Friday 23 January 2015

#CBR7 Book 6: "The Ruin of a Rogue" by Miranda Neville

Page count: 389 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Miss Anne Brotherton, supporting character of The Importance of Being Wicked and jilted once the Duke initially courting her fell head over heels for her widowed cousin instead, now has to fend off eager suitors everywhere she turns in London. Every man becomes a fortune hunter when faced with the ridiculous amounts of money, land holdings and estates that Anne, sole heir to the Earl of Camber brings to the marriage. Of course, while Anne is by no means poor, she doesn't actually have access to much of the money, and if she marries without her guardian's consent, she's likely to be left with only a tiny allowance. Not that that's looking like such a bad prospect.

All she wants is to find someone who might appreciate her for her intelligence and kindness. She's deeply passionate about ancient history and archaeology, but most people find it dreadfully dull. Not that any of her many would-be suitors would let her talk drive them off for long. So when she meets a handsome young gentleman who seems ever so interested in the same things as her, she can't help but be a bit smitten. Even when he warns her that he's by no means appropriate company for a proper young lady. Frankly, Anne is ready to spend more time in the company of someone a bit scandalous, hoping that the light tarnish to her reputation might at least dissuade some of the stuffier candidates vying for her hand.

Marcus Lithgow isn't lying when he says Anne should be careful to be seen in his company. A shameless rake, gambler and occasional thief, he has indeed singled her out to seduce her. For months, he's had absolutely no luck at the gambling tables, and he needs money, fast. He doesn't actually have marriage in mind, he just hopes that her guardian might pay him a generous sum to never set foot near her again. He reads up on all the topics she finds fascinating and orchestrates a number of chance meetings for them around London. Unfortunately, Marcus is staying with his old school friend Julian Fortescue, the Duke of Denford, whose house is right next door to that of Lady Windermere, Anne's current chaperone. When Anne hears the two men talking and realises what Marcus' devious plan is, she is determined to get her revenge. She starts forcing Marcus to accompany her everywhere, making him waste huge amounts of money he doesn't really have taking her to the most tedious of exhibitions. But then Marcus is told he has inherited an estate, and suddenly seems to lose interest in her entirely.

It wouldn't be much of a romance if the hero went off to his crumbling estate, leaving the heroine confused and slightly disappointed in London. There are Roman ruins on Marcus' land and Anne is absolutely desperate to be allowed to excavate them. Marcus, who at this point has grown quite fond of the place he has neither the money nor the staff to maintain (all the villagers refuse to work there because of rumours that it's haunted) strikes an unusual deal with Miss Brotherton. If she works as a maid of all work for an hour and a half in his house every day, he will allow her to excavate the ruins.

While romance titles are frequently absolutely nonsensical, this book actually has a title that cleverly works on two levels. The Ruin of a Rogue could refer to physical ruin , such as the ruin of a house Marcus inherits and the Roman ruin on his estate, or to the figurative ruin he experiences at the hands of Anne Brotherton, as he of course falls in love with her, and tries his very best to drive her away. After all, she is all that is good and kind and special, and is far too good for the likes of him, a scapegrace who's father dragged him around Europe teaching him all that was nefarious from the age of six.

Anne isn't actually the most interesting of heroines, initially, her cousin Caro was a lot more fun in the previous book, I thought. At the same time, she's been raised in near isolation on her grandfather's estate with nothing much but books for company and has clearly not been socialised all that much, so who can blame her for being a bit dull? She's clearly a very sweet person, and hates the burden that her ginormous inheritance presents. The way she goes about trying to punish Marcus is more childish than actually cruel and he certainly gets his own back at her when he forces her to do sweeping, mopping, dusting and cleaning in his run-down house where the only staff he has available to him is his insanely cheerful valet and a stubborn old man who works in the stables.

Marcus never really had a home to call his own after his mother died when he was about six. His father would not win any husband- or father-awards, and clearly only married Marcus' mother for her modest fortune, then got sick of her when the money was gone. Once she died, he dragged Marcus with him through England and Europe, scamming men and women alike, cheating and stealing his way from place to place, usually never settling long before having to go on the run. He clearly never had any affection for his son and it's obvious why Marcus doesn't mourn his passing. He does fear that he is doomed to follow in his scoundrel father's footsteps, however, which is why, when he discovers that he actually is developing feelings for Anne, he feels he must drive her away. Of course, by this point, Anne has seen how hard he's working to help the poor tenants on his lands and how much time and energy and dwindling funds he's putting into the estate he inherited from a distant uncle. A crumbling ruin he has to rebuild and clean himself is still a home to him, and he can't bring himself to sell it. Even to Anne, who magnanimously offers to purchase it just so she can get access to the Roman ruins. When Marcus flatly refuses to take her money, she is surprised and intrigued.

As with the first book in the series, Neville sadly isn't content to just have the story focus on Anne and Marcus' romance. Oh no, there has to be the quest for hidden treasure added into the mix. Marcus finds an old letter from his father speaking of a valuable nest-egg tucked away somewhere on the estate. At first he doesn't believe it exists, but as he finds traces of someone searching the house, and signs that the rumoured ghost has been cleverly created with chains in the attic and other paraphernalia, he starts to wonder if there might be some truth to the idea. Suffice to say, there is a treasure, there are bad people who want to get their hands on it, and the final act of the book got a bit farcical and possibly wrapped up a bit too quickly and neatly for my tastes. I still appreciate Neville's willingness to set most of her romance outside of the London ballrooms, though and the romance developed very gradually and believably. I wish she'd trusted that it was enough to carry the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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