Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (#64 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
You know what they say – never judge a book by its cover. I’ll amend that: Never judge a book by its synopsis and title, especially when they reek. But underneath this book’s wretched surface, is a touching character-driven romance, and a strong adult romance debut for Sarah MacLean.
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell, or Callie for short, has spent a lifetime being a good girl and model lady, but now she regrets it. On the eve of her younger sister’s wedding – a love match – she realizes her perfect reputation is a result of passiveness rather than choice, and decides she needs to change. Drawing up a list of forbidden activities is her first step, and being kissed (passionately) is the first item on the list.
Her kisser of choice is Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston and the man she has loved for years. As the weeks go by and Callie embarks on her other activities, Gabriel encounters her so often during her escapades that he finally makes her a proposition: He will squire her if she will shepherd his new found half-sister through her debut.
If ever there was a case for ignoring the superficial, this is it. The title is so cutesy I nearly gagged – by gad, it rhymes! – and the back cover blurb is incredibly misleading, making the book sound contrived.
But the book is neither generic, nor shallow, nor cutesy. Rather, it’s a romantic character-driven story that also provides ample reasoning for the characters’ actions. I never once considered Callie’s list-making idiotic or contrived, and found myself sympathizing with her more often than not. If I occasionally thought she became idiotic, well, no one’s perfect. Gabriel is more or less your typical romance novel aristocrat, but he has depths that ring true and set him apart. His interactions with his family are particularly endearing. The secondary characters are roundish, if not quite well-rounded, and the external conflict believable.
My main complaint with the book itself regards the prose. Length is a double-edged sword; Ms. MacLean’s detailed explanations permit character depth, but occasionally become long-winded. The prose also sometimes lapses too much in the direction of Sex and the City, despite generally finding a happy medium.
However, the romance and character depth more than compensate for any failings. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is a good addition to the Avon canon, and I look forward to more from Ms. MacLean.