Miranda Neville’s latest, The Ruin Of A Rogue, second in the Georgian-set series that opened with the disappointing Importance of Being Wicked, was, contrariwise, delightful. Along with Grant’s A Woman Entangled, it is one of the best historical romances Miss Bates read this year. What a relief it was for her, after some recent duds, to sink into the replete reader immersion that a romance well-told and well-felt brings. Neville’s novel is adeptly written, witty, poignant, and utterly charming, as are her rogue and his beloved, Marcus Lithgow and Anne Brotherton. If you’ve read the less successful Importance, you’ll recall the scoundrel who indulged in certain shenanigans concerning the heroine’s, Caro’s, Titian and her geek heiress-cousin with the obsessive interest in antiquities. If you haven’t read Importance, you need not read it to enjoy this romance, though mysteries set up in the first are resolved in the second.
It is a truth missbatesian-acknowledged that a romance has to capture her attention within three sentences. More often than not, Miss Bates’s call is on the mark. When she started The Ruin Of A Rogue, she experienced that frisson of excitement and anticipation that a reader loves: “Yes, this is it!” Except for a dip near the end, Neville’s latest effort did not let Miss Bates down. Picking up Marcus and Anne from where she’d left them in Importance, Neville tells a tale of role reversal for hero and heroine vis-à-vis the hero’s and heroine’s portrayals in the series’ first volume: in this case, the hero is the mercenary, bohemian rogue and the heroine is staid, serious, and rich as Croesus. With this, what didn’t work in Importance is successful in Ruin.
In telling Marcus and Anne’s love story, the novel plays ironically on the notion of “ruin.” At the novel’s opening, Marcus is desperate for funds, luckless at the gaming table, and determined to win a rich heiress, or accept a bribe to “disappear” from her life after ruining her. Marcus’s philosophy is amoral and expedient, or as he says (and thus gives us a great definition of a rogue) “a man of honour when there was no reason not to be.” He is, however, also lonely, sick of himself, and soul-tired of his peripatetic life. His target is the dowdy, quiet Anne, the “wealthiest woman in Great Britain.” The jaded, exploitative rogue sets his sights on the innocent, genuine, intelligent, kind, and witty Anne, who takes his scoundrel’s heart into her capable archaeologist’s hands and digs him an emotional hole from which he cannot emerge any less than “ruined” for the smarmy tricks of his trade. How she accomplishes this and he falls from his rogue’s pedestal are the pleasures of reading The Ruin Of A Rogue.
The novel enacts a dance of “I’ll get you. You got me.” deception and revenge. Marcus sets out to win Anne, or a portion of her fortune. Anne overhears Marcus’s plans and sets out to drive him to boredom, exasperation, and penury by playing the spoiled, haughty, snooty heiress, the opposite of Anne’s true nature; witness Anne’s resolution when she makes this discovery, “To Lithgow, she wasn’t a person but a prize, a shining pile of gold in the lottery of life. Every word he’d spoken to her had been false, and she would make him suffer for it.” This initial first third of the novel is hilarious without being any less romantic, or making hero and heroine less than endearing thanks to the skill of the writing, which is witty, light, and funny. The tables are turned on Anne when Marcus inherits his Uncle Josiah’s decrepit estate in Wiltshire, Hinton Manor. At his arrival, our sympathy for Marcus is founded on his “tearing up” at realizing that, at long last, something is wholly his, even if he can’t afford maintaining it. We realize that Marcus’s exploitative behaviour is the result of terrible losses: his mother’s death and the loss of his home when he was a child.
Anne relinquishes her vengeful role of spoiled, spendthrift heiress because she wants something of Marcus’s: to excavate the Roman villa on his estate. She decides she’ll kill two birds with one stone: she’ll realize her life’s dream at Marcus’s estate and endanger her reputation, thus ensuring her “unmarriageable” state and foiling her guardian’s attempt to marry her to Lord Algernon Tiverton, fop and prig. With Anne’s appearance at Hinton, we think Marcus reverts to type when he says, “A lamb has entered the wolf’s lair, and as the wolf it was his duty to fleece her … A couple more animal metaphors came to mind. The pigeon would be plucked, the shrew would be tamed.” In effect, it is the rogue who is tamed, even though Anne is humbled: in exchange for free rein to excavate, Anne must act as Marcus’s maid (all the maids on his estate having left their thankless jobs months ago).
In a previous post, Miss Bates argued that the pleasure of the romance lies not only in the heroine “getting her man,” but in the vindication of her values. Miss Bates would venture to say here, in her exploration of this wonderful romance, that the hero’s journey in the romance novel involves the satisfaction of fulfilling his desire to belong, to make a connection with another person. In that sense, the heroine’s ethos coincides with the hero’s desires. (No where, of course, is this more evident than in Miss Bates’s beloved Jane Eyre.)
In excavating the Roman site and caring for the estate and its tenants, Marcus and Anne forge a friendship, forgive each other, recognize from where the other is coming, and embark on the road to a passionate and poignant love. Unlike many a romance novel, even where their desire is intense, Marcus and Anne’s relationship is built on the friendship of shared purpose and hard work. This may sound a tad dry, but is beautifully rendered by Neville. Some of the most poignant moments are found when Anne and Marcus realize how they feel about each other. In a beautiful use of irony, Anne thinks, “Knowing a man was a scoundrel didn’t stop one wanting him.” What Anne doesn’t realize is that the “scoundrel,” Marcus, has been transformed by her love and giving nature, witness Marcus’s realization one quiet afternoon, ” … a cup of tea on a rainy day with a virtuous woman in his own house? This wasn’t the life of Marcus Lithgow, gamester and rogue.” It is, however, what Anne makes him yearn for, a sense of connection and belonging.
In the forced togetherness of inclement weather (Miss Bates loves this device when it’s done well and it’s done well here), Marcus and Anne and the reader are caught in the romance genre’s winning formula of yearning, uncertainty, and physical desire. This builds to the most powerful and, in places, flawed part of the novel: the testing of Marcus’s true nature. It is an interesting examination of the “nature or nurture” debate because Marcus is not a rogue in name, as so many of these types of heroes are: heroes play-acting indulgence in drinkiepoos and vague rumours of numerous mistresses. Marcus is a gamester, even though he learned to played honestly, and thanks to the emotional legacy of a boy’s hero-worship of a worthless father, he is always ready to exploit the powerful combination of people and circumstance … until his love for Anne compels him to question his moral expediency.
Anne too learns that as someone so privileged, she never questioned or wondered who paid her bills or served her meals. In Travis and Maldon, Neville created our hero’s and heroine’s servants with personalities and thoughts of their own. Anne learns Marcus’s true nature through Travis’s wisdom. Travis says to her, “Those who speak ill of him are not aware of his struggles in life, nor of the real generosity and heroism of his life.” Sympathy is present for the rogue forced into the role by circumstance, who does not have the privilege to play at Lady/Lord Bountiful and must live by his wits because he has too much pride to live by others’ whims. Marcus, Anne realizes, is a “rogue” by necessity, not choice.
As Marcus’s layers are peeled away by Anne’s love and care, the story of a rogue becomes one of identity. Anne too comes into herself in loving Marcus, by deciding that she is no longer a pliable girl in her guardian’s hands, but a decisive woman who says to Marcus that she freely chooses him for herself. Her heart’s desire and will rule, not society or even Marcus’s manipulations. As she thinks, “Dismissing his past and any thought of of the future, she summoned her courage and demanded what she wanted.” As for Marcus, when his greatest desire, which is Anne, clashes with what he thought was his scruple-less philosophy, he has to answer the question, “Who do I want to be?” The answer lies in Anne and how she sees him, “Believing with all her heart that he possessed a core of decency, she knew that he needed to believe it himself, and act on it.” Marcus acts … and the HEA is built on that act of moral choice and love.
There is one wrong note at the end of the novel that Miss Bates won’t discuss because it would spoil the book. Let her just say that it is melodramatic and too-neatly tied up for her taste. It is also, however, the moment when our hero full-on weeps and it is beautiful. This is a wonderful romance and Miss Bates judges it as she does its rogue hero: “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart” Emma.
The Ruin Of A Rogue released on August 27th and is available for purchase in the usual places and formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Avon Books for an ARE via Edelweiss in exchange for this honest review.
Rogues are such a ubiquitous type in romance. Who are your favourites? Who’s written the genuine instead of playing-at rogues? For example, Miss Bates loves Kleypas’s Sebastien in The Devil In Winter. Miss Bates would love to hear from you in the comments.