The Best of Both Rogues
The Best of Both Rogues is one of those books that took a while to get started, and which I found myself compelled to finish simply in the hopes that at some point, something would actually happen. I reached the end of the book still waiting.
The story is highly insubstantial, and while I am certainly not averse to light-hearted fluff, there has to be something engaging about other aspects of such a book to balance out a thin plotline. The best of those types of romances are witty and peopled with engaging characters while still having something to say about the nature of love and romance.
Unfortunately, this book has no such redeeming features; the plot is paper thin and has so many dropped threads that if it were a piece of knitting it would be full of holes, there is little wit or humour and the two principals are … nice, but bland to the point of dullness.
The book opens as Eve Thorne has just been ignominiously left at the altar by her fiancé, Benjamin Hillary. No explanation is given – all we discover is that Ben has boarded ship for India, leaving Eve nothing but a beautiful necklace meant to symbolise fidelity.
Two years later, Eve is about to become engaged to a very worthy, scholarly gentleman, Sir Jonathan Hackberry, although her feelings have become confused upon learning that Ben has returned to England. He has apparently restored her previously ruined reputation (it wasn’t the done thing for a gentleman to jilt a lady as society would automatically assume the worst of her) by engaging in a ridiculous duel with her brother, and keeps trying to see her, despite her repeated refusals.
Needless to say, he finds a way to speak to her and it’s obvious that even though Eve was badly hurt by his abandonment, she still loves him, and he makes it clear that he loves her as much as ever and wants her back. But the only way they can be together is if Eve will cry off from her betrothal – and given her past experience with Ben, she is reluctant to do so. She is faced with prospect of marriage to a man for whom she feels a mild affection, and who is often distracted by his academic studies, or of dumping him in favour of Ben, whom she fears may run off again. At no point during his renewed courtship does Ben offer an explanation for his actions two years ago, and oddly, Eve doesn’t ask for one.
Eventually, the decision is more or less taken out of Eve’s hands when Ben and Jonathan team up, the latter having realised that Eve still loves Ben, and ready to step aside in his favour. There is a weak sub-plot concerning Sir Jonathan, who is not the bumbling, absent-minded academic he seems to be, which is dropped in at random and then abandoned, having provided a reason for there to be a (purposeless) threat against Eve’s safety.
The author’s style is light and readable, although littered with the usual Americanisms (in British English, the past tense of “get” is “got”, and “jackass” is American slang), but the story makes little sense and the characterisation never gets beyond the two-dimensional. We’re told that Eve grew up with a father who was mentally unstable and that her childhood wasn’t always very pleasant as a result; but I couldn’t see that it had any relevance or any effect on her as an adult and it seemed to have been thrown in in an attempt to make her more interesting.
Ben runs a successful shipping company with one of his brothers, he’s a decent chap, likes babies and has a good sense of fun. He’s kind and sweet and still desperately in love with Eve; and I suppose one could argue that it makes a nice change to have a hero who is so open about his feelings for the heroine. However, as with Eve, Ms Grace tries to inject an element of darkness into his backstory by giving him a past love-affair that ended in tragedy, and about which he is still plagued by guilt. But it’s a case of too much telling rather than showing, and it’s completely unconvincing.
We are given no reason for Ben’s abrupt departure until far too late into the story. And when it comes… well, to say it’s an anti-climax is an understatement of huge proportions. Usually in stories in which such an event takes place, the hero has been pressured into it for some reason, or he’s suddenly called away on a sooper-sekrit spying mission – but all Ben had was a massive case of cold feet occasioned by the fact that his one youthful love affair had ended badly and he had a sudden panic attack at the thought how painful it would be were he to lose Eve.
Basically, he legged it, ruined his fiancée’s reputation and stayed away for two years because of a bad case of pre-wedding jitters, rendering the premise – and thus the entire book – completely pointless.
The Best of Both Rogues, is the third book in a series, so a number of characters from previous books turn up, and it took me a minute or two to work out who was who. But if you want to subject yourself to it, can be read as a standalone.