REVIEW: A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore
A lady must have money and an army of her own if she is to win a revolution—but first, she must pit her wits against the wiles of an irresistible rogue bent on wrecking her plans…and her heart.
Lady Lucie is fuming. She and her band of Oxford suffragists have finally scraped together enough capital to control one of London’s major publishing houses, with one purpose: to use it in a coup against Parliament. But who could have predicted that the one person standing between her and success is her old nemesis and London’s undisputed lord of sin, Lord Ballentine? Or that he would be willing to hand over the reins for an outrageous price—a night in her bed.
Lucie tempts Tristan like no other woman, burning him up with her fierceness and determination every time they clash. But as their battle of wills and words fans the flames of long-smoldering devotion, the silver-tongued seducer runs the risk of becoming caught in his own snare.
As Lucie tries to out-maneuver Tristan in the boardroom and the bedchamber, she soon discovers there’s truth in what the poets say: all is fair in love and war…
I loved everything about this book—starting with the cover. Very stylish and cool. I like the suggestion of faces, the way the figures are arranged and the little cat (cats play an important part in the story!). I adored this book, and was honestly surprised to do so since I couldn’t even finish the first book in the series. The series A League of Extraordinary Women, follows the lives and romantic tribulations of a group of suffragettes in Victorian England. Thus far, there are three books in the series, Bringing Down the Duke, A Rogue of One’s Own, and Portrait of a Scotsman. I honestly didn’t finish the first book—I found the hero to be too cold, and the heroine wasn’t compelling. I wanted to love it, because the writing was so good and the premise appealing and I loved the opening scene, but alas I gave up at the halfway point. I was surprised then to find myself completely immersed in this book. I read it in one night, staying up until 2 am to finish! And since then, I have re-read it twice, and both times it was riveting.
The plot centers around Lady Lucie, an avowed suffragette, who plots to acquire a publishing house with her group of friends, in order to disseminate feminist messages and to oppose
unjust Parliamentary laws, in particular the Married Women’s Property Act unjust laws against women and amend the Married Women’s Property Act. There are of course many obstacles in her way—and at the start of the book, Lord Ballantine, an old nemesis of hers appears as one. The book is balanced around the tension between them—is he a good guy helping the cause, or a bad guy obstructing it? How will Lucie win against so many odds? And how has the fight for justice for women shaped who Lucie is? How can love flourish in a society in which women and men are placed in such unequal positions of power? The author herself writing about the premise notes– ” I wondered how a woman like Lucie who had her eyes open would fall in love under such circumstances (of oppression and injustice). What would make her say ” I do” to effectively being owned?” This is the heart of the book–Lucie not only has to fall in love, she has to also trust. And the man she ends up choosing, accepts her vulnerability and celebrates her strength.
One of the glorious things about the book is the way that Dunmore shows women using their cleverness and their strength and their community to subvert society. The story is as much about Lucie’s inner life—her growth as a person, her challenges as a political activist, her trauma as a woman, and her hopefulness and desires, as it is about political machinations or falling in love. She really felt like a fully realized person to me, someone I would know in real life and not an idealized heroine or a damsel in distress or a one dimensional character. She had depth and that really drew me to her.
Oh Lucy how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You are one of my favorite heroines—right up there with from Nell from Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, Beatrix from Lisa Kleypas Love in the Afternoon, and Maddie from Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, and Anna from Patricia Brigg’s Alpha and Omega. Her braveness is one of the chief qualities I loved best—and she lives by her ideals, even though that means estrangement and loneliness and material hardship. She’s not a martyr however, or insufferably righteous—Dumore shows us her vulnerability, her insecurity, her doubt and turmoil. Lucie leaves home at 16, after one too many fights with her family about her political beliefs, and thanks to a small annuity/inheritance from an aunt, she is able to devote herself to her work. I appreciated how political beliefs and activism were shown as work—for Lucie it means writing and answering letters, meeting with people, lobbying members of parliament and numerous other tasks. Lucie isn’t just working for the cause, she is a leader in it. The beauty of the romance comes in how Ballantine sees Lucie—he finds value in her passionate idealism, and in her bravery and strength. He loves how she looks but also who she is inside. They appear unlike at first–she an outcast spinster and suffragette, and he a popular rogue and war hero. But the beauty of the story unfolds in how alike they actually are–both have a passionate intensity, both are devoted and loyal, both are rebels, both are not what they appear.
The plot centers on Lucie and her Suffragette friends acquiring a publishing house. This is in part financed by Annabel, the new Duchess of Montgomery.
This part of the book works so well. It was original. The author notes that Lucie’s story was inspired by a Victorian letter and verse sent by the daughter of an American abolitionist. The publishing house—working to acquire it and managing and running it —works brilliantly to connect the historical materiality of Victorian women’s lives and the Cause of feminist advancement to the character building of the heroine and her fictional friends. It adds a richness and depth to the women characters. I really relished the fact that most of the action in the story isn’t happening in Society events, like balls and promenading in the park. Because Lucie is an outcast, and because of her devotion to the Cause, a lot of the action happens in unexpected and interesting places.
There is an important epistolary element to the story. Dunmore includes letters from women to Lucie, many of them inspired by real life and the total sum of all this—the publishing house, the letters, the circle of suffragettes and their discussions, it built in me as a reader, a sense of mounting urgent passionate intensity, the kind that drives all good Causes. Lucie and her group of feminists are truly delightful—they are all different kinds of women, of different ages and stations in life, but they are a community. This was so comforting for me to read about.
I should take a moment here to address the two villains—I didn’t find them problematic but I can see how others might.
I appreciated the sensitive depiction of homosexual desire in Victorian England. I found painful the reminder of the long history of War in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s colonial and imperial history, and the many wars waged there, is tragic and devastating. Ballantine, like many veterans of war, is profoundly disenchanted with the entire war machine and we see that his political radicalism comes in the form of anti imperial and anti colonial and anti war sentiments. In one conversation with Lucy, Ballantine says about the war ” It is a crime, against them, and us.” Ballantine in that way, is actually very much like Lucie—both are anti establishment revolutionaries but each go about their work in different ways.
Tristan, Lord Ballentine, is described by Lucie as “Scoundrel, seducer and bane of her youth.” He is a war hero who has won the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery in Afghanistan, but he is also a published poet of some renown. He is flirtatious and charming and sexy. Dunmore writes about how his “His rare masculine beauty” is balanced against “the promise of depravity”. I found Tristan to be attractive (I’m a sucker for stories about the popular boy and the unpopular girl) and by the end of the book, he was so romantic. He is a perfect match for Lucie. Like her, he is sensitive and passionately intense. When they turn that intensity into each other it is scorching hot. I loved that their romantic and sexual relationship is built alongside a deep and blossoming friendship. Dumore deploys a nice twist on some conventional tropes—Tristan appears to be an airhead, but actually is quite sharp and clever. Lucie appears sharp and prickly but she has a soft and vulnerable core. I found Ballentine sexy because he was complicated. He isnt necessarily moral, and he does things that hurt Lucie, and he is scheming and sometimes shallow. But he really loved Lucie, he loves his mother, and in the end, he does the right thing and in a creative way. Ballantine is a poet and the way he loves and thinks about and deploys poetry was SO ROMANTIC! Poetry is woven deeply into the plot and the writing I relished that. Poems from some of the most famous Romantics–Byron, Yeats, Coleridge, Tennyson– were elegantly deployed in the narrative. I have so many favorite scenes, but one of my favorites involves the recitation of poems and the sudden kind of beautiful awareness you have when you link a poem and its words to real life. It doesn’t hurt that Dunmore features some of my favorite poems—including W.B. Yeats “When you are old”. (In my mind, one of the most romantic poems ever written!). Ballentine loves Lucie for who she is, and he becomes a true partner to her. His scenes with her are romantic, tender, sexy and smoldering. He flouts conventions and does what he wants, but he also has a keen eye for justice, cares about his mother and cats, and exacts revenge on a group of men who would harm Lucie. He is masculine without being aggressive, sexy because of his singular and focused attention on Lucie, has the soul of both an artist and a warrior. He felt real to me, not an idealized version of a man, but a flawed and relatable figure of his time. He was so charming it leapt off the page.
I can go on and on about this book because I love it so much and there are so many rich subplots and little details. I will just end with mentioning a few of them. I love the opening scene—Dunmore has a knack for writing great ones. I ADORED the cat subplot—I LOVE cats and they play a super important role in the plot. I found myself surprised and shocked by all the unexpected swerves and revelations in the plot. This book plays with so many conventions and tropes– enemies to lovers, childhood crush, rakish war hero, spinster suffragette heroine. The hero and heroine are fully realized characters with a rich interiority, the romance is by turns, achingly sweet and smoldering and passionate , the moral dilemmas are real and urgent and moving, and the prose is elegant and light and funny and beautiful. I haven’t loved a book in recent memory more.