Saturday 8 October 2022
CBR14 Book 25: "Heartbreaker" by Sarah Maclean
Rating: 4 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Heart (it's right there in the title, and this is a romance)
Adelaide Frampton was once the unappreciated daughter of one of the East End's most notorious criminals, which led her to acquire a number of illegal skills that now come in handy as she frequents London's high society posing as the unassuming and plain spinster cousin of a duchess. She uses her time on the sidelines of ballrooms and society events to observe and acquire information and can also put her top-notch pickpocketing skills to good use, should it be required. No one knows that the boring Miss Frampton is also The Matchbreaker, a woman who seemingly uses her vast resources to help the rich make sure their offspring don't make unfortunate matches, but in reality making sure unwilling brides are given an avenue of escape.
The supercillious and always correct Duke of Clayborn doesn't have time for society gossip, but even he's heard of the Matchbreaker. When the infuriating woman tries to ruin the happiness of his beloved brother, however, he takes notice and unlike the rest of the ton, who don't seem to pay much attention, he knows instantly who the meddling woman is, despite Miss Frampton's disguise. That he recently found the same woman trying to break into the safe of a London gangster (when he himself was rather unsuccessfully trying to steal something back from the criminal) and had to escape with her through alleyways and across roof tops, angry thugs in pursuit, makes him very curious as to what in the world Adelaide is up to.
The two set off on a race to make it to Gretna Green to stop the marriage of Clayborn's younger brother to his lady love, and circumstances and complications soon have them joining forces rather than competing. Still pursued by criminal thugs, they have to face danger along the way and achieving their goal of stopping (or ensuring) the match will not be easy.
While there is a lot of found family and strong female friendships in the book, the main plot features a Victorian road trip with our main couple in a lot of confined carriages and small rooms (with only one bed), bickering, bantering and flirting. Both have a wealth of secrets they'd rather the other not discover, both will do anything and everything for the people they love and they fall in love over the course of the story (although, spoiler, it's clear that Clayborn has been rather smitten with Adelaide for years before the start of the story - she's just never realised it because they haven't exactly interacted all that much).
Maclean's romances are absolutely not the best books to read if you want strict and accurate depictions of historical times. There's a lot of anachronisms, her characters tend to be a lot more progressive than was common at the time and her plotting is sometimes a bit all over the place. Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for a road trip, especially one involving carriages and posting inns. So much time for our couple to be stuck in each other's company, learning all sorts of delicious secrets about one another as they travel towards their destination.
I like the whole concept of Maclean's Victorian girl gang, of ladies banding together to help the more unfortunate of their sisters in every way they can. I liked Clayborn and Adelaide's romance more than Sesily and Caleb's in Bombshell. Was it anywhere near as good as One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, my all-time favourite of her romances? Not even slightly, but it was still a fun and diverting read, and I keep hoping that some day, Maclean is going to live up to her earlier potential.
Judging a book by its cover: The cascading red hair, the cheerful yellow of the dress, the nice blue background - it's very striking. But let's not pretend that either the outfit or the long flowing locks are period appropriate to the Victorian era. I wish they'd let her wear her spectacles, or at least have her hold them, rather than that big key on a ribbon.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.