A Rogue by Any Other Name
I’ve got to hand it to an author who can take a premise I don’t think I’ll like and a hero who sounds like a jerk – and turn it all into a book I couldn’t help but enjoy. With its over the top language and sex scenes, A Rogue by Any Other Name skirts the edge of guilty pleasure territory. But in the end, it is a pleasure, guilty or no.
When he’s twenty-one years old, the young Marquess of Bourne makes a disastrous decision that alters the course of his life. He bets every available, unentailed dime of his property on what seems like a sure bet – and loses it all, to Viscount Langford, the man who was his guardian. He’s left with an empty estate and no fortune. Ten years later, he’s recouped all the money through his own business ventures. Ironically, he and his partners own a lush, private gambling club where rich young bucks of the ton lose their fortunes, just as he once did himself. He needs only one thing to make his life complete: Revenge. He wants his old lands back, and he wants to ruin the man who ruined him.
The key to Bourne’s revenge nearly falls into his lap. His nemesis loses most of Bourne’s former lands (ironically, in a card game) to Lady Penelope Marbury’s father, the Marquess of Needham and Dolby. After Penelope was jilted several years ago, her prospects on the marriage mart dimmed. Thinking to sweeten the pot, Penelope’s father adds Bourne’s former lands to her dowry. He has two more daughters to marry off, after all. Penelope has actually had a few chances, but she can’t help dreaming of, as she puts it, more. She watched her former fiance leave her for the love of his life, and wonders why she can’t have the same.
A foolish midnight stroll puts Penelope right in Bourne’s hands. She runs into him (thinking he is a tresspasser she must confront), and he seizes her, determined to ruin her and force her to marry him. He sounds like a jerk, but Penelope and Bourne share a history as well. They were childhood friends, and though he stopped speaking to her after he lost his fortune, he’s always had a place in her heart. Though she’s none too thrilled with his methods, she agrees to marry him in return for his promise to help launch her younger sisters into society and find them the kind of love matches Penelope can’t have herself. Penelope’s father makes another deal on the side: If Bourne can get the younger sisters married off, he’ll give him the one thing he desires most of all – the information he needs to destroy Langford.
Bourne intends to keep his promise to marry off the sisters, but he has no intention of having a real marriage with Penelope. He abandons her on their wedding night, at first returning home once just to sleep with her and ensure she can’t seek an annulment. He has no plans to change his lifestyle or become attached to Penelope; all he wants is his revenge. Naturally, he falls in love with his wife and is changed by the redemptive power of her love. This is, after all, a romance. That Sarah MacLean makes you believe it – and enjoy the journey – is a testament to her skill.
At first, I was nearly sure I wouldn’t like Bourne or this book. I sympathized with him when he lost his lands, even though gambling his whole fortune seemed idiotic at best. But I shook my head further when I saw he’d remade his fortune by relieving other young men of theirs – doing unto others as Langford had done unto him. Not that Bourne gambles himself anymore; he merely provides the atmosphere and the means for men to lose their money. Nonetheless, it’s ruthless, and his ruination of Penelope seems equally ruthless. But by God, she ends up bringing out the humanity in him, and making him a better man because he learns to love her.
Though Penelope is remarkably selfless (she definitely puts her sisters’ happiness above her own), she manages to come across as a real person rather than an empty, perfect goody-two-shoes. She has her own dreams and a thirst for adventure. She tells Bourne off when he needs it most. and she gently helps him to relinquish his quest for revenge – which, if accomplished, will hurt innocent people as well as the evil Langford.
I liked the secondary characters here too – both Bourne’s partners and Penelope’s sisters (at least some of whom, in typical romance series fashion, are destined for each other). They’re used effectively – not excessively (which in my mind should be the romance series golden rule).
The only real drawback for me was that the language was over the top, mostly during the sex scenes. The fabled gambling club is luxurious, and the language used to describe it is equally luxurious. And the sex scene that occurs there? Super luxurious, bordering on old-school, and maybe even giggle-inducing.
But in the scheme of things, what’s a giggle here and there? A Rogue by Any Other Name is a story about the redemptive power of love, and one that i really enjoyed despite early misgivings. I recommend it.