Book/Author and Year Published: Rogue’s Honor by Brenda Hiatt (2001)
Age/Genre: Period Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: This one is definitely bath-appropriate
Reading Accoutrements: Go all out for your bath! I’m talking candles, salts AND bubbles, wine, maybe a snack…
Content Notes: Classism
I have a confession to make, Readers: I know that romance novels all end up sounding the same after a while. Just ask my boyfriend! When people ask me what I’m reading, he likes to joke that he can guess what it’s about without even hearing the title, “A princess – but she doesn’t know she’s a princess – meets a hot guy, probably a SEAL, or something. And then it turns out that he’s her secret guard to make sure nothing happens to her before she can take the throne!” Anyway, because I write about so many romance novels on this blog, I try to make sure that they are varied. So, one week I’ll write about a period romance and the next I’ll write about a contemporary romantic suspense novel, etc.
Recently, however, I seem to be reading a lot of period romances about a poor-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold-making-it-rich-through-illegal-means-in-London who falls in love with a strong-minded-female-of-the-upper-class-who-gets-into-trouble. Rogue’s Honor, for example, is the story of Lady Pearl Moreston, a duke’s daughter, and Luke St. Clair, a Robin-Hood-style thief known as the Saint of Seven Dials. Seven Dials was a ghetto in Regency London where poverty and crime were prevalent.
Luke’s mother worked hard to ensure that her son would have everything he needed to be better than his circumstances, even insisting that he learn to read. He worked and studied hard and eventually was able to infiltrate London’s high society, pretending to be the gentleman nephew of an Italian nobleman. While attending the many balls and salons of the season, Luke steals high value items from the wealthy families of London, leaving behind the calling card of the Saint of Seven Dials. After fencing the stolen goods, Luke helps the families in the Seven Dials neighborhood where he grew up. He pays for a doctor for a child who fell and broke his leg, pays to get a husband and father out of debtor’s goal, and buys a new bathtub for a family in need. Then, he disappears at the end of the season, on the pretense of visiting his uncle in Italy.
Lady Pearl Moreston is the headstrong daughter of a doting duke. She is waiting out the terms of an entailment on one of her father’s properties. Pearl will inherit a substantial property on her 21st birthday – as long as she isn’t married. She intends to use all of her (quite extensive) knowledge of property management and she doesn’t want a meddlesome husband to second-guess her decisions. Meanwhile, Pearl’s stepmother is frantically trying to arrange a marriage for Pearl before her 21st birthday. Her stepmother wants the property to stay with the duke, to add the value of the properties her son will inherit someday. And her stepmother is willing to go pretty low to get it done; she conspires with one of Pearl’s suitors to compromise her on an outing one day, but Pearl overhears them planning and foils the plot.
In order to escape her stepmother’s machinations, Pearl (with the help of her maid) disguises herself as a servant (codename: Purdy) and leaves the house. She takes a job as a servant in the kitchens of a party, where she knows she won’t be recognized, but at the last minute her position is changed and she has to go replace trays in the ballroom. She narrowly escapes recognition, with the help of a serving man, by pretending to be simple.
Luke successfully steals a few valuables from the party and is making his graceful exit when he runs into a simpleminded serving girl named Purdy. He helps her to escape what he assumes is an over-amorous man and then finds himself stuck. He can’t leave such an innocent young lady by herself on the streets of London, but she can’t seem to remember where she is staying. Left with no other choice, Luke takes Purdy to his rooms in Seven Dials.
Pearl didn’t really have a plan after getting out from under the watchful eye of her stepmother. She assumed her maid would take her to a place to stay, but they hadn’t made any concrete plans when they were separated by the work at the party. Now, stuck pretending to be simpleminded in the apartment of a bachelor, she is fascinated by this new side of London. When a little girl from Seven Dials needs her expertise, Pearl forgets about her charade as a simple-minded servant and saves the child.
Luke realizes that Purdy isn’t as simple as she let on, and in the time that follows, he digs deeper into the fascinating woman sleeping on his couch. Of course, as Luke gets to know her, Pearl is also getting to know Luke, and she suspects that there is much more to him than meets the eye.
Pearl is a fun protagonist to read because she’s unusually (for the stereotypes of the time) smart – and she knows it – but instead of being a superior jerk to people with less intellect, she tries to be nice…unless they try to trap her into something she doesn’t want – like marriage. She wants to use her knowledge to help improve society, if only in some small way, but she has limited options as a woman in Regency London. Her solution is her inheritance, where she can run a property for the good of the tenants who live on her family’s land. However, she knows that many people do not share her beliefs about the improvement of society, and as a wife her property would be taken over by her husband. Pearl’s plan is simple: she will not marry, but will instead throw herself into the running of her estate. She just has to make it to her 21st birthday, which is, conveniently, months away. I like her. She has spunk.
When Pearl is introduced to the seedier side of London, she is confronted with realities that she had only read about in pamphlets. Her foray into Seven Dials only makes her more determined to do good, and she wants to start with Luke St. Clair, the man who helped her when she needed it. This is where the plot started to get complicated.
Pearl suspected from Luke’s stories of his mother that he might not be as low-born as he believed. She does some digging into his background and discovers that Luke is, indeed, more noble than he knows. Luke hates the nobility because of how he saw them treat his mother growing up, so the thought of being one of them makes him angry. He buries his head in the sand until Pearl won’t allow him to anymore, citing his ability to make an impact on society with more resources.
But here’s the thing: Luke was not raised like Pearl. He doesn’t have the education necessary to manage multiple estates and so on. I thought this was a perfect opportunity for a win-win scenario: Pearl gets her estates to manage, Luke has influence (via the House of Lords) to make changes in society, and they both get to be with the person they love. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed and that seemed like a big missed opportunity. I guess tying everything up into such a neat little bow would be a bit too-easy and unrealistic, but I still would’ve liked it to end that way.
Rogue’s Honor is the first book of Hiatt’s Saint of the Seven Dials series, which sets romantic plots in a more realistic London than the average period romance provides. While watching the protagonists fall in love, the reader is presented with images of the Regency era that show a darker side to the glitz and glamor of the social season of London nobility. I really enjoyed the realism mixed with the fiction in this book, and I could definitely be convinced to read the rest of this series.
What is your favorite book (or series) that inserts real history into a fictional plot?