One good earl deserves a lover

One good earl deserves a lover / Sarah MacLean

I find myself increasingly reading historical romance. I find myself getting tired of so-called ‘Hard” science fiction which feels more like an exercise in dull determinism than an enjoyable reading experience. I’m also growing a little bored with the endless large-scale melodrama of fantasy and “soft” science fiction. Mystery novels almost invariably end up being too predictable or devoting themselves to defending Status Q.  Ostensibly “Literary” fiction either ends up drowning in angst or featuring “important” statements about social problems that I end up dealing with enough in my daily life that I don’t have the energy to deal with them in fiction. I know other people who feel this way – most of them have gravitated towards YA fiction which is reasonable but it’s an area where I’m frequently overwhelmed and for some reason I’m more comfortable being seen in the Romance section than I am in the YA section.

So in the interest of reading something not inflated by its own self-importance that manages to be at least minimally witty I find myself reading historical romance novels pretty much by default. (It also helps that my spouse is a fan of the genre so they are also readily available and I have a plausible excuse when people see me buying them or checking them out of the library.  As a result of all this Sarah MacLean has become one of my favorite authors. She does a good job of telling an entertaining, frequently hilarious story without whitewashing how horrible living conditions were for the vast majority of the population of Regency England.

This is the second book in the Rules of scoundrels series, a quartet of novels mostly notable for the fact that none of the major characters are leading lights of the ton and none of them have the excess of social capital that usually makes problems go away in these kinds of books.

Brief plot summary

Pippa, sister of the protagonist of the previous volume, is an intellectual young lady with a problem. Her fiancé is notoriously dull and she herself has no idea how a marriage is supposed to “work”. In an effort to learn more about relationships she enlists Cross, one of the four owners of the town’s most notorious hell, the Fallen angel.

So how is it?

As I mentioned in my post on A rogue by any other name, this series gets progressively better with each novel (my spouse would argue that the third one is the best but the fourth includes a young girl having a matter of fact discussion about drinking wine from skulls in one of the best scenes ever encountered in any medium (I may be exaggerating somewhat here)). It’s probably not a coincidence that each installment departs further from the tropes of the traditional Regency romance. So One good earl deserves a lover is quite excellent and has successfully jettisoned the “kidnapped bride / “dark” noble seeking revenge for past injuries who sees the female lead as a means of accomplishing that revenge” style of plot that held the first book back.

So here are some things that I like about this book, in no particular order:

Both leads are entertaining and well-characterized. Pippa is first and foremost a scientist and the excerpts from her diary that begin the chapters are wonderful. Cross is certainly more interesting than Bourne and his involvement in the prostitution “industry” is handled extremely well. Building on the latter, the previous volume laid the groundwork for Cross’s character in ways that are in some sense an effective misdirection but are in no way dishonest. They play on the reader’s assumptions about what is going on rather than arbitrarily institute hackneyed “twists”.

The Hilarious Misunderstanding is perhaps the staple trope of the romance genre. It’s almost impossible to write a book that genre fans will enjoy without it (much like how writing a subversive mystery novel is almost a contradiction in terms). Still, it’s handled well throughout this series and the alternating points of view make the misunderstandings completely credible. It’s not a misunderstanding out of a failure to listen as is the standard in film – it’s generally a misunderstanding out of failure to reveal or a failure to ask. While there are moments where “seriously this whole thing could be over right now if they would just be honest for once” it’s not as intrusive as it can be and anyone who’s going to seek out a book like this probably has a tolerance for that kind of thing anyways.

This is the most sexually explicit book of the quartet but it’s also the one where the sex is the most removed from the “bodice ripper” stereotype (not that any of these novels get anywhere close to that, really). It’s about on par with the Cynster novels which I frequently see in “regular” fiction sections. The point is, this book is not one of what my supervisor would call “smut books” (honestly, she’d probably call it that anyway but she’s judgmental when it comes to that kind of thing). It’s explicit but its explicitness grows organically from the story rather than the story being a vehicle for explicit scenes.

Recommendation

I read this series totally out of order and still enjoyed it a lot but on reading the earlier volumes there’s a huge amount of subtle stuff that really enhances what happens later so it’s definitely worth reading in order. Still, if you’re more interested in reading a romance novel about the relationship between a procurer/accountant and a bluestocking than you are in reading the other books in the series then there’s nothing wrong with reading this one first/only.

For those who don’t read genre romance then the third or fourth book in the series is a better place to start.

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