From the desk of Pamela Mingle:
From the age of twelve, Lucie Tedbury’s mission has been to improve the lives of women. Twenty years on, a rogue from her past, Tristan Ballentine, interferes with her plan. Opposites attract, after all. Evie Dunmore’s A Rogue of One’s Own, second in The League of Extraordinary Women series, is an exploration of love and the question still being asked today: “Can women have it all?”
In 1880, Lucie has become a leader of the British suffragist movement. Within her circle of Oxford women friends, the fight is against the Married Women’s Property Act, which at that time made women subordinate to their husbands in all matters. Lucie and a cadre of wealthy women investors have purchased a large share of a publishing company in order to advance the suffragist cause and encourage the repeal of the hated MWPA. One day, when Lucie is working in her drab rooms in Oxford (she’s been banished from her family home), she overhears a seduction beneath her window. It’s her neighbor, a widow, flirting with the nemesis of her adolescent years, Tristan Ballentine. The neighbor tells Tristan not to mind Lucie; she’s “just a spinster.” In a fury, Lucie leaves, only to run headlong into Tristan, who’s been waiting to sabotage her.
Tristan had spent many summers at Lucie’s family home as a youth. She’d always spurned him, and it made him prone to do “anything to provoke a reaction.” He admits to himself that Lucie still holds sway over him. Her hair shines like “a polished silver coin.” A line of Byron’s poetry comes to him, which hasn’t happened in years. “‘And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes…’” For her part, Lucie sees little to admire in Tristan.
The next day, Tristan journeys to Ashdown Castle for a meeting with his father, the Earl of Rochester, a vicious tyrant of a man. After his military service, Tristan won the Victoria Cross for valor, but this means nothing to his father, who deems him “useless.” All the earl cares about is keeping the title in the family, so he’s chosen a bride for Tristan and wants him to use the next three months to improve his reputation. Appalled, Tristan refuses, but his father forces him to accept the arrangement by threatening to send Tristan’s mother to an asylum. Tristan’s plan: kidnap his mother and take her to India.
Meanwhile, back in Oxford, Lucie’s women friends are attempting to persuade her to soften her appearance and manner. Lucie believes that no matter how she presents herself, she’s considered “inherently radical” and a “nuisance.” Facing an upcoming house party, Lucie agrees to some new dresses and gowns in something other than gray. The eldest among them suggests privately to Lucie that she should take a lover, which both amuses and intrigues her.
On the day Lucie signs the papers to purchase the fifty percent share of London Print, she learns who owns the other fifty percent. Imagine her shock when she discovers it’s none other than Tristan Ballentine. Tristan had previously told her that he wrote romantic poetry, but she’d laughed at him. It turns out he’s the author of the extremely popular Pocketful of Poems, published by London Print. Up next are his war diaries.
Lucie is stunned. Tristan will ruin all her plans to convert London Print into a force for the Cause since he will have to approve of all content. She begs him to find another way to make money. Little does she know how badly he needs it. He refuses, and the game is afoot.
Evie Dunmore has imbued her heroine, Lucie, with an extraordinary passion for women’s suffrage. She doesn’t simply give it lip service; she strives on a daily basis to better the lives of women, and in the course of the novel, the reader learns much about the movement. This level of historical detail is often missing in historical romance. Here, it is on full display, and without detracting from the romance. Initially, Lucie is unwilling to recognize Tristan’s good qualities, and it’s touching and satisfying to see her impressions of him gradually evolve. Tristan becomes a better, braver man because of his love for and belief in Lucie.
The descriptions of Tristan’s debauchery are crass at times, to the point that some readers may end up disliking him. The depiction of his father as an evil villain almost makes him a caricature, but the story is so gripping, we are able to let that go.
Grappling with issues of work versus husband and family, A Rogue of One’s Own speaks to today’s readers. It’s a glowing tale of Lucie’s passion, both for a cause and for the man she loves.
5 out of 5 Stars
A Rogue of One’s Own: A League of Extraordinary Women (Book 2), by Evie Dunmore
Berkley (September 1, 2020)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (448) pages
Cover image courtesy of Berkley © 2020; text Pamela Mingle © 2020, Austenprose.com