I’m an avid reader of historical romances, forever drawn to a world where dashing rogues fall head over heels in love with intrepid damsels, but few authors continue to amaze me with the way they engage so purposefully with female identity, body norms, and sexuality in their stories, rather than merely accept the traditionally accepted. And Sarah MacLean is one of those authors. There is so much to adore about her writing—from her elegant but sharp prose, to the intense chemistry between her characters—but to me, her true gift in this genre lies in the way she refocuses history on the perspective of the woman by giving us fierce, trailblazing heroines and the men who champion them, rather than push them to the back. I can confidently say that stories like these are the reason I will never stop reading romance novels.
“I’m so damn tired of being told it should. Being told I don’t know my own mind. Being told I’m not strong enough. Not clever enough. I am.”
The daughter of a duke, twenty-nine-year-old Lady Henrietta “Hattie” Sedley knows that the only thing that is expected of her is to marry and bear children, but all Hattie has ever wanted in life is to captain her own fate by taking over her father’s business. She’s always desired autonomy more than romance, and she is willing to do all it takes to achieve her goals, even lose her virginity to a stranger to render herself truly unmarriageable. It is the ‘Year of Hattie” after all—and it is to begin with her own ruination—but an unplanned run-in with the most beautiful man she’s ever seen becomes the catalyst to a chain of events that sees Hattie entering a world she might be wholly unprepared for.
This recklessness would take her out of the running as a wife to any decent man, and make it impossible for her father to refuse her what she truly wanted. A business of her own. A life of her own. A future of her own.
Known in London’s darkest streets only as Beast and as one third of the much-feared Bareknuckle Bastards, Saviour “Whit” Whittington rules Covent Garden with his fists, his ruthlessness, and his lack of emotion. So when he finds himself tied up in a stranger’s carriage, facing the displeasure of one of the feistiest and most determined young women he’s ever met, he becomes intrigued by his own reaction to her. Their fates, however, become unwittingly entwined the moment they lay eyes on one another, and as soon as they learn more about the other, a rivalry inevitably forms between them. Neither side is willing to back down even as their hearts soon begin wishing for something very different, and they use every trick up their sleeve to protect what they treasure the most. But for there to be a winner in any battle, there must also be a loser, and as evenly matched as they are, one of them will have to concede defeat in the end. Regardless of how much the game has changed in the meantime.
“I have never been an equal. Even as I fought for all the things I wanted, I never had a choice. Not really. I always had a father or a brother or friends to tell me what I should choose. What I could have. Who I am.” She met his eyes, their amber fire unwavering on her. “And then I met you. And from the very start, you offered me choice. You never told me what I should want. What I could and could not have. You made me your equal.”
Book after book, I’ve come to expect nuanced character development and enthralling storylines from this author, but she will never stop blowing my mind with the subtle social commentary lacing her stories, transcending time and place, and tirelessly celebrating gender equality in all its forms. Hattie is a woman born in a man’s world, and she has to prove herself worthy of the very thing she’d be given freely if she were a man—her independence. But in Whit, she not only finds a man who wants to give her the world, but also stand by her side as she rules it. Poignant, intense, and full of heart—this, to me, is historical romance at its very best.
“I do not deserve you.”
She smiled at the words. “I think you can agree that I am almost as much trouble as I am delight.”