At eighteen years old, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell knows she is a failure during her own first season. Not helped by her old-fashioned name and the fact that she is forced to wear hideous gowns that don’t flatter her curvy figure, Callie has resorted to hiding in gardens and taking refuge amongst spinsters, avoiding the embarrassment and the fortune hunters who are the only men seeking her attentions. During one of her stints in a garden, Callie runs into Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston, who actually pays attention to her – Callie – and calls her an empress. Almost immediately afterwards, Callie sees Ralston in the arms of another woman, cementing his rakish ways and diminishing his compliments to her.
Ten years later, Callie’s little sister Mariana has just made the match of the year, while Callie has cemented her position in “spinster seating”. After hearing herself described as passive by the little sister she adores, Callie is driven to cast off the propriety which has ruled her life and seize opportunities not traditionally open to women. Her first task is to kiss someone – passionately – and who else should she choose but the Marquess she has adored from afar for ten years? He obviously know what he’s doing. But for a lady who longs for a love match, getting closer to Ralston is almost guaranteed to break Callie’s heart.
There is a reason that stereotypes in romance are so prevalent throughout the genre, and that’s because done correctly, they work, and they work very very well. Sarah MacLean’s adult romantic debut is the perfect demonstration of this. There is nothing particularly original about this book, nothing that hasn’t been done to death somewhere else. Callie is an aging (for her time) spinster, 28 years old, who has ceaselessly crushed on a true rake for ten years. She’s a wallflower, someone vast hordes of shy women can connect with on sight, and someone who is relentlessly ignored by dozens of men because she doesn’t conform to the stereotypes. She is a fantastic heroine, easy to love, easy to root for, and very clever for a woman who decides to make a list of nine things she’s not supposed to do.
Ralston is a man afraid of love because of his mother, like so many romance heroes before him. Having seen his father devastated by his mother’s departure, Ralston has determined never to love any woman, but instead to enjoy them. He doesn’t treat them badly – he spoils his mistresses rotten – but he makes a point of staying away from women who would love him or invite his love in return. Having been immune to every young lady’s charms, buried in the most gorgeous of women’s embraces for years, Ralston then finds himself peculiarly enamored with a woman completely unlike his others, even though he still resists love.
Having said all that, these familiar storylines work incredibly well in this novel. It’s fun, it’s witty, and it’s absolutely, indescribably romantic. It never falls into the trap of lust turning into love (though there is plenty of lust). Instead, it’s believable, even when the characters behave stupidly and deny themselves what they actually want. Their emotions leap off the page and into the reader’s heart, too – I can tell you I fell in love with this book. I stayed away for a good long while because of all the hype; I have read some books in this genre that simply don’t live up to expectations. This one did.
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is an amazing read, a must for historical romance fans. Highly, highly recommended – I am now going to proceed to devour MacLean’s next books!
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