One of my least favorite things is when the first book of a series is on Kindle Unlimited, but then the rest of the book is not. It just feels like false advertising, because I pay for Kindle Unlimited, so it’s not like I was stealing the first book, but now I have to pay more for all the other books, if I liked that first one, and it just feels unfair. (I am sure there’s some really good reason for this that I do not understand, most likely it is related to how authors are compensated, and it would seem fair if I knew it. Since I don’t I’m only talking about how it feels.)
But the other day, I found something I hate even more than that. When there is a fairly long series (say… 13 books), and only the first FIVE are on Kindle Unlimited. Meaning that I was five books into this series before I realized I would not be able to finish it, and WHHYYYYYYY would they do that? I am on a book buying budget, publishers: If I had known that the rest of the series needed to be bought, I would’ve waited until I could afford to buy 8 additional books but now, I’m just sitting here stewing about how angry I am that I can’t read the next story, and trying to not let it influence the reviews of the first five books.
With that in mind, as well as a content warning that I do discuss rape briefly in one of the reviews, Jo Beverly’s Company of Rogues awaits us.
The Company of Rogues had been formed in his first days at Harrow by the enterprising Nicholas Delaney. He had gathered twelve carefully selected boys together, and formed them into a protective association. During their school years they had defended each other against injustice and bullying. In the years since they had largely been a social group, coming together when occasion permitted, but it was understood that the bond still held. Any of them could call on the others at need.” – Christmas Angel, Company of Rogues Book 3
Led by Nicholas Delaney, the hero of book one, the Rogues get up to all kind of nonsense as adults in these books, and their love interests, eventual spouses do no better. In fact, I am hoping that (when I get to read them) further on down the line, the alliance of Rogue-esses or some such turns out to play a larger role, because the way these women work together – particularly since so many of them started out without the kind of resources the young uppercrust earls, dukes and gentlemen had behind them, was often more interesting to me than the Rogues themselves.
An Arraigned Marriage starts off with the drugged rape of the heroine, by the also mostly not-sober brother of the hero, as part of a plot by her evil brother, in case you were wondering just how Old School Romance this series is. The answer is very. The tropes come from somewhere, and Jo Beverly in 1991 was making full use of them. Twins, sexual assault, blackmail, mistresses, spy work, double crossing: This first book has got all that and more. And to be honest, I can see why it works. It works because Nicholas Delaney – master manipulator, but of the charming kind – somehow looks at the incredible person he has wound up married to Eleanor Chivenham, and sees beyond the scared young woman not in control of her own fate, and wonders how they might fit together, permanently. It works because Eleanor sees Nicholas, in spite of all his charm and for all of his lauded control, has things that he needs from her, and ways in which they could be good for each other. (3 stars)
Are there things in this book (and the series of books) that are hopelessly out of date, like the idea that your brother raped me & told me you did it, but that was last month, so I’m just supposed to forgive him and move on? Ah, yeah. Un-problematic it is not. However, I’m in the “read with your eyes wide open” school of thought, especially when it comes to ‘classics’ of the romance genre: I know going in that there’s gonna be some pure nonsense, and I just note it and move on, unless there’s too much nonsense to move past. (I’m looking at you books that make slavery sound glorified.) So, yes. Issues do occur in the series, and they make it a little bit harder to enjoy the rest of what’s happening. Your mileage may vary, but I knew it going in, so it wasn’t that big of an issue for me. See also: Book two, and a slap across the heroine’s face that made me put the whole thing down for a couple of days. Book three was pretty unproblematic, but book four had a The Duke & I problem that I remember hating the first time around & was no better the second (consent is essential, no matter which way it goes), and the last book in this group involves a literal drugging and kidnapping so, there were definitely some issues all around.
Book 2, which sounds like it should have a similar plot, given it’s An Unwilling Bride also comes with an unwilling groom, though, so at least the H/h start off on similar feet there. Turns out the Duke of Belcraven’s son & heir was not exactly his; also turns out that he just happens to have a daughter who is his, but she was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Seems like a problem that’s easily solved by forcing the two of them to marry, right? Because then the bloodline would be secured and the next duke (who is a third son, and really was never meant to inherit) stays in the line of succession without any fanfare or gossip. Problem solved. Except for how two complete strangers are now forced to get married, and Lucien and Beth aren’t exactly the friendliest people to begin with, so of course, problems ensue.(2.5 stars)
The third book, Christmas Angel, finds Leander (Lord Charrington) and Judith Rossiter (the Angel Bride, widow of a famous poet) trying to figure out their own happily ever after, amidst a general misunderstanding about said bride’s grief, Leander’s new role as stepfather to her two children & heir to an estate that seems more albatross than anything else, and suddenly mysterious attempts on someone’s life. I really feel like Beverly was a “the more tropes the better” kind of author, and as I am exactly that kind of reader, I definitely can not find fault in her for that. The mild suspense & ability of both the hero & the heroine to move into acceptance of their own feelings more rapidly than the first two books, made this a better book than those, for me. (3.5 stars)
Forbidden, Serena & Francis, Lord Middlethorpe’s story was my least favorite of these five, and the only one I remember reading back in day (so I probably read this in high school the first time, and was not a fan, and that’s why I didn’t read most of the rest of the series, despite liking some of Beverly’s other books). Here, the overabundance of tropes is to the book’s detriment… the heroine’s evil family members are stereotypically evil, her dead husband a true cretin; Francis is a virgin hero, which I’m all for, but it gets used as poor humor or an excuse for his bad behavior towards his wife a few too many times for my liking. (2 stars)
As for the last of the five books, Dangerous Joy was mostly a delight for me. Miles is made guardian of heiress Felicity, and spends 90% of the book in hijinks related to her Big Secret, which I guessed during the first chapter. That’s fine: I am rarely surprised by the Big Secrets of romance novels, but the thing I really liked about this one is that Miles is blindsided by it but the other women ferret it out the first time they hear her story. Not even halfway through telling his friends and their lady loves about Felicity’s circumstances, one of the other women cracks the whole thing wide open, and Miles has to get up and leave the room, find Felicity immediately, because OF COURSE! I just liked that part so much, I would give the book a better rating just for that, but I felt like this was the best of the series yet, so it gets the full 4 stars.
So there were obviously things that worked for me and things that didn’t. The best part of all the books, as it so often is for me, was the found family aspect of the Company and their loves. The support that they get from/give to each other, while at the same time also continuing to build a bigger ‘family’ and circle of influence within the ton, so that, by the end of book five, you’ve got your dukes and earls and gentlemen aplenty, but there’s also a former teacher, a widow, some spinster aunts, a great many adjacent family members, government officials in more than one country, and all sorts of other interesting characters at play. The world of the London Ton in Romancelandia, once again, sounding so much more interesting and diverse (although not in skin color) than the actual Ton must have been. Early feminists turned into Duchesses, turning the rest of their set – women & men – on to the readings of Mary Wollstonecraft; an Irish woman horse breeder, rolling her eyes at the ‘stay out of the stables’ nonsense the English ladies must put up with; the actress/mistress of one of the Rogues that I know is going to get talked into taking on society by the end of the whole run …those kind of things that makes my rebellious heart happy.
Hopefully my library will have the last eight books, because I want to know if he manages to convince her to thumb her nose at all of society.