by Sarah McLean
When I try out a new HR author, I know it’s more often miss than hit. I’ve got my favorites but they can’t have new titles out whenever I decide to take a break from my gritty contemporaries and my PNRs, and that’s how I ended up reading A Rogue By Any Other Name by a new—to me—author. So here goes:
Penelope: 4/5 Penny’s had enough of being the proper, well-bred daughter. She needs to be loved and not traded between her father and a future husband, and, most of all, she needs an adventure. Being kidnapped by her childhood friend and claimed as his wife because of her inevitable ‘ruination’ is a good start, at least for her adventure aspirations—because he soon shatters all hopes for love and not being treated as a commodity. Penelope retains her composure throughout the book, and even though she ventures into uncharted territories, risking her reputation, she’s always frank, straight-forward, unyielding and ‘adventuresome’ (as Bourne calls her) till the end. I liked her.
Bourne (Michael): 2/5 As a Hero, he’s awful. He treats Penelope in the worst possible way, and she’s not some stranger he decided to take advantage of to win his lost land back (his Holy Grail) but a dear childhood friend who’s been nothing but kind to him. Okay, he’s bent on his revenge and reclaiming his father’s land, and the reader expects that, for the best part of the book, he’ll mistreat Penelope, reminding her that she’s nothing but “a means to an end” (that was endlessly recycled!) but it never lets up till the very end! He keeps behaving in a god-awful way, and when Penelope thinks he’s finally made a move indicating he’s come to his senses (and that’s in the final scene, mind you) it’s not even him! It’s someone else, and I’m still quite unclear as to who it was and what their motive was. Also, his internalized one-liners in italics that contradicted what he actually said were really annoying: “I don’t need her.” But I do. I found this constant ‘self-annulling’ tiresome. So no, I didn’t like Michael’s character.
Prose: 3/5 Penelope’s part in the dialogue is enjoyable. She surprises with her resolve and this shows through her words. Other than that, there was a lot of repetition that dragged the book down, the tone is not too formal (maybe too informal for a historical) and the characteristic wit found in popular titles of the genre was missing.
Heat: 4/5 The erotic scenes were detailed and nicely rendered with some originality, but they don’t work well into the plot. You’d think that after “the most incredible, mind-altering sex” (who spoke like that in 1831?) Michael would reconsider his ways but, no. After his wedding night, he left his new bride alone in a strange house.
And now, it’s time for some real nitpicking:
Penelope is plain. See how much:
“She’d become too old, too plain, too tarnished.”
“He’d likely not had a single moment of considering her as anything more than plain, proper Penelope…”
“She closed her eyes tightly, taking a deep breath, preparing for him to turn away at her plainness. Her imperfections.”
“She didn’t like the insinuation in the words. The implication that she was plain and boring…”
“She was never going to be considered beautiful. Plain, yes. Passable, even, on a good day, in a new frock.”
But tell me this: beautiful blue eyes, silken blond curls, soft pale skin, tempting pink lips… equal plain?! The girl was gorgeous! There’s absolutely no hint at ugliness based on something being wrong with her features. And when Michael is asked whether she’s “horsefaced” he doesn’t reply!! What a jerk! And these are his thoughts at the very end:
“How was it possible that he’d ever thought her plain? She was a jewel in the cold, grey mid-February sleet, all rosy cheeks and blue eyes and lovely pink lips that made him want to carry her to the nearest bed.”
What was the girl? Cursed, so that only when someone fell in love with her saw her for what she was?