A Rogue of One's Own
Evie Dunmore emerged onto the historical romance scene last year with Bringing Down the Duke, a tightly written, strongly characterised story which clearly marked the appearance of a fresh voice in the genre. So – with that runaway success under her belt, the question fans of the genre were asking was ‘can she do it again or was that a flash in the pan?’ Well, I’m here to tell you that she clearly can do it again, because in A Rogue of One’s Own, she once more tells a thoroughly entertaining story featuring compelling characters and a sensual romance that is very firmly anchored in its late Victorian setting, while also delivering a feminist message in a way that is properly entrenched within the fabric of the story and faithful to the character of the heroine.
Lady Lucie Tedbury, a leader of the British suffragist movement, was disowned by her family a decade earlier for publicly espousing her radical beliefs. She now lives in what can best be described as genteel poverty in Oxford, where she and her friends meet regularly to discuss and organise their activities on behalf of the suffragist cause. Their current focus is lobbying Parliament to abolish or amend the Married Woman’s Property Act, and they are on the verge of purchasing half of the shares in publishing house London Print, with a view to publishing their report attacking the Act in its periodicals. But a few days later, Lucie is horrified to learn that the other fifty percent have just been purchased by Tristan Ballantine, heir to the Earl of Rochester, a notorious libertine who was the bane of her childhood existence.
This is a major setback. Tristan is never going to agree to publish the report, which means all the time and effort spent collecting their data will be wasted. But Lucie has never been one to give up without a fight and asks Tristan what it will take for him to sell her another one percent of the shares to give her a controlling interest in the company. Tristan’s price? A night in her bed. Or his. He’s not fussed.
Tristan, a second son, never expected to inherit his father’s title. The Earl of Rochester is a cruel man who insisted on absolute obedience and did his best to beat anything he regarded as not masculine out of his younger son. Tristan went into the army and served in India, where he earned the Victoria Cross, but the death of his older brother means Tristan is now heir to the Rochester earldom, and his father is determined to make Tristan do his duty to the title by getting married and begetting an heir. Tristan has no wish to do any such thing, but the earl – who can no longer beat him into submission – has found other ways to control his wayward son over the years, and anticipating his refusal, says that if Tristan doesn’t do as he’s told, then he will arrange for the Countess – who, by the sound of it is what we’d call bi-polar – to be put into an asylum.
Tristan is no longer fully financially dependent on his father, but his plan to get his mother away to safety – perhaps to India – needs funds, which is where London Print comes in. Years earlier, Tristan anonymously authored a collection of romantic poetry which proved very popular; he now plans to republish it with his name attached, knowing that his reputation as a war hero and London’s most notorious rogue means it will sell in large numbers and provide the money he needs.
Both Lucie and Tristan are extremely well-drawn, complex characters who have upsetting and painful circumstances in their pasts and are trying hard to do what they think is right in their presents. They’re easy to like and root for, and although Tristan does come across as a bit of a cold bastard to start with, Ms. Dunmore does a brilliant job of showing the reader that a thoughtful, sensitive and damaged man lies beneath the outwardly heartless philanderer, and revealing why the boy who liked to read rather than shoot, and to take care of animals rather than hunt them grew a tough outer shell and cultivated a reputation as a callous womaniser and corrupter of youth.
It’s clear that Tristan has long been carrying a torch for Lucie, but typical of the emotionally-stunted male, he metaphorically pulled her pigtails (and even dyed them once!) to hide the fact that he was sweet on her when they were younger. Lucie has no interest in giving up the little freedom she has by getting married and has dedicated herself to the suffragist cause, but her disinterest in marriage doesn’t – to her dismay – mean that she isn’t interested in men, or at least, in one man in particular. The chemistry between the pair crackles right from the start as they embark upon a battle of wills, and things heat up even more. Tristan knows what a woman’s desire looks like; Lucie is horrified at herself for being so strongly attracted to him, and the confusion that afflicts her is very well depicted – how can she desire a man while despising him? But she is also surprised as she starts to discover the real man beneath the veneer, a well-educated, well-read man with an artistic soul and a willingness to listen and understand.
I was impressed with the way the author incorporates the feminist message in this book. Lucie’s thoughts and feelings are incredibly well articulated and never come across as preachy or mere lip-service, but as essential truths:
“A man’s lack of voice is connected to his lack of property… A woman’s lack of voice is forever connected to the fact that she is a woman. “
Anyone who knows anything about the period will know that women had few (if any rights) and that the few that were eventually won took a lot of continual, hard work by many. (And that while many things have changed in the last 150 years, there are still many that have not). And while Lucie is outspoken and prepared to stand up for what she believes in she also recognises the need to operate within the limits of the society in which she’s living. She may be tough and determined, but there’s a vulnerable side to her she strives never to reveal, but which readers are allowed to glimpse as she wrestles with her conscience over her ability to continue to dedicate herself to her work should she become involved with Tristan.
Kudos to her, too, for incorporating a bisexual hero into a mainstream historical romance. It’s not stated overtly, but it’s fairly clear that Tristan has had relationships with men as well as women (he even gets to flirt with Oscar Wilde at one point!), although this aspect of his character isn’t explored in any detail.
Electric chemistry, an intense attraction and a growing tenderness and understanding – the romance in this book works superbly on pretty much every level, although towards the end I started to feel as though Lucie was so overwhelmed by all the work she was undertaking and all the different directions she was being pulled in that she would never have time for a romantic partner in her life – and that impression, unfortunately, remained with me until the end. It’s one of the reasons this book didn’t quite reach DIK status. Another is that while it ends in what is probably the only way it could have ended and remained true to Lucie’s character, it’s a bit too pat and easy; for Tristan and Lucie to do what they do is pretty risky, especially given that discovery could pose a real threat to Lucie’s ability to continue her work.
And then there’s this:
Near the end, Lucie learns something unpleasant and slaps Tristan on the face with no provocation other than a misunderstanding and her own anger. Violence never solves anything, and a character who resorts to it for no reason other than temper immediately loses some of my respect. It’s not acceptable, and had the situation been reversed, the book would probably never have been published.
Overall however, A Rogue of One’s Own is a terrific read, a sensual, insightful and wonderfully poignant love story featuring a well-matched central couple whose HEA is hard-won and thoroughly deserved. The last couple of chapters left me feeling a teeny bit deflated, but not enough to give the book anything other than a strong recommendation.