People make a house a home.
The Rogue Is Back in Town by Anna Bennett
St. Martin’s Press:: 2018
Historical Romance - Regency
This book. This book I ADORED.
Look about 70% of what I read is romance, and of that easily 80% or more is historical. It’s what I do. It’s my jam. In a genre this big, with this many readers, we can easily specialize and I’ve been a predominantly historical romance reader since I was a child, cutting my teeth on 80’s/90’s Avon romances.
(That’s a re-enactment. Sadly I am not a RIDICULOUSLY adorable dog.)
So trust me when I say The Rogue Is Back in Town is a standout historical romance novel. I want it in my hands, like now. NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press were kind enough to provide this fabulous ARC copy in exchange for a review, but my ravenous book collector heart desperately needs a hard copy as soon as one becomes available.
TRIBiT is not the most adventurous novel I’ve read this year, in terms of crazy road trips, murders to solve, or other various assorted hijinks that often enliven a historical romance novel. Most of the action is contained to the single house that is at the center of the plot, with a few scenes here and there taking place in other settings. But despite its geographic confinement TRIBiT is a lively, engaging novel based upon the premise of two people, at completely cross-purposes, who are never-the-less drawn to each other emotionally and physically.
Lord Samuel “Sam” Travis is the black sheep of his family, and he’s hopped one too many fences into pastures that didn’t belong to him… to say. In disgrace with his elder brother, Nigel, Sam is forced out of his home on strict orders not to return until he has negotiated the eviction of an old man squatting in one of the families neglected properties. What Sam didn’t count on was the old man’s fearsome and fiercely attractive niece.
Miss Juliette “Julie” Lacey, on the other hand, is the last of her three sisters (the other two have married) and caretaker of her aging (BUT SO DELIGHTFUL) uncle. The house, which she is determined to protect, is not only his whole life, housing both his academic work and all the memories of beloved wife, but it is also Julie’s life. She was only a small child when her Uncle adopted the three Lacey sisters after their parents died. Her childhood took place in this crumbling old house, which is in many places physically touched by her memories (like that banister she broke the year that she also, not so coincidentally, broke her arm).
Houses are a thing for me. Anyone familiar with my reading history and my academic work knows that I have a bit of an obsession with the way that spaces function in romance novels. That goes triple for houses. They are alive in a way that no other structure can replicate, because houses contain – just like the one in TRIBiT – whole lives within them. They retain memories, and some people would go so far as to argue that houses have memories.
(I will NEVER resist the urge to make a Crimson Peak reference…)
So I loved that at the center of Julie and Sam finding each other was this house that, in the end, they find themselves coming together to save.
Things that I loved:
1) The house – obviously. It’s a bit ramshackle, and drafty, and it creaks and groans. But it’s charming, and comfortable. It’s lived in. Could it use a little loving care? Yes. But even in its faded state it’s beautiful. Because it’s a home.
2) The chemistry between Sam and Julie is fabulous. Really it is. Julie has always been self-conscious about her lively and somewhat passionate ways, but Sam never once let’s her doubt that he finds her anything less than extraordinary.
“She was sensuous and bold and free. And Sam didn’t think less of her for it. Rather, he respected her.”
AND THE CONSENT. If you want affirmative consent, you’ve got it. I mean I literally wrote “THE CONSENT” in massive letters in my journal because I was really impressed.
3) But then, consent and respect are what you get when your hero is a Beta Hero. Sam’s a flirt, don’t get me wrong. By his own insistence he’s at least 90% rogue. But he’s also a respectful, kind, compassionate, protective (but not excessively possessive), and emotionally accessible hero. And I love him. And I want to marry him – but Julie got there first. Sam is also, in a way, a deeply wounded hero. I can’t explain too much without giving away part of the plot, but basically Sam has spent his entirely life thinking that if he was going to be called a rogue he should act like a rogue. But where it counts Sam’s not 90% rogue, he’s like 10% rogue… maybe.
4) The Villian. And maybe you’re like: wait, you loved the villain? Yes. But not in the way that I usually … love a villain. *cough* No this is the sort of villain (like Black Jack Randall, for example) that I love to hate. He was SO EVIL. I was in a total rage toward the end of the book. I was shouting at the book. I was just seeeeeeeething with disgust and hatred, because this guy is so vile. He’s one of those men who thinks that his position of power, shielded by a sterling reputation, means that he can do whatever he wants. To whomever the wants. He believes he can buy himself what he wants, and when faced with opposition he reacts with violent coercion, and cruelty.
Sound familiar? He’s basically every “nice guy”/”man in a position of power” in this country rolled into one… so yeah. I hate him PASSIONATELY.
5) That love declaration: “I fell in love with you. Hard. Hopelessly. Every decision I’ve made since then has been easy. I simply ask myself what would make you smile. And then I do that thing.”
6) That ending! I CRIED. It was so cute, and such a throwback to the beginning of their relationship, AND it meant that he always listened when she was speaking, and remembered even small things that were important to her.
Things I didn’t love:
1) Its nitpicky, really – but I really, REALLY wanted the aforementioned Villain to get his. On the one hand I understand that there’s a lesson here about letting go, and just being happy. Julie calls him a bully at one point and the best way to get revenge on a bully is to go on with your life and be happy. BUT GOSH DARN IT I KIND OF WANTED HIM TO SUFFER.
I know I talk up every book I read. What can I say, I’m an enthusiastic reader. But this book was truly delightful, introduced me to a new author that I hadn’t encountered before, and just completely filled my need for a sweet, lovely, funny romance. If you’re a series reader you’ll want to backtrack first, because The Rogue Is Back in Town is technically the third book in the Wayward Wallflowers series. But if you’re new to Anna Bennett’s work, and you don’t care so much about continuity (after all, like most romance novels, TRIBiT is able to standalone), I would highly recommend starting with this fantastic book.