No reading disappointment compares to a book that starts with fireworks of promise only to crash and burn like a petering petard. Such was Anna Bennett’s The Rogue Is Back In Town. I was excited after the first chapter (with its promise of early-Julia-Quinn-like humour); half-way through, I had a lip-twisting downward trend to my mouth; by 70% in, I was into eye-roll and exasperated sighs territory.
First, let me set the scene for you, dear reader. In 1818 London, Lord Samuel Travis, fortune-less younger son, is the bane of his older brother’s existence: carousing, brawling, and neglecting debts. Older brother Nigel, heir and anti-prodigal son, sets Samuel an ultimatum: out of their home and into a property Nigel wishes to sell. Unfortunately, said property has an uncle and niece living in it, thanks to their deceased father’s largesse. Samuel must oversee their eviction and ensure the property is ready for sale. Can you see it coming, dear reader? Yes, Sam meets the adorable, malapropism-spouting Uncle Alistair and beautiful Miss Juliette Lacey and falls in love. Sam and Alistair get on like a house afire and Juliette and Sam, initial resentful bantering aside, follow suit. In a word, dear reader, they bond, full of affection and family-like feelings, with a strong dose of lustful yearnings on Sam and Juliette’s part.
Bennett’s Rogue started out so well. It was witty in places and downright hooting-laughter-inducing in others (Sam spying on Juliette and a trellis giving way … priceless). In particular, I enjoyed Uncle Alistair’s malapropisms and Sam and Juliette’s banter, for example, when he arrives to inform her of Nigel’s eviction edict:
Lord Travis swooped over the tray, plucking a scone off the platter like some audacious bird of prey … Lord Travis helped himself to a second scone and was plunking sugar cubes into his tea. “Shall I pour for you?” he asked. “Is there anything left?” she replied wryly. “Forgive me. I hadn’t broken my fast, but I’m already feeling more human.” “If only you could behave like one,” she muttered uncharitably. “Do not count on it, tigress,” he said … ”
In contrast, Juliette’s care for her uncle and Sam’s confession about how much he misses his father elicit warm, fuzzy feelings. I thought, beaming at the novel on my Kindle, this is great good fun, a bit silly, but most entertaining!
Sadly, this is Bennett’s sole conceit. And relying on a conceit for a nigh-300-page novel … well, it doesn’t take you very far. A writer must either aim for some depth or, and this is what happens here, rely on a plot-laden narrative. Enter the Big Mis. And then, another one, a Big Mis for the Big Mis so to speak. Ah, but the author is now in a quandary. She needs conflict … enter a moustache-twirling-Perils-Of-Pauline villain. He even has a “menacing laugh.” Frankly, the romance’s last third is a disaster and not only because of what I mentioned previously. I could forgive all if I still loved Juliette and Sam. But Juliette and Sam undergo bizarrely head-spinning character about-faces, sometimes on the same page. It’s rare, but, yes, dear readers, it happens here … I can say BOTH hero and heroine were TSTL. By the end, I could see that Bennett was trying to say something about appearance and reality and hypocrisy, laudable themes all. The execution, on the other hand, left much to be desired. With Miss Austen, I say The Rogue Is Back In Town was “downright labour,” Emma.
Anna Bennett’s The Rogue Is Back In Town is published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. It was released on January 2nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from St. Martin’s Paperbacks, via Netgalley.