by Anna Randol, historical (2013)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-223135-2
Anna Randol is single-handedly trying to restore balance into the romance genre by serving as many too stupid to live heroes in her books while promoting heroines that are more interesting and capable than the phrase "romance heroine" usually implies. She has a long way to go still when it comes to making sure that there are as many idiot romance heroes as there are heroines, but hey, it's not like stupidity is running out of fashion anytime soon.
Clayton Campbell, former spy turned wretch with a permanent scowl, decides that it's time for revenge on Olivia Swift and her father. Those two sent him to jail ages ago, and worse, Olivia was supposed to be his true love forever, so it's time to buy up all the debts of Swift Paper Mill, knowing full well that Olivia and her father would never be able to pay up. Unfortunately, Olivia is shortly after kidnapped by what seems like Russian spies, as those goons mistake her for Clayton's colleague.
Yes, the conflict revolving around the paper mill is just a set up to ensure that Olivia needs to marry Clayton if she wants to keep the paper mill, although of course this whole thing is made pretty by repeated assertions that these two twits are in love. The bulk of the story is focused on intrigue and danger, just like the author's previous books.
And just like the author's previous books, this one has a heroine and a few female secondary characters that are admirably strong-willed, pragmatic, and sharp. They are interesting because they are made from a different mold than the usual female characters that populate a romance novel. Olivia may be out of her depths at times, but she isn't one to go down without a fight, and there are many instances when I would wager that she is a far more capable spy than Clayton could ever dream of being.
Okay, Clayton. Sometimes he's cold, sometimes he's cruel (but not too toxic, fortunately), but this is part of his arc. He's supposed to grow up, take the stick out of his rear end, and stop being a complete donkey shortly before the curtains fall. Unfortunately, his stubborn streak and blind spots come with some incredible instances of stupidity.
It all begins from the first page itself, when our hero expects Olivia to be okay with him exposing her father to the authorities. It's okay because, you see, he'd marry her, so she wouldn't be ruined that much, and besides, they love one another. So, he basically goes, "Oh yeah, I'm hauling your father's behind to the cops, now let's get married, oh, and I'm kind of sorry but everything will be great, you'll see!" And he's the only one shocked - shocked! - and outraged - outraged! - when she runs off to her father and gives that man ammunition to turn the tables on Clayton. He asks a spoiled young lady to choose between her beloved father going to jail and him - and it never occurs to him that she'd choose family over him?
And then, when Olivia is kidnapped by his enemies, he weaves a magnificent fantasy: Olivia plans everything all along with those goons. Yes, while he is busy playing Johnny English, she not only became manager of a destitute business, she also has time to become a spy for evil foreigners! And on and on it goes, to the point where I can only wonder how Clayton manages to last that long in the spy business when it's pretty clear that this guy can muck up even the act of breathing without much difficulty. Worse, he doesn't even seem bothered that the fate of England may hang in the balance - he's more concerned with acting like the whole world owes him a big apology for his entire existence. I really don't understand why Olivia would want this guy. Her feelings for him seem carried over from a teenage crush.
Sins Of A Ruthless Rogue is more like the sins of a brainless dolt, and it's hard for me to savor the refreshingly different female characters or the plot when the hero is doing his best to remind me that he's a brainless lummox with every other turn of the page. Still, this is yet another book with an interesting heroine paired with a dumb gerbil unfit to be stuck to the sole of my shoe, so the author is at the very least consistent, for what that's worth.
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