I’ve been a big fan of Sarah MacLean’s historical romances ever since picking up Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake just when I was finishing school and getting back into the genre fiction game. Before reading her latest, I would have told you that Nine Rules is my favourite MacLean book, closely followed by A Rogue By Any Other Name. In my opinion, MacLean has out done herself with The Rogue Not Taken, it is, hands down, my new favourite. Not only is this book fun, but it also offers readers a deeply felt romance between two characters that initially have nothing good to say about each other (and let’s be honest, Sophie and King can be quite cutting to one another). Throw in a road trip, some cross dressing, and a gunshot wound, you have a recipe for a fantastically fast-paced and exciting romance.
Sophie Talbot is done with the aristocracy. After discovering her brother-in-law in a compromising situation with a woman who is decidedly not his wife, Sophie snaps and gives her brother-in-law a well-deserved set down. Unfortunately this set down is witnessed by half the ton and he also took a dunking in a fishpond. The icing on the cake is that said brother-in-law is a very powerful member of the ton and can well and truly ruin Sophie and her family. Deciding to get out of dodge and return to a place where things were simpler for her, Sophie dons a footman’s apparel and grabs a ride with Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley. Of course, King is none too pleased to discover his stowaway.
Resigned to having Sophie along with him as he travels back home (after fifteen years of not speaking to his father), he is nonetheless convinced that Sophie means to trap him into marriage (Sophie and her sister do have a reputation after all). For her part, Sophie despises King and everything that he stands for. Sophie wasn’t born into the aristocracy and would like nothing more than to return to the simple life she knew before her father won his title. Trapping King into marriage is the last thing on her agenda. Alas, that road to simplicity is fraught with peril.
The whole “on-the-road” romance is an awesome trope and I especially love its use in the historical romance genre as it often allows the author to play around with relaxing societal conventions. In the case of The Rogue Not Taken this is especially true since it allows Sophie to escape from the expectations of her status in society and develop her own agency. Not to mention lots of un-chaperoned time spent in the company of the opposite sex. As a member of the aristocracy Sophie has often felt lost and overlooked, sitting on the sidelines while her sisters rack up their scandals (and there are many of them). Confronting her brother-in-law and setting forth on a scandal of her own is only the beginning of Sophie’s journey into independence and her realization that she is not unfun. While romances are essentially about two people coming together, it’s the fact that MacLean emphasizes Sophie and King’s individuality that makes this such a strong romance. Just because Sophie’s falling in love with King does not mean that she’s a pushover; when it comes down to it Sophie has learned exactly what she deserves and it’s up to King to measure up. And while Sophie does do a lot of her own introspection, it’s also King that encourages her to think of herself as something other than invisible:
“Stop believing whatever everyone has said about you for all these years. There’s nothing about that is unmemorable. The last week has been the most memorable of my life, for Chrissakes. Because of you. Stop imagining you’re something you’re not.”
Now, that’s not to say that King’s the perfect hero, he is absolutely not perfect, which makes him kind of awesome. Who needs perfection anyway? King is an arrogant idiot, even if he exerts himself to act rather sweetly on occasion. He makes bad decisions, he’s definitely not always kind to Sophie, and he’s somewhat manipulative. In essence, King’s not really that mature of a hero. Exhibit A: He hasn’t spoken to his father in fifteen years. Fifteen years of resentment, guilt, and anger, which all could have been resolved with one conversation. Fifteen years people! But, like Sophie, King needs to go through some growing pains and this journey home forces King to make some personal changes, especially with Sophie egging him on.
Ultimately, is the journey both real and metaphorical that both King and Sophie go through that make The Rogue Not Taken such a rich romance. It’s more than laughs and hilarious situations. It’s about two people who are at a crossroads in life, whose journeys happen to intersect along their own individual paths.
So, if you’re looking for a romance with a bit of depth you’re going to like The Rogue Not Taken. If you’re looking for a romance with depth and humour you’re going to love this book. The characters that MacLean has created set the stage for a great romance, but it’s the humour that really sets the tone of the book and creates a really fun reading experience. Was it always realistic? No. But it was always entertaining, and nothing was more entertaining than the biting wit between Sophie and King. Their war of words was inspired. I was especially taken with their tendency to create whole new words. I need to work rapscallionesque into my vocabulary.
“I shall do no such thing, you horrible, arrogant scoundrel. This is my bedchamber, in which you take such rapscalionesque liberties.”
He raised his brow. “Rapscallionesque isn’t a word.”
She did not hesitate. “I’m certain that those who invent words need only to meet you to see that it should be.”
Basically, if you’re a historical romance reader you need to check out Sarah MacLean. Not only is she a great writer, she’s also done a lot to legitimatize the romance genre (as if there are naysayers out there!). While I found the tone of The Rogue Not Taken to be a little different from her previous books – lighter, funnier – the characters are classic MacLean: unwilling to compromise for second best in their personal and romantic life.
If you liked the humour of The Rogue Not Taken and the “on-the-road” romance theme, you will adore Tessa Dare’s A Week to Be Wicked. Like The Rogue, the hero and heroine of Dare’s historical romance find themselves in rather unusual situations which involve much hilarity. A Week to Be Wicked has to be one of my favourite “on-the-road” romances and one that I highly recommend.
For another one of my favourite “on-the-road” romances, I’d also recommend Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Adventures of Celia Seaton. While this one is perhaps not as strongly written as MacLean’s novel, I do love the fact the hero had amnesia and that the heroine had no issues whatsoever in tricking him into believing that he was someone other than a pink of the ton. A simple read, but a delightful one.