SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read the other books in the Rules of Scoundrels series, you might not want to read this, especially if you don’t want to be spoiled about Chase’s identity.
Dear Ms. MacLean,
First, let’s rebel and judge the lady on this highly suitable cover. That gaze, that pose, those tan trousers and belt buckle, and that rich white blouse casually left open to display a scantily-bared chest are just what you’d expect of…a hero. I love it. Avon artists, I tip my hat to you.
Now, if you will, let’s recreate Tuesday, November 25, 2014 (five shameful weeks before This Reviewer completed her review):
Hold everything! It is release day. Chase’s book is out and I must immediately go to Amazon and purchase it. You see what you’ve done to me, Ms. MacLean? I am a Pavlovian dog. All of 30 seconds after remembering, I dutifully surrender my $5.70 USD. I magically route the newly purchased book to my desktop, to my laptop, to my Kindle, to my iPad, to my iPhone. It is an Amazonian ritual I love to perform. Let it be everywhere. Let the world abound in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover and let it be good.
I’m highly grateful that I was on dinner break from work at the moment of remembrance. If I’d remembered your latest was out during a client meeting, I might have been in torture for hours before I could download it. I have no patience, but thankfully, my lack of patience is paired with a terrible, Generation X memory when it comes to book release dates (and tv show release dates and movie release dates). When technology is here to remind me, why waste brain power on such things? So I’m only tortured when I actually remember what the hell I’m supposed to be tortured about. This sterling memory kicked in as soon as I read your email informing me it’s time to give you money again. Yes, it is.
To be honest, I was a bit worried. I did not enjoy your last book. Mara, the (anti-)heroine from No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, is one of my least favorite heroines in the history of historical romance. Sorry, but that duke most assuredly did not go unpunished with her at his side. He got stuck with her the entire book, and worse, for the rest of his imaginary life. If Mara were letters I’d picked up in Scrabble to play my turn, she’d be I-I-I-U-V-I-I. It would be impossible to create a high-point word out of her or any decent two-word plays. (Shut up, shut up, I am super cool.) If Mara were an original vampire from The Vampire Diaries (or The Originals), I would dagger her immediately and store her in a coffin for centuries. If Mara were an internet connection, she’d be dial-up. If you haven’t caught on yet: I didn’t like her. I also didn’t like the first in the series much, though the second was very decent.
So let’s assume I have some issues with this series. Still, we are aided by the fact that the heroine of this newest release is a character I already love. We met her many books ago, in a different series. And that series, I adored (though I had problems with the heroine from Ten Ways as well). (Keepin’ it real.) Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is one of the best historical romances I have ever read, easily earning a spot in my top 5. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart is certainly in my top 20. I have a lot of investment in this heroine. You teased us and teased us and, in the last book (No Good Duke), we were finally rewarded after months and years of speculation. Even then, we had to wait until the new book summary was out to confirm the identity.
Georgiana’s book is here at last, and now I’m leaning forward and wondering, and hoping, and hungry, because I remembered your book as soon as I went on dinner break and all I’ve done is read and there’s been no dinner involved on this break. On the one hand, food would be nice. On the other, who needs food? Georgiana’s book is out. My priorities are clear: Read the book. Now. (Plus getting dinner means standing up and reading means staying seated, so there’s a clear victor here.)
Recreation of Release Day over.
I was disappointed that some of my favorite characters in your world did not appear: Simon, Duke of Leighton, and his wife, Juliana. As Georgiana’s brother, it would have been natural to have at least one scene with him and Juliana. They were mentioned a few times, but never appeared on-page. It’s a shame. Still, you have to go where the plot dictates, and it’s best not to indulge my obsessive love of Simon and Juliana if your plot suffers for it. I will suffer instead. Not in silence. Never in silence.
After two chapters, my eyes had glazed over in that wonderful, must-turn-the-page, this-must-not-end way. Georgiana and her daughter, Caroline, were featured in a scandalous cartoon in a gossip sheet. She realized if she didn’t marry well, she could never redeem her reputation enough to give Caroline the life she wanted for her, respectful and happy, opening all doors for her. For Caroline’s happiness and reputation, she opens herself to the miserable world of the ton and becomes one more title-hunter. A title buys respect where money cannot.
I’m not quite certain how marrying a title gives any more impact to her daughter than having the Duke of Leighton for an uncle, but it’s necessary to the plot that she take action, and I can sorta-halfway see the reasoning. In any case, it catapults her straight into the vipers’ nest and that is highly entertaining, so I will forgive the sketchiness of just how necessary her marrying a title may be to Caroline’s happiness or reputation.
She enters society a decade after her scandal, when she revealed herself to the world as a teenage unwed mother (see: Eleven Scandals, her brother’s story). At age 26, she is nowhere near innocent or naive. She returns to Society well-equipped to handle it. (Actually, it wasn’t a return, since she became pregnant before she ever made her debut.) She more than holds her own in a beautiful confrontation of Mean Girls v. Georgiana. They didn’t stand a chance; they are so unprepared for her competency and intelligence and cruelty. Absolutely her cruelty. Chase, co-owner of The Fallen Angel, can be vicious, and it shows in how she handles the situation.
I love, love, love a heroine unafraid of bullies. Georgiana is magnificent the whole way though this book. With about six years of experience running The Fallen Angel with the series’ other heroes, she stands up for herself effortlessly, making the mean, gossiping queen bee sorry she ever spoke a word. When she’s finished, Duncan West applauds her.
Duncan is a newspaper magnate who owns five of the most successful newspapers in England, including the one that published the horrid cartoon of Georgiana and her daughter. More than that, though, he is well-acquainted with Chase, aka Georgiana hidden from the masses. He has never met Chase in person but has corresponded with the mysterious owner of The Fallen Angel for years. Add to that the fact that Georgiana dresses up as Anna, the head madam of the prostitutes at The Fallen Angel, and as Anna, she’s flirted with Duncan more than a few times.
You can tell from the start that Georgiana fancies him, and has for a while. Though they are both clearly good people, this is balanced by an abundance of ruthlessness. Georgiana and Duncan are both fierce. They’re dangerous. Chase and Duncan can both ruin a man at the drop of a hat in different ways, and at times, together. They are feared. They are respected. With Georgiana finally face-to-face with Duncan, as herself rather than as a painted-up madam, they meet in a remarkable interplay of chemistry and candidness.
At some point, I had the presence of mind to make myself a sandwich.
Duncan believes Anna (London’s finest whore, as he calls her in his head) is claimed by the never-seen Chase. It’s what everyone believes. She partners with no one else as she manages the other women at The Fallen Angel. She has a unique, direct connection to Chase and is usually his messenger. When Duncan discovers Georgiana is Anna (who always gussies herself up, wears a wig, etc.), his jealousy of Chase grows. And of course, Georgiana is Anna is Chase, so he is jealous of her for want of her.
His brown eyes searched hers, and when he spoke, it was a low, dark whisper, demanding honesty. “Do you belong to him?”
She should say yes. It would be safer. It would keep West at arm’s length if he thought for a moment that Chase might fight him for her. He needed Chase and all the information garnered and protected by The Fallen Angel.
She should say yes. But in this moment, with this man, she wanted to tell the truth. Just once. Just to know what it was like to do so. And so she did. “No,” she whispered. “I belong to myself.”
A heroine who knows her own worth is equal to a trillion of any other kind.
The hero is also excellent. He’s built himself up as a new man after a bad history and he’s absolutely keen to keep that history hidden. He tries not to make long-term attachments because he knows that some day, his past could be paraded in front of everyone, and he would probably be hanged by a court of law, and he refuses to bring that shame upon any woman he might marry. So he keeps his distance. But with Georgiana, the last thing he wants is distance. It’s like he becomes addicted to her. I don’t blame him. Any romance hero would fall hard, no matter his convictions. Hell, I’d marry her myself if she weren’t fictional. She is a force of nature.
I love Duncan because of how much respect he has for Georgiana at every point in their acquaintance. Unfortunately, he is always telling her that Chase doesn’t appreciate her, that he misuses her, and of course she returns that Chase does nothing of the kind, that she needs him, that Chase and she are two sides of the same coin. Duncan gets angrier and more frustrated and more desperate to know why she is so faithful to a man who keeps her dressed as a whore at a gambling club.
Poor guy has no idea he’s insulting her when he says Chase misuses her, because it’s like accusing her of misusing herself. The last thing she wants is to be held to someone else’s standards of who she must be. She rules her own life. She rules everyone’s lives. She stands above them and watches and decides who will be ruined and who will be spared. She is Chase. She is the titular fallen angel, suffering betrayal and ruin, and emerging the stronger for it. She is the damsel in distress, deliberately made into a knight in shining armor so she can save herself. She can do anything she wants.
But when she starts to want Duncan, she is not ready for the consequences.
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover was an impressive read from beginning to end. A-.