Once upon a time I didn't read romance novels.
My sister and cousin enjoyed them. My cousin had even started to write them. Now, of course, she's waiting for a release date for her 14th novel.
When she lived in Ottawa for a few years, and I lived in Toronto, I hopped on a train and visited her and her husband for the weekend. She had just finished reading an historical romance that she was certain I would love. So she loaned it to me, and I started it on the train on the way home.
My cousin knows my tastes well. She was right. I fell for that book and haven't looked back since. It was Dark Champion by Jo Beverley.
1 - To Rescue a Rogue is a 2006 Signet release, an imprint of New American Library, which is a division of Penguin Group. It is part of Ms. Beverley's Company of Rogues series, set in the Regency period.
2 - The Company of Rogues "came about when original Rogue Nicholas and the rest turned up at Harrow School. Schools in those days were almost anarchical places. Nicholas took one look at things and decided to create a small area of civilization. He gathered twelve new boys according to his own gifted whim, and formed a brotherhood of protection. They were not to bully others, or avoid proper duties or deserved punishment, but they would oppose oppression from all quarters. Most bullies and tyrants soon learned to leave them alone." - Jo Beverley, The Company of Rogues
Many of the Rogues joined the army or went to sea during the war against Napoleon.
3 - We meet the heroine just after she's fled the unwelcome attentions of a military hero and acquaintance of her brother. The main male character is an old school chum of the same brother, a family friend and someone with whom she feels very much at ease.
4 - Lady Mara St. Bride sports the devil-hair of her family's heritage. "It predicted a taste for adventure at best, disaster at worst." Though rare, both she and her brother Simon were born with it. Her latest ill-thought-out adventure opens the book, as we meet her wrapped in a scratchy blanket over a shift, making her shoeless way through the unsavoury midnight streets of London.
5 - Lord Darius Debenham returns from an evening on the town to see a sorry wretch huddled on his family's London town house front steps. Only the unfortunate girl is not a nameless London waif, but his friend Simon's sister. Knowing the society scandal that would result if anyone should see her in this state, he scoops her up and away from prying eyes into the safety of Yeovil House.
6 - One of my favorite things about Jo Beverley's writing is her complete disregard for the conventions of the historical romance. If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that the Sesame Street song One of These Things is Not Like The Others is my theme song.
A heroine whose youth makes her more prone to too-stupid-to-live decisions? Historically accurate age range for her, though not popular with today's readers, who prefer main female characters in their 20's even though that is completely wrong for most historical time periods? Bring her on.
A hero addicted to opium? A hero whose physical and mental distress is perhaps not Alpha enough for the average reader? Give me some of that.
Ms. Beverley has six Rita Awards for excellence in romance fiction. Bucking convention works for her, and for me - her grateful and loyal reader.
7 - Another thing Ms. Beverley does that irritates some but is a draw for me is her extensive use of dialogue. Many of her scenes read like pages of a script, and as you can imagine, I gobble that up. Her dialogue is extremely natural, which includes some repetition and inclusion of throw-away lines. She always manages to further character development or plot through her dialogue - without any obvious pointers to important-info-here.
Here's a sample:
" 'Take off the remains of your stockings and we'll clean you up.' He went to the washstand.
She sighed and carefully rolled down her silk stockings, but they no longer warranted care. They were embroidered with flowers and had cost a shameful amount, but now they were ruined. As she had almost been.
'They're off,' she said, pulling the blanket back around herself. 'But I have to get home, Dare. Now. Can you -'
'Not before I've checked your feet.' He sat by them and raised each to study it. 'No blood, I don't think.' He looked up, blue eyes steady. 'All right. What happened, Imp?'
She focused and realized what the dark concern in his eyes meant. 'Oh! Nothing like that, Dare. I ran away.'
'So where did you have to run away from? And,' he added, looking down to dab at the sole of her foot with a soapy cloth, 'why were you there in the first place?'
It stung and she squirmed. 'You don't need to do that.'
'Stop trying to avoid the confession. What bull did you wave a red cloth at this time?'
'It wasn't my fault,' she protested, but then grimaced. 'I suppose it was. I sneaked out of Ella's to go with Major Berkstead to a gaming hell.'
He paused to stare. 'In God's name, why?'
She looked down and saw how grubby her hands were. Not a lady's hands at all. 'I've been asking myself that. I suppose I was bored.'
Surprisingly, he laughed. 'Your family should know better than to let a devil-hair have time on her hands.' "
8 - The sexual attraction between Mara and Dare travels a winding path. Their brother/sister ease with each other at the beginning provides the initial roadblock. But her youth, his addiction and his determination to kick the habit provide the heart of the tension between them.
9 - Being intimately acquainted with chronic pain and with a dependence on painkillers to get through my life, I found the scenes of Darius's journey to break free from the clutches of opium really hit the right chord. Completely fascinating and haunting.
10 - Ms. Beverley really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:
"Berkstead stopped and a sneering smile curled his lip. 'Debenham. I know all about you.'
It stung, but Dare hid it. 'I doubt it, but if you don't fear me, fear her brother.'
'A St. Bride of Bridewell?' Berkstead stopped trying to rise but looked more comfortable by the moment. 'A bunch of country mice. Not one of them a soldier.'
'There are St. Bride's and St. Bride's. Simon St. Bride will kill you by inches, but the list lining up behind him will include some of the most powerful men in England, none of them squeamish about crushing lice. I could start with the Duke of St. Raven and the Marquess of Arden.'
The sneer died. 'I want to marry her!' Berkstead protested. 'She's afraid of her family. They won't let her marry out of Lincolnshire.'
'If Mara St. Bride wanted to marry a Hottentot, she would probably do so.'
'I'll buy a house in Lincolnshire.'
Mara was right. The man didn't listen. A table still held scattered cards, two glasses and an empty decanter. On a chair he saw white gloves, a pretty pink dress and a light pelerine of pale cloth. He picked them up, and the slippers from the floor.
Dare headed for the one other door that must lead to the stairs. Hand on handle, he looked back at the crumpled man. 'Remember. None of this happened. That, sir, is your only hope of salvation.' "
11 - Because this is a bit of a wrap-up for the Rogues, there is a reunion of the characters from Ms. Beverley's previous dozen Rogues books. Some readers may find all the names and references dizzying, but for fans of her series, the reunion is a dream come true. The relationships between these men have real history, and you can feel it in their scenes together.
12 - Jo Beverley has published:
9 Georgians (with a new one due in 2010)
8 traditional Regencies
14 Company of Rogues Regencies, featuring former soldiers returning to Society
3 science fiction/fantasy stories
Click for a list of Jo Beverley's works.
13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!
" 'Some young men burn to take risks,' Dare said.
'Like you?' said Mara.
'Not really. I met some officers who only seemed to come alive when in battle. Lacking that, they tended to stupefy themselves with drink, or seek danger in high-stakes gaming.'
They were nearing the inn, and Mara had to ask, 'How will you manage the night here?'
'I'll take an extra dose.'
She turned to him, knowing what that meant. 'Oh, Dare.'
He smiled wryly. 'Apparently it's my next lesson. I have proved I can stand like a wall, Ruyuan says, and must now prove that I can bend like the willow. Or something like that. He becomes metaphorical.'
He took out a finger-sized vial of deep blue glass with gold Chinese lettering. 'I am even in charge of my destiny.' His voice had taken on a bitter edge.
'May I see?'
He passed her the bottle and she saw that on the top of the cap was an etching of an Oriental warrior wielding a sword. 'Laudanum?' she asked, trying to keep her tone mundane.
'Of a sort. Strong and without sugar. I prefer it bitter. I would prefer it to be in an ugly container, but there is some other lesson in that, I gather.'
Mara touched the picture of the warrior. 'Do you still have my favor?'
'Always.' He took back the vial and put it away, then took her hand to lead her down a lane between a house and a cobbler's shop.
There he drew her into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. She sensed he meant the kiss to be brief and decorous but tender need swept through them. She cradled his face and parted her lips to join with him in the only way allowed.
Rough wall pressed at her back, and Dare's strong body enfolded her. Mara lost all sense of reality other than him, and pleasure, and a building desire that could drive her mad.
They pulled apart, staring into each other's eyes, only to press together again, this time bodily, with Mara's head on his chest, within which his heart pounded frantically just like hers.
'Oh, but I want you so much, Dare. I want to be yours completely. I wish it were now.'
'My adored, beloved Mara,' he whispered into her hair. 'Thank God for control, or I'd take you here against the wall.' "
- Jo Beverley, 2006
Join me next week when I review Baby in Her Arms by Stella MacLean.
Journeywoman says I'll have to give it a try.
Ms. Snarky Pants says As if I need to add any to my TBR list. hehe
Anthony North says You always do excellent deep analyses of these books.