A week ago I finished reading Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, and I’ve been raving about the novel to everyone. Most of my friends refuse to listen after my first sentence identifies this book as a romance, but see, this novel -- though a romance -- is one of those really great books which I don’t just read, I live.
Chapter One finds Callie sitting on the shelf: at 28, she’s an old, plump maid and nobody asks her to dance anymore. She sits with the other unmarried ladies and suffers their comments, like this one from her Aunt Beatrice: “Have you considered a diet of boiled eggs and cabbage? I hear it works wonders. Then you would be less... well, more.”
I don’t think Aunt Beatrice would have appreciated the direction in which Callie takes her suggestion to be “well, more.” Callie makes a list of projects which she would like to try: kiss someone passionately, watch a duel, learn to fence, smoke a cherut and drink whiskey among others. And she sets out to accomplish her list, finding an unexpected ally in confirmed rake Gabriel whom she had always loved from a distance. As you can imagine, Gabriel assists her with the fulfillment of her dreams while punctuating each of their adventures with a lot of excitement of the bedroom kind.
The kissing scenes in this novel are fabulous, each different from the one before. I got swept off my feet, left swooning, lost in the atmosphere of the book. The ballroom, the secret corners, Gabriel’s bedroom with the piano inside where he secretly plays to himself. I could see Callie and Gabriel from across the room, partially hidden by dancing couples, kissing passionately in an alcove. Blush. Swoon.
I always loved a rake. William Blake commented on Paradise Lost that “Milton was on Satan’s side and didn’t know it?” I loved Satan! And the devil’s in a rake, right? Rakes are dangerous and sexually thrilling. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century British Lit is teeming with libertines: Lovelace in Richardson’s Pamela, Don Juan, Willoughby of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The poet Lord Byron was a well-known playboy.
But in Nine Rules I fell in love with Callie. Gabriel is mysterious and desirable. He understands Callie and though he sometimes complains, does not prevent her from trying to fulfill her list. But he is just a sidekick, important to the novel only in as much as he supports Callie’s bid for adventure. Throughout the novel Callie shines, like a bright light that leads the way, freeing up herself and the other characters from the one-sided norms that rule their society, gently, kindly, peacefully without unnecessary noise, declarations or speeches.
So yes, I know this is a romance, and you, my dear reader, might be thinking that romance equals junk. But this one romance features the inner diamond of a woman in a way many novels try to and fail. And it is worth the time.