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Willaful Review: The Lady Who Broke the Rules by Marguerite Kaye


Sensuality Rating: Surprisingly Steamy

I’m not sure which surprises me more: a Harlequin Historical featuring an interracial romance, or a Harlequin Historical featuring juicy sex.  The language isn’t graphic — we’re still in the land of potent manhoods here — but it’s definitely steamier than I’m used to.

Virgil, a fiercely determined and intelligent plantation slave, was sold after a failed rebellion. His buyer chose him for those same qualities, freed him, and gave him opportunities which have led to Virgil becoming an extraordinarily successful businessman in Boston. His goals in life are to help others who are shackled or downtrodden, fueled less by his own experiences than by a need to make reparation to his former lover Millie, who was punished for his crimes.

On a business visit to England he meets Kate, a “ruined” duke’s daughter who is also a progressive free thinker.  (And astonishingly, not obnoxious about it.) They’re both attracted to each other, though at first Virgil questions her motives: “I hope, Lady Kate, that you are not thinking of using me as a weapon in some private war. Are you perhaps eager to prove your reputation for being a revolutionary to your father and your aunt?” Kate can’t deny the charge entirely, but her interest is mostly sincere — and she’s sincerely hot for him.  Which is a tremendous relief to her, since her “ruination” by her louse of former fiance left her fearing that she’s frigid.

I don’t know enough to comment on the historical plausibility or authenticity of this novel, though I suspect they’re iffy.  Race issues aside, it seemed surprisingly easy for the characters to find private places to have trysts — although according to the author’s note, the house and grounds for the series were designed with that in mind!  (The book is part of a multi-author continuity series, but stands fine on its own.) In any event, the overall tone felt appropriate, and that’s generally good enough for me.

I did find it odd how little race is addressed in the story.  Virgil encounters very little hostility and when he does, it’s not shown as a race issue. For example, here are Kate’s father’s thoughts on their proposed match: “That the man was an America, albeit one of that country’s richest inhabitants, was bad enough. That he was a commoner, and ex-slave with a lineage that could be traced back precisely one generation and only on one side, made the marriage, as far as the duke was concerned, simply impossible.” This comes off as somewhat disingenuous. And except for one mention of his discomfort at being the only black person in a room, Virgil himself seems as color-blind as everyone else, and surprisingly detached from his former slave status.

Aside from its unusual premise, this wasn’t particularly groundbreaking or original, but it was an absorbing story with appealing characters. I give it 3 stars. You can buy it from Amazon here or from All Romance here.

Published by Harlequin Historicals. Review copy borrowed from the public library.