Sunday, 4 August 2019
#CBR11 Book 60: "Brazen and the Beast" by Sarah Maclean
Rating: 4 stars
#CBR11 Bingo: History Schmistory (set in the Victorian era)
On the eve of her twenty-ninth birthday, Lady Henrietta "Hattie" Sedly, aided by her best friend Lady Eleonora (Nora), the daughter of a duke, is planning on going to an exclusive brothel in Covent Garden catering to women. She needs to lose her virginity, so her father will stop trying to pressure her into marriage. Firmly on the shelf, Hattie has discovered that despite a generous dowry, no one actually wants to marry her. She's too tall, too voluptuous, her face is too plain, she's too smart, too opinionated, too interested in running a business - really, there are a number of stumbling blocks. Hattie has worked her ass off trying to prove to her father (an Earl, a lifetime peer) that she's the right person to take over his shipping business. Her younger brother is a complete idiot and a wastrel, but he does have that important y-chromosome (and a penis), which means he doesn't need to work hard to be first in line to take over.
Hattie and Nora are rather taken aback to find a big, strong and exceedingly attractive man unconscious and tied up in the carriage they intend to use to get Hattie to Covent Garden. Hattie persuades Nora to drive the coach anyway and does a bit of flirting with the angry, clearly dangerous man when she wakes him up. Then she impulsively kisses him, cuts the ropes that tie him and throws him out on a street corner.
Whit, brother and partner in crime (literally) of Devil from Wicked and the Wallflower is trying to find out who keeps stealing the shipments of contraband that the Bareknuckle Bastards are transporting. Having lost three valuable lots of goods (as well as several loyal men) already, he's none too pleased to find a fourth shipment snatched. Not to mention finding himself knocked out and tied up (although he managed to throw a knife at one of the thieves before they got him). He tries to question the opinionated woman in the carriage, convinced she's somehow connected to one or several of the thieves (he's not wrong). She frustrates him by refusing to answer any of his questions, but luckily dumps him out on a corner of his own turf, where his many spies easily can tell him where her carriage ends up.
Whit shows up in Hattie's room at the brothel and tries to continue his questioning. She's figured out exactly who is stupid enough to knock out one of the kings of Covent Garden, and promises Whit that his missing property will be returned to him, but she refuses to give up the name of the guilty party (spoiler - it's her moron brother and his manservant). In return, Whit promises to divest Hattie of her unwanted virginity and try to help her achieve the rest of her plan for the Year of Hattie.
Of course, Hattie hasn't realised that her brother is responsible for four valuable shipments having been stolen from the Bareknuckle Bastards, nor does she know who's ultimately responsible or just how dangerously unhinged this individual is. Whit, on the other hand, is pretty sure who is stealing his wares and killing his men, and he cannot take the chance of getting too attached to Hattie, for fear that she get injured as collateral damage in his rather complex family rivalries.
The books in the Scandal & Scoundrel series went from middling to bad, and so I was very relieved to see that Sarah Maclean appears to be back on more familiar ground with the second book in her Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy. Whit may call himself Beast, but in reality, he's a big softie, desperate to protect all those he cares about, always trying to make up for being the smallest and weakest during his super shitty childhood (the details of the Duke of Marwick's "child rearing" attempts continue to be appalling, and I'm sure the next book is really going to delve into the depths of depravity the guy was capable of in order to get himself a "worthy" heir).
Even before the book's release, I'd seen several write-ups of how great Hattie was as a heroine, and she's pretty awesome. Like so many larger women, she has a ton of hang-ups about her body and her looks, not that Whit seems to be bothered by any of them. As is only right and proper in a romance hero, he adores every part of her, from her brain to her larger than average body.
If there's a weak part of this novel, it's the villains of the piece. Hattie's brother is a complete imbecile and the actual power behind him is going to come as no surprise to anyone who's read the first book in the series. His motivations now seem to be that he's gone pretty much completely crazy after the events towards the end of the previous book, which begs the question why Hattie escaped completely unscathed after a direct conversation with him. Maclean is also going to have to do some serious heavy lifting to make this guy a believable and satisfying hero in the concluding volume of the trilogy, out next year.
What I'd REALLY want, though, is a novella about Annika (Nik), the Bareknuckle Bastards' capable lieutenant, and Hattie's BFF Nora (Nik and Nora, see what she did there). There's clearly something brewing there, and I want the whole story.
Judging a book by its cover: Us larger ladies don't often find ourselves represented in the pages of romance fiction, so it's nice to see a plus size model on the cover of this, in a beautiful (if not entirely period appropriate gown - these books are Victorian, not Regency). The colour is even the same as of the dress our heroine is wearing in the opening chapters, which is always a nice detail when they manage to swing it. This cover really is tons better than the one for Wicked and the Wallflower.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.