24 February, 2012
Review: A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
I am not even kidding. It's like an internet video as our hero channels The Incredible Hulk and rips not one but two articles of clothing off the heroine. The first time she is shocked. (As are we. Didn't bodice ripping go out with the 80's? She is bundled up in winter wear. Has the author ever tried to rip a few layers of wool apart, even with well sewn buttons being the focus? And a nightgown - get one, put it on, ask someone to grab the front edges and give it a tear. Then wait a really, really, really long time. Eventually they might get it, but unless you perforated it in advance it's not the quick one two move popular imagination paints it. Ok, I might have just damaged a cheap shirt from Target giving it the college try, but that was on the seam. Does our heroine have front seams on all her attire?) The second time she sort of digs it. Penelope, she's not big on the self preservation.
It's fitting that the focus of this cover is the heroine. She is the redemption of the book (until she isn't) and the primary reason I'd recommend it as a read. While there is a bit of late in book ass covering (Early on Penelope seems unconcerned at the thought of her father dying while she is unwed despite having a Boy Next Door example of what happens when your parents die on you. Late in the book she's yelling about how her father could have died while she was unwed and how could anyone think she hadn't considered that? Y'know, that sort of thing.) overall Penelope is the awesome kind of heroine I'd like to see more. She's not that into trading her self worth for male approval, she has interests and goals, she doesn't lie to herself, she faces reality and she makes the best of whatever life hands her. We could totally do lunch. Toward the end it all goes a bit ass over teakettle as everyone falls in love with her and she shows an astonishing propensity for beginner's luck when it comes to gambling, but hey. While it's good it's great. If you're going to read A Rogue By Any Other Name, read it for the heroine.
The hero is an immature ass. But he has some really cool artwork. Actually, I'm not sure why he has the really cool artwork. He's a gambling addict who is a partner in a gaming club that boasts a multi level two way stained glass window of Lucifer. The club itself I'd totally check out if it had live music instead of gambling. It's all about the glossy woods and the saturated colors with the bold graphics of damnation pulsing through the party. I think he has the really cool artwork to make you interested in the club and to stop you from thinking about why he owns part of it. The guy who really owns it is said (late in the book) to have plucked Bourne off the streets to run his games and tell him the ways of the aristos, yet early in the book Bourne just seems to be good at bitching about his life. Bourne makes a point of being ignorant about the aristo world, while the dude who plucked him off the street knows all about it. It's inconsistent. What do you expect when your hero is a a gambling addict who lost everything in a game of 21 yet spends his life obsessed with revenge while taking everything from other gambling addicts? They are losing their estates because they are weak, foolish addicts and he lost his estate because his guardian was a big meanie that cheated him. (The cheating allegation comes quite late in the book and is part of the effort to villainize the villain so you'll get over Bourne being a whiny bitch.)
Right, so Bourne loses it all gambling, makes it all back gambling, and focuses his life on penalizing the dude he lost it to. (Oh Hello, Self Awareness. Table for none?) His childhood sweetheart Penelope (star of an earlier book as well) is languishing at home when her father makes her the new holder of Bourne's land (which he got while gambling despite our villain having previously refused all offers for it) and suggests she get married already. Penelope goes for a melancholic walk in the woods in the middle of the night while it snows (as you do) and Bourne appears to rip her dress in half. Rather than just, you know, ask Penelope to marry him he's devised this ginormous plan of entrapment and artifice so he can get on with the revenging already. Their dynamic is a weird hybrid of abusive and tedious. I totally believe they will stay together forever and be drama queens into eternity but I think Bourne is right when he says Penelope deserves so much more. I also believe her when she says he's all she wants. Life has stripped the self worth off her enough for her to think he's a good catch.
Everything about this book would have been improved by the villain not being a villain. If the big denouncement scene had ended with the villain saying "Well Bourne, you were stupid as the day is long and therefore bound to lose it to someone. As your guardian who better to ensure your assets remained intact until you got some damn sense? And so what if I adopted a kid? I should leave my brother's son to a life of grinding poverty and shame? What kind of man does that make me? Glad you grew a pair, here's your stuff back." But no, he's an evil scheming woman smacking bad guy who wronged our poor self pitying Bourne. Let's all hold Bourne's hand while he cries. Again. Bourne could have been a compelling hero. His hitting bottom as an addict, his walking away from his life and his love, his reinvention from the ashes using the very thing that destroyed him - all the bones of epic greatness are here. For me, greatness goes unrealized.
Yet I didn't hate the book. I loved the lush descriptions. I loved the sense of place (if not time). I loved the family dynamics and the internal conflicts of Penelope as she struggled to rebuild her sense of self over and again. I stayed in the story even as I wished for a sudden change of hero. The constant rehashes of events already known to me were brushed aside. I forgave the blatant sequel bait as little hooks were dangled for future tales, tidbits barely relevant to the events at hand. I accepted yet another world where everyone goes by one name like Madonna. No one has a near death experience, although Penelope does have stupidly unlikely beginner's luck at any game of chance she sets her mind to. Overall there was plenty to like about A Rogue By Any Other Name. I just needed more than a late book revelation of What Is Really Important to buy Bourne as a guy worth wanting.