by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2013)
Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2715-7
It has been four years since Mary Jo Putney started her The Lost Lords series, but it is still a bit of a culture shock to read Sometimes A Rogue and marvel at the direction the author has taken with this series. Where she was once better known for rich internal conflicts, the author is now moving towards more action-driven romance where characterization takes a back seat. The problem with this direction is evident all over this book.
First, the plot. Sarah Clarke-Townsend is the twin sister of Mariah, who starred in Loving A Lost Lord. She's the more outgoing and adventurous one, and when this story opens, she and her very pregnant sister go on a morning ride. The morning is off on a good start when Mariah goes into labor, and it gets better when Sarah overhears some men plotting to kidnap her sister. Sarah poses as her twin sister (telling those goons that she already gave birth to explain her flat stomach) and gets kidnapped in her place.
Fortunately, by now the Lost Lords have a direct line to the hero of this story: Rob Carmichael, who happens to be a Bow Street Runner. Now that it matters whether he's a runner or a jogger, because he's a super capable fellow, just like every other guy in the prestigious band of brothers. He soon locates Sarah, those two stage a getaway, their boat gets into trouble, only to conveniently land at the doorstep of his estranged grandmother who reveals that he is now a titled gentleman.
The story goes on and on, to the point that it is hard for me to give you a clear idea of the plot without giving everything away. Let's just say that many things happen, often due to unlikely circumstances or the ineptness of the villains, and throughout everything, nothing truly threatens our very capable duo. They are just so much better than the villains that it is impossible to believe that, even once, they are in danger of being bested.
Note that I said "capable", not "intelligent". Some things our duo do here can be quite... strange, let's just say. For example, Sarah rather prematurely gloats to the villains as she sails away from them that she's not Mariah but Mariah's twin sister. What's to stop the villains then from ignoring her then and going after Mariah? Didn't her action just put her sister and her sister's newborn in danger? Fortunately, our villains graduated from the Elmer Fudd school of villainy: they brag about what they want to do before they actually do something, they stumble around like bleary-eyed dolts, and they create scenarios that actually put our hero and heroine in an advantageous position.
As a result of all this, the story present in this book is pretty dull. Sarah is dull. She's feisty, she is remarkably democratic, and from the narrow range of emotions she displays throughout her escapades, I'd think she does this every other day until she's bored of the routine. I don't know how she comes to be what she is - she just is, a one-dimensional heroine sprung on me full grown with painted-by-numbers traits. It's the same with Rob: he's very capable, although not always smart, and that's about it. These two cling to some silly reasons to justify why the other person really isn't in love with him or her, despite all evidence to the contrary, so their romance offers little excitement to make up for the flat plot.
Sometimes A Rogue could have worked better if the author had gone the more "serious" route and created compelling villains and main characters with realistic strengths and weaknesses, or she could have just gone all over the top instead and have the characters kick ass in a campy and entertaining manner. As it is, this is just a dull story with inadequately developed characters muddling around in a dull plot.
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