The Reluctant Rogue
Sebastian Carr, Viscount Langley, is a wastrel and a gambler who cares for little besides himself. As The Reluctant Rogue opens, Sebastian has just been informed by his father that if he doesn’t marry a suitable young woman by his twenty-fifth birthday (a mere two months away!) he will be cut off without a shilling. Since Sebastian is rather deeply in debt due to the aforementioned gambling, he realizes he has little choice but to do as his father commands. While he’s talking to his deceased brother in the garden of his rented house, a young lady falls out of the sky – or rather, from an elm tree – virtually into his lap.
Sebastian flirts briefly with the young woman, whom he finds utterly compelling despite the fact that she’s really quite an ordinary young lady. When he sees Jane again at a ball, he learns that she has an older sister Penelope who is everything Sebastian wants in a wife – she’s lovely, sweet, and with a large fortune to boot. Penelope doesn’t seem impressed by any of her myriad suitors, and Sebastian hits upon a plan to impress Penelope by befriending her plain younger sister.
Sebastian discovers that despite her plainness and lack of fortune, he likes Jane very much, but forces himself to pay his addresses to Penelope instead. Eventually, however, Sebastian inadvertently compromises Jane and is forced to marry her rather than Penelope. Jane returns to the horse farm bequeathed to her by her father, whilst Sebastian remains in London to drink and gamble to his heart’s content. But will their marriage remain one of convenience, or will Sebastian discover that Jane means something to him after all?
Sebastian is a wonderful hero. He starts out much like the typical roguish rake, drinking and gambling his life away in the company of his two best friends. At first it appears there is little to recommend him, but by a third of the way through the book, as Jane begins to draw him out, he seems much more human. There are the usual Dark Secrets in his past – his older brother Alex died five years before and Sebastian blames their tyrannical father for the death. Sebastian slowly comes to grips with his past, enabling him to deal with the present, which he’s been struggling to avoid by hiding in the bottom of bottles.
Jane is very nearly as delightful as Sebastian. She is plain, and she remains plain – no amazing transformation takes place. She is painfully aware of her lack of beauty and its bleak contrast with her sister’s stunning beauty, especially since her nasty, domineering mother kindly reminds her of it every five minutes. At the beginning of the book she has an “understanding” with Augustus Wingate, a portly farmer whose land borders the farm she inherited from her father, and Wingate’s primary purpose in asking her to marry him is to get his hands on her land. When she returns to her horse farm married to someone else, however, an angry Wingate becomes a threat to her. How Sebastian deals with Augustus, and how Jane eventually deals with her mother, are two of the shining moments in this book.
Since this is a short novel, the secondary characters aren’t as well fleshed-out as the hero and heroine. Penelope, the glamorous older sister, is not a particularly interesting character, and the outcome of her own romance isn’t as detailed as I would like and Sebastian’s friends aren’t especially compelling either. On the other hand, Jane’s mother is a memorably venomous character, and Sebastian’s father is quite intriguing as well, although he regrettably only has one major scene.
Overall, The Reluctant Rogue is delightful, and refreshing in that the heroine is neither a beauty or an ugly duckling who transforms into a beautiful swan. Readers who don’t care for plots that rely heavily on eavesdropping should be forewarned: Jane overhears Sebastian talking (either to himself or to a friend) twice, and both times it has a significant impact on the unfolding events of the plot. Although some of the secondary characters weren’t as well-drawn as the main characters, both Jane’s mother and Sebastian’s father provide depth and texture to the story to make up for that lack. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.