The Reluctant Rogue (2003)

By Elizabeth Powell

"Stuff and nonsense: That's what Jane Rutledge thinks of suffering through an endless Season. Stuck in London for her sister's come-out, the lovely miss would much prefer being on horseback in the country. But she quickly changes her mind when a most unladylike fall brings her to the attention of a handsome nobleman.

"Gaming and drinking are the greatest joys in the life of Sebastian Carr, Viscount Langley. But faced with the prospect of his father cutting him off if he doesn't marry within two months, he chooses to woo the Season's Incomparable, Jane's sister. He plans to win over Jane, then collect his prize--never expecting to discover that the delightful imp is the most precious treasure of all."

Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to read a friend's book? Argh! And this is the first time I've been friends with someone in person (shocking, I know) before reading her work. How do you have coffee and casually mention, oh, btw, your book was burnt toast to me? Truly terrible! You just don't. With online friends, leaving a big gap in email communications can help ease this awkwardness, but in person? Good heavens!

Luckily, that isn't the case here. The Reluctant Rogue is thoroughly charming and deserves the RITA nomination it garnered in 2004. *wipes brow* Liz and I can continue about our regular daily friendlives.

I'd never read a straight Regency before. The language and customs of this particular subgenre are nearly opaque to those unfamiliar with the period or the style of storytelling. The first fifty pages or so left me wondering what, exactly, I was reading. It's like...Jane Austen? Georgette Heyer? Is this how it's supposed to be? But yes, that is the convention. So I stuck with it, despite knowing there would be no castle-storming scenes.

Why did I stick with it? Well, first--curiosity. I mean, it's an interesting thing to know a body in person and then speculate as to what her authorly voice will be. But beyond that, Liz's writing style is refined and engaging. Her poetic use of language proves she's a girl after my own heart. The prose sparkles (gag. can't believe I wrote that.) with in-jokes and clever turns of phrase, making even the most routine of descriptive passages worth the read.

So in a subgenre where the most scandalous thing a man can do is kiss an unmarried woman in public, what serves as the spark? Where is the heat? There is still something entirely magical about when an author gets that *zing* moment right. When the hero knows something's up. Hey, I've never felt this before. When the heroine is entirely smitten and cannot look away from the man she'd once snubbed or loathed or disregarded. Hey, he's pretty damn sweet.

I love those moments. Liz brings Sebastian and Jane to life with their wit and initial commonality--the goal is to get dear sister Penelope married to a proper match--so when the moment comes and they're looking at each other instead...well, that's romance. And despite the intense strictures of the Regency genre, Liz gives it heart and that perfect little zing.

(I joked with her later that "fade-to-black" sex is the ultimate telling, not showing. How do we know she was a passionate minx in bed? We only have Sebastian's word! But that's Regency.)

And oh--eeeeeevil Mother character. Holy moly! Maybe it's a cry for help and we should discuss counseling. Otherwise, I'm curious about the urban fantasy she's been working on lately. I want to hear her voice outside of the Regency constraints, knowing now that she's a wicked good storyteller.

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