|Miss Sarah Kittling, middle sister in a trio of orphans, has written herself into a corner. Sarah, Aurelia, and Meg live with their cousin Charlotte, a widow. Their careless uncle has gambled the girls’ small inheritance away on the Exchange. Facing poverty, Sarah took a risk and wrote a novel called A Rogue’s Tale, about a dashing nobleman named Lord Daventry, basing her hero on one viscount named Lord Gaventry. The book was a success and the four women have been able to maintain their genteel life in Bath. Hopefully Aurelia, the eldest and a beauty, will marry well. In the meantime, A Rogue’s Revenge, the sequel, is due in the bookstores any day.
Sarah’s lingering guilt over the use of a real person as her model for a fictitious rake turns out to be well-placed when the real Lord Gaventy arrives in Bath, determined to seduce and abandon the woman who made such fun of him in print, and whose fictitious tale mirrored his own life so uncannily. Gaventry’s rage is misplaced, as he’s been told it’s Aurelia who is the authoress, not Sarah. Gaventry intends to make himself known in Bath immediately, by stealing a kiss from a proper miss and letting the tale fly around town. This didn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s needed to set up the initial encounter with Sarah, whom he spies reading a book on a park bench. Sarah becomes his target.
The kiss, however, shakes them both, and Gaventry is astonished to find he’s just accosted the sister of the very woman he’s come to destroy. His chum, Mr. Brixham, tries to warn him off the plan, but Gaventry is determined. But Aurelia, when they meet, is a lovely bubblehead who can barely string three coherent sentences together, while Sarah is intriguing beyond measure. Soon Gaventry is plotting Aurelia’s downfall while stealing intoxicating kisses from Sarah, who makes him feel alive and happy in ways he’s never felt.
Gaventry and Sarah are fun characters and carry this story just fine. Sarah knows she’s likely to end up a spinster in a life of little circumstance, so she’ll grab those kisses while she can. This could have felt contrived, but instead it felt like a perfectly natural reaction by a young woman forced to carry too much responsibility too early in life. And though she’s carried it well, she’s done it in secret, so her desire to enjoy what she can earned a cheer from me.
Gaventry is a bit hardheaded, a fact his godmother takes great pains to point out. In one of the best scenes, she upbraids him for acting like a spoiled brat for the last seven years and playing the victim, while chastising him for his lack of understanding toward anyone less well-off than he. Gaventry made a mistake and trusted the wrong kind of woman, it’s true, but his behavior since then has been all of his choosing. Now when he meets a woman of real substance, he’s almost too blind to see it. His transformation is a pleasure to watch.
The book flounders a bit when it comes to characters telling the truth and holding on to secrets too long. Sarah waits far too long to tell Gaventry that she’s really the author, and this felt like plot manipulation more than anything, since the rest of her character is remarkably forthright. The climax involves more withholding of truth, this time on the part of cousin Charlotte, for no apparent reason at all except to spin out the scene. It’s as though the author knew how she wanted to write it but couldn’t figure out how to get there any other way, so the characters are annoyingly coy about what they know and don’t know.
On the whole, A Rogue’s Revenge is one of the better Regencies to come along in recent months. Valerie King has a way with interesting, engaging characters, and Sarah Kittling is definitely someone you’d want for a friend. If you’re in the mood for a good Regency romance this spring, this one is definitely recommended.