Miss Bates greatly looked forward to Joanna Shupe’s Magnate. She loves the Gilded Age setting and an opportunity to read a historical romance “beyond-the-Regency”, with characters from America’s class system. Because, make no mistake, Shupe’s romance is a cross-class romance. Heroine Lizzie Sloane is a blue-blooded beauty from one of New York City’s oldest and most prestigious families. However, there is a hint of failure with, of finances gone awry for, the Northeast Railroad Company her family owns. William, Lizzie’s brother, struggles to keep the family fortunes running. What he won’t accept is help from his baby sister. Unlike the social-whirl focus of most young women of her circle, Lizzie wants to operate her own stockbroking company – unheard of for a woman in the day and age! But Lizzie is as determined as she is beautiful. She brings her appeal to a self-made man, a man whose past is couched in the poverty and violence of his Five-Points childhood, Emmett Cavanaugh. Emmett is big, powerful, fastidious, and unrelenting in his pursuit of wealth and influence. Lizzie, who’s aware of her attempt to flout social conventions, believes she’ll find a kindred spirit in the man who had to break them down to prove his mettle and worth. While Lizzie’s worth comes in gown-form, she does find, if not a kindred spirit, at least someone who listens to her plans and ambitions.
Shupe’s Magnate held the promise of a truly original romance. Emmett and Lizzie are interesting characters as they stand outside the social norms of their day. Emmett and Lizzie strike a deal: Lizzie will invest a certain amount of money on Emmett’s behalf; if she increases it significantly, he’ll serve as a “front” for her stockbroking business. Lizzie knows she cannot, nor any woman, serve as a stockbroker. A hero who takes a woman’s mind and chutzpah at face value and a heroine determined to go where no woman has gone before thought Miss Bates, “THIS is gonna be great!”
Alas, Miss Bates’s hopes for the novel were not to be. Even in the promising first few chapters, there were hints of Big Mises, that pesky romance novel gnat of not talking to each other, and one-dimensional villains. Sadly, they proved to be true. In time, the Big Mis and villainous machinations proved too much for the romance arc and Magnate devolved into the most conventional of marriage-of-convenience stories. After Lizzie’s initial business forays, that aspect was left behind. After the initial business banter between Lizzie and Emmett, Emmett turned into alpha-hero-extraordinarius, with typical overprotective behaviour, a voice that growls and teeth that grit. Moreover, once Lizzie and Emmett do the deed, the novel also devolves into one love scene after another. The characters are stunted by this and so is their relationship.
There is a kind of rollicking good rhythm to Magnate. It clips along and the love scenes are quite sexy, if you enjoy A LOT of them in your romance. Miss Bates can’t say she was bored, but she did want MORE out of what began as a great premise: MORE theme, MORE ideas, MORE character development. But it was not to be. With her now-scandalized reading partner, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says that Magnate offers only “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Joanna Shupe’s Magnate is second in The Knickerbocker Club romance series. It is published by Zebra Books of Kensington Publishing. It was released on April 26th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Kensington Books via Netgalley.