I am very sorry, Sarah MacLean. This is probably my favorite book of yours that I have read so far, but I waited way too long to review it, and now I’m going to have precious little to say about it.
Here’s the Goodreads summary, which is as much for my benefit as yours:
“A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen’s club.
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she’s vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she’s been missing.
But to dance every dance, to steal a midnight kiss—to do those things, Callie will need a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. Someone like Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile.
If she’s not careful, she’ll break the most important rule of all—the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love. ”
My previous experiences with MacLean’s romances can be summarized by noting that they were saved by high-impact smolder. The heroines are middling to great (Georgiana and Pippa are the latter; I don’t remember the other two!) and the heroes are, to my recollection, pieces of work. When they’re not brooding, they’re scheming, and not even in a delightfully scampish way. From Nine Rules to Break, I classify Callie among the better of the heroines and Ralston as probably the best hero. He is nearly the perfect dissolute rake, although it seems that MacLean couldn’t help but throw in some mama drama to justify why Ralston refuses to love — a contrivance which I find tired and overwrought.
Ultimately, Ralston was so charismatically effective at bringing Callie out of her shell that I was sold both on their chemistry and on the soundness of their relationship. Though in principle I am wary of the trope of the naturally sensual innocent reforming the rake through her naive enthusiasm, something about that was less ham-fistedly done here. Before being seduced by Ralston, Callie makes a play for her own mischief, finally casting off the repression of her spirited personality with the acceptance of being “on the shelf” and therefore no longer needing to worry about the confines of propriety. That she takes an active role in her “education” rather than just succumbing to it goes a long way to establish her agency despite her lack of experience.
I am glad this was free on Kindle, because I was unsure about MacLean, but I now have one of hers under my belt that I enjoy without the burden of mixed feelings.