I wanted to return to the world of adult novels, which I talked about while reviewing the Books of the Kindling series back in #215. This time I’m looking at historic romance, namely the Regency era (always a popular one).
The League of Rogues series by Lauren Smith is one I worked on as an editor, one I’m very proud of. Lauren manages to capture the spirit of the Regency romance genre, but infuses much more into it than just swooning women in beautiful dresses and impenetrable men in fancy suits. There’s a lot for a geek gal to love, too.
On the one hand it does hit all the expected markers for the genre. The series features a group of several longtime friends with reputations for being womanizers and rakes, and each book finds yet another one of the succumbing to love and marriage. Seems straightforward enough.
But there is a lot more going on than that. The League of Rogues, as they call themselves, have a dark history behind them, and a man in a powerful position who will not rest until he sees them destroyed. The stories feature kidnapping, duels, naval battles, daring rescues, and fiendish assassins. The focus is on relationships, but that doesn’t mean it forgets that women like action too.
To contrast, a complaint I heard about Charlaine Harris (author of the True Blood series) is that there will be an interesting buildup to a vampire war, and then it will rain so they all go home to watch TV instead. That might be because the author wishes to focus on the romance and characters and is afraid to pull the trigger on something that might upset the balance of things. Lauren Smith is not afraid to pull the trigger when the time is right, and does so with both barrels.
The series begins with Wicked Designs, in which Godric St. Laurent, Duke of Essex, kidnaps Miss Emily Parr over an unpaid debt from her uncle. Parr, however, is not so easily caged, and we see her resourcefulness at every turn as she looks for new ways to escape, or try to turn Godric’s friends to her side. As she spends more time with her captor, however, she begins to understand what lies behind his brooding nature.
In some ways the kidnapping was a blessing in disguise, because Emily was about to find herself forced into marrying a man her uncle is in debt to, a vile creature who had lusted after Emily’s mother long before her parents died. He is not one to give up such a prize easily, and once it is learned that the duke is holding her, tries to devise a way to steal her back. To do so he needs help, however, in the form of a shadowy man with powerful connections.
That man, Hugo Waverly, is the ongoing antagonist of the series, sometimes directly involved in a scheme to hurt or destroy the League, and sometimes simply aiding those who wish to hurt them. The fact he is a spymaster for His Majesty doesn’t help matters. In the sequel, His Wicked Seduction, Hugo uses these connections to place an assassin in their midst. Hugo not only has the power to hurt these rogues, but is all but untouchable as well. His history with the League and the pain they caused him is one of the mysteries of the series.
Consequence is one of the ongoing themes. Consequences for ones actions and atonement for mistakes made. Shortly after a duel goes awry in His Wicked Seduction, one of the characters is left blind, which becomes the basis for the third book, Her Wicked Proposal. He also has the bad luck of having his past come back to haunt him, as a suspected slave trader whom he conned out of a pair of fine Arabian horses is looking for payback.
It should be noted that the women in these stories are far from helpless. They are pro-active and bold in their own ways, often nursing tragedies of their own, much like the League. As the stories progress and the circle of women connected to the League continues to grow, they become a formidable force of their own.
Regency can be a tricky genre to write in. Fans of it can be just as nitpicky as Star Wars or Star Trek fans when it comes to attention to detail and historical accuracy, and the adventures in this series can stretch credibility at times. However, this is not meant to be realistic any more than, say, Captain Blood was as a pirate adventure.
Fortunately, there is a great sense of humor flowing through the stories that helps offset any such qualms, allowing the reader to enjoy it for what it is, a romantic adventure, rather than worry about whether a particular type of carriage was in use in 1820 or if it was actually introduced in 1821.
I personally think the League of Rogues would make a great television series, not unlike how Outlander is shaping up (renewed for two more seasons). And Lauren Smith as an author is ambitious enough that I can actually picture it happening.
Originally Published in KODT #235