One Good Earl Deserves a Lover and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, by Sarah MacLean

To once again paraphrase Jane Austen, there are few historical romance novelists that I really like, and fewer still of whom I think well. In fact, the “like and think well” list is pretty much limited to Georgette Heyer and Lisa Kleypas, while the “just like” list includes authors like Suzanne Enoch, Teresa Medeiros, and Julia Quinn—writers who produce enjoyable but anachronistic stories, and mostly use their historical settings as an excuse to dress their characters in elaborate clothes, shower them with implausible wealth, and feature a lot of hand-wringing over premarital sex.

After reading Sarah MacLean's two most recent books, I'm convinced that she will never be part of the first group, and suspect she's unlikely to join the second anytime soon. The second book in MacLean's “Rules of Scoundrels” series, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, is straight-up terrible, and the third, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, is only marginally better. I reviewed the first installment in the series, A Rogue By Any Other Name, a month ago, and found it flawed but mildly entertaining... but now that I've read the next two books in the quartet I realize that “flawed but mildly entertaining” is the best MacLean's readers should hope for.

One Good Earl Deserves A Lover is the story of would-be scientist Lady Phillipa Marbury, who approaches Cross, a well-known rake and co-owner of an infamous London gambling club, hoping to hire him to teach her about sex before her upcoming wedding. Cross is horrified by Phillipa's request, but finds her unconventionality inexplicably appealing. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished centers around Temple, another club owner. A disgraced duke, Temple withdrew from society after being implicated in the murder of a young woman named Mara Lowe. When Mara pops up, alive and well, twelve years later, Temple is determined to make her pay for more than a decade of suffering, but slowly realizes that there may be more between them than revenge.

These stories have several minor problems, like the heroines' habit of addressing men as “sirrah,” despite it being an archaic term that went out of common use in the sixteenth century, and some really, really big problems, like the fact that that MacLean's characters are incredibly irritating. We are clearly supposed to find Phillipa adorably quirky, but in reality she's an entitled jerk who prances around ignoring basic societal norms and demanding that total strangers accommodate her whims. (Can you imagine how the book would read if the protagonists' genders were switched? “Hi, I'm Phillip! I know we've never met, but I hear you're, like, super-slutty, so I want you to risk our mutual social ruin by explaining sex to me, because science.”) And while MacLean emphasizes that Mara was very young when she implicated Temple in her escape plot, the fact remains that she put an innocent man in danger—danger that might have led to his prompt execution, had he not been an aristocrat. Why would anyone find these ladies appealing? I disliked them so much I despised their love interests, too, just for being dumb enough to get tangled up with such losers.

To be fair, I was interested in several of MacLean's minor characters, and I must give her props for the plot twist revealed at the very end of her third book, which was enticing enough to ensure that I will (grudgingly) buy the last installment in this series. My hopes are not high, but I do have a suggestion for the author: MacLean's problems stem from her plots, not her writing, which is technically proficient. What she needs to do is find an editor who can help her with her early outlining—once she has developed a storyline that doesn't hinge upon her protagonists behaving like total tools, I expect she'll be able to take things from there.
Posted by: Julianka


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