I’m so excited to be not only reviewing a new book on the blog today, but participating in the Blog Book Tour! Josi S. Kilpack’s historical romance Rakes and Roses is an uplifting tale that turns gender conventions of the romance novel on its head: in this one, it is the heroine rescuing the hero. I really enjoy historical romance novels, so thank you to Shadow Mansion Publishing for gifting me a copy in exchange for review!
I’ll try not to include too many spoilers for the ending of the book, but there will be some extra details in there not in the blurb…
Kilpack’s Lady Sabrina, the heroine of Rakes and Roses, is not a naïve beauty on the cusp of breaking into society: instead, she is the illegitimate daughter of an Duke who has been through an abusive marriage and a miscarriage, who by legal loopholes after becoming a widow inherited everything belonging to her deceased husband. And Lady Sabrina is a wise investor of this fortune, but she has a big secret. One of her major investments is done behind an elusive disguise: supporting rakish men of London in getting back on their feet.
And our hero, Harry Stillman, is the quintessential early nineteenth-century rake: a gambler, a drunk and a womaniser who owes a lot of money to some dangerous people. Cut off from any inheritance by his uncle unless he makes a good marriage, Stillman is squandering his time around London’s underbelly and eventually finds himself broken and bruised in an alleyway when he cannot pay a particularly dangerous creditor.
Here is where Sabrina finds him, and out of compassion, takes him to her house, Rose Haven, to recover. What follows is a tale of redemption: Harry learning he can change, and Sabrina that men are better than the abusive husband she had to endure.
What I enjoyed most about this novel (which was a lovely, uplifting read and a good way to spend a cosy evening!) is the fact that it is the heroine who is doing the saving. And she is perfectly aware of the constraints placed on her gender, telling the novel’s hero, Harrison Stillman,
“Men pat us on the head and complement our stitching while denying us education and occupation that would free us to make decisions toward our own best interest.”
Kilpack has done a great job of making Lady Sabrina have agency without being anachronistic. Sabrina as a character offers an interesting insight into a woman in the early nineteenth century and her position in society, particularly as an illegitimate daughter trying to find her footing and acceptance in society. She is thirty-two years old, determined and strong, with business skills and intelligence.
Besides this, Sabrina is not swooning into the arms of Harry – she is cautious, maintaining a distance to the point of being unfriendly to begin with, in a way that kind of reminded me of Belle and the Beast getting to know each other from when they can’t stand each other to begin with in Beauty and the Beast. Harry, as a rake finding his way to being reformed, is also not trying to seduce his rescuer: instead, he is trying to redeem himself by proving he can become friends with a woman rather than use and discard her.
What follows is an enjoyable romance (a great bit of escapism in the current chaos!) that flouts convention. It is Book 3 in the Mayfield Family trilogy, but you can read it as a standalone novel too.
Rakes and Roses by Josi S. Kilpack is out now in the US and you can find it on Amazon here.