martes, 5 de abril de 2016

Book Review: A Rogue by Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels #1) - Sarah MacLean

A decade ago, the young Marquess of Bourne lost his fortune in a game of cards. Now, he ruthlessly runs London's most successful gaming hell, and will do whatever it takes to regain his land and his inheritance. Even marrying the boring Lady Penelope Marbury.

I read this for Katie’s Reluctant Romantic Challenge that ran during February. While it wasn’t my first romance novel, every romance story I had read until this was very tame when it came to the bedroom scenes. Sex was usually of the fade-to-black kind and the focus was solely on the emotional journey of the main characters. A Rogue by Any OtherName is a completely different kind of novel – romantic, yes, but very physical. What one would call steamy in the romance slang. And now that I’ve encountered one of the aspects that raise more prejudice in “serious readers”, I can safely say that my preconceptions have been smashed.

It’s true that the aim of erotic scenes in romance novels is to titillate, but as it is romance and not erotica, they must serve to advance the plot and the relationship between the hero and the heroine. So there is a huge emotional component to these scenes, and it is tricky to build a rapport with the reader. It is obvious that writing successful romantic sex scenes requires skill. They are well written, and I can't stress how different from my expectations they are. I know I shouldn’t sound surprised, but I’m still fighting against my literary snobbishness. The sex was tasteful and the language was not at all ridiculous. And I have to admit that I didn't expect to understand and recognize the feelings of the characters so much.

I usually favor cerebral reads that make me think, that turn my worldview upside down and help me learn. However, romance is all about the feelings. Romance authors, or at least Sarah MacLean, can convey so much more than I thought possible just through words. A Rogue by Any Other Name made me feel what the characters were feeling! Aside from surprising me, it increased my empathy and my awareness of how different people experience love differently. It enabled me to analyze what I thought I knew about love. It was basically empowering, and it knocked my socks off, since I was expecting just mindless fun.

It was also my first Regency romance, and I wasn’t prepared for the tropes. Apparently, there are some stations through which the characters must go to obtain their happy ending, and the hero and heroine must conform in some way or other to a certain set of stereotypes. Penelope isn’t a damsel in distress nor goes by fainting in every corner, and I'd say that she has much more agency than so-called kick-ass female characters. However, the dynamics between the hero and the heroine are problematic. There is a power imbalance between Penelope and Bourne: he sequesters her and makes her spend the night with her to sully her reputation, effectively making her ineliglible for a proper marriage, thus branding her as his. He doesn’t rape her, but exploits her innocence and unworldliness. This made me understandably angry, yet I couldn't bring myself to not root for them to end up together. Developing a believable romance in these circumstances is not easy, but MacLean does it and does it well, and then she justifies it with a very compelling narrative (spoiler: he loved her all along, as the childhood letters point out). It's still problematic, but I have to admit that I enjoyed reading it. 

Verdict: 4/5. I just wish my next romance novel would let go of these tropes so that I don't have my conscience nagging me over how much I'm enjoying such a problematic relationship.

Disclaimer: since most romance seems to be about heterosexual couples, I've used heternormative designations. But please, recommend me diverse romance!

3 comentarios:

  1. Aw, it makes me happy that you liked this! I actually was surprised when I read this that it made use of the tropes you're flagging, because that is honestly unusual for this author. Her other books generally don't do that, for what that's worth, and I am very fond of the other books in this series as well as the books in her first series.

    RECOMMENDATIONS OH GOSH. Courtney Milan's Unveiled. Rose Lerner's Listen to the Moon. And see what you think of those. And more Sarah MacLean. And Joanna Bourne if you like spy stories.

  2. I've heard good things about this author, but the tropes you mention would definitely bother me too. I agree completely with what you said about romance novels and sex scenes as well. I've been surprised by the fact that most are integral to the plot, not just gratuitous titillation, and I definitely think it takes talent to write them well. I also am having trouble giving up my snobbishness though. I recently picked up the second book in a romance series I enjoyed and I had hard time talking myself into reading it when I had all these more literary or more serious reads around to choose from. This is despite the fact that I've generally been pleasantly surprised by how much romances make me think about important topics, such as gender dynamics and different types of relationships, as you discussed so well here.

  3. This book is the only one by Sarah MacLean that I have read, and I was a bit disappointed in it. I should try another by her at some point. Anyway, I got into romance a couple of years ago, and will second Jenny's recommendation of Courtney Milan. My particular favorites are her novella The Governess Affair, and Proof By Seduction. I also recommend Mary Balogh's The Escape (which is somewhere in the middle of a series, but I read it out of order and it wasn't a problem.)