters’ contrived melodrama.