Honesty alert: I’m starting this review while only about 40% through the book because I need to let you know that this book is boring and shows no signs of not being boring. I’m not even going to put a spoiler warning on here, because you’ve either read this book, or you should not read this book, so it’s not really a spoiler because you are never going to read this book.
From Amazon, because I can’t be bothered with the plot:
Sometimes. . .
Even the most proper young lady yearns for adventure. But when the very well bred Miss Sarah Clarke-Townsend impulsively takes the place of her pregnant twin, it puts her own life at risk. If the kidnappers after her sister discover they’ve abducted Sarah instead, she will surely pay with her life. . .
A Rogue. . .
Rob Carmichael survived his disastrous family by turning his back on his heritage and becoming a formidable Bow Street Runner with a talent for rescuing damsels in distress. But Sarah is one damsel who is equal to whatever comes. Whether racing across Ireland with her roguish rescuer or throwing herself into his arms, she challenges Rob at every turn.
Let’s get this “rogue” definition thing out of the way:
Rob is never at any point during the book a rogue. He is painfully upright and honest. He is not playful, mischievous or a scamp. He is not a tramp or a vagabond. He isn’t even a rampaging elephant.
And now let us address the plot description. The whole kidnapping and escape adventure is done at the end of the first third of the book and doesn’t really come back until the very end. And Sarah never challenges Rob. Their relationship is basically Her: Want to fool around? Him: No. Her: *sigh* OK. Him: Marry me! Her: OK. So no rogues and no challenges.
I used to love Mary Jo Putney. I haven’t re-read my favorites of hers, because I’m afraid that the things I loved will have become the things I hated. I don’t know if this is an off book, if she has become tired of writing, or if the genre and I have evolved beyond her. Twenty years ago, Putney’s romances were different from the rest of the genre. They were notable for their emotional honesty and attention to historical detail. I found Sometimes a Rogue to be like sitting through a group therapy session for boring narcissists in whom I had no investment. Sure the characters talked openly and honestly about their thoughts and feelings, but Putney has forgotten to show not tell. The characters tell each other and the reader everything.
(I took care of the sober thing, but the boredom remained.) None of the characters became interesting. If they were interesting when we met them, they immediately succumbed to the goodness of the main characters and became boring and upstanding. The embezzling steward vowed to never sin again, and the gold digging hussy was just there to drive the hero into the perky and yet boring arms of the heroine. Not even the swearing 12 yr old plot moppet could withstand the creep of blandness. While characters talk (and talk and talk) about doubts and fears, all complications are so easily overcome that they are more a frustration to the reader than any actual depth or complexity of the characters.
Now lets to to the stuff that annoyed me even more than the boring slog
Fetishization of ethnicity: This is a thing that Putney appears to have not outgrown. Her hero du jour, or heroine, often have a helping of non-English ethnicity, and this makes them better people – better instincts, special abilities, and closer to god or gaia. In this instance, the hero is part Irish and has an almost mystical ability to track people. I appreciate that she’s trying to bring a little diversity to the genre (ok, not with the part Irish hero, but previous books had part Indian, part Rom, and part Native American lead characters), but it’s uncomfortably racist. She doesn’t actually explore anything about the cultures from which the characters spring, she just mines the more positive stereotypes about those cultures. She does go light on it in this book, but she often references her part Indian characters and “karma.”
Of course he’s a fucking Earl (or, Complexity not Allowed)! Yeah, so after the potentially interesting conundrum of a lady marrying a Bow Street Runner is dangled before us, Rob is suddenly turned into an Earl. At which point, all the possible obstacles melt away and I fell into a deep sleep. No really, they are shipwrecked on the coast of England, walk up a cliff, find themselves at his childhood home and discover that he’s inherited the title after his father and brother die. My eyes still hurt from rolling. Sure the estate is possibly deeply in debt, but obstacles fall like tissue paper before this couple. After the surprise Earldom comes the surprise daughter (aforementioned swearing plot moppet), but there’s no real complexity there. No one has any mixed feelings for more than half a minute. Even the whole issue of the estate being heavily in debt is wiped away because the grandmother bought almost all the debts. Psychological scars are given a lot of lip service, but they disappear at the merest hint of realization. Even when the kidnappers return, they are easily defeated. Sarah kills one or two of them, but she gets over it within seconds. The reader is forbade from having any complex emotions around the kidnappers, because they are transformed from Irish rebels (who had good reason to hate the English) to “baby murderers” and the ring leader was a character from a previous book who had a personal vendetta, not a political goal.
You know what happens when all conflict and complexity is removed? People fall asleep.
If you want to read a Mary Jo Putney book to get an idea of why she was a groundbreaking romance author, try The Rake and The Reformer. Not her expanded version of the story, but the original novella. The story is probably quite dated and a bit simplistic, but it was one of the first to have a hero confront his own alcoholism.