Review – Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

I’ve been looking forward to this book for months, and I clapped my hands and did a little dance when I saw it listed on NetGalley.  Honestly, Rumors that Ruined a Lady had me at opium.

Cover image, Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:


Amongst the gossip-hungry ton, no name has become more synonymous with sin than that of Lady Caroline Rider, cast out by her husband and disowned by her family. Rumour has it that the infamous Caro is now seeking oblivion in the opium dens of London!

There’s only one man who can save her: notorious rake Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow. Soon Caro is installed in his country home, warming his bed, but their passion may not be enough to protect them once news of their scandalous arrangement breaks out.

I flat out loved this book, and I have a lot of reasons.

  1. Some of my favorite books end up being the ones where a happy ending doesn’t even seem possible, where I end up a frazzled mass of nerves suddenly doubting that a romance novel will end happily.  For those of you who aren’t clear on what a romance novel is, the happily ever after is part of the genre.  If it doesn’t have an HEA, it ain’t a romance.  It’s always fun for me when authors can believably sell me on the notion that the forces stacked against the characters are too dire for love to triumph; I like it even better when authors perform that magical “Ha, but love triumphs after all!” reversal of fortunes while remaining true to the characters and — to a certain extent — to history and science.  This book did both.
  2. The storytelling format is a bit complicated (the first third of the book features some back and forth between the present day and the characters’ encounters years before), but I liked how the flashback sequences were edited in to the present day scenes and helped create a little mystery about the characters that was unfurled bit by bit as I got to know them.
  3. The character development of Caro is nothing short of divine (and Sebastian is not half bad either.).

What I loved best, though, is that this book deals with some pretty heavy subject matter (spousal abuse), but it doesn’t sensationalize it in any way.  The references to Caro’s abuse are sufficient to carry the point that her marriage is awful, but the story remains focused on Caro and Sebastian and what they will do moving forward.

(Tangent: One of the awesome Vegas conversations — that I participated in only slightly, but it got me thinking — was about rape in literature, that there seems to be a (disturbing) trend of authors forcing their lady characters to endure some pretty harrowing shit in order to have appeal as “serious” characters.  I’m not sure whether authors are doing it on purpose or if it’s just a consequence of our culture (?), but it’s troubling on so many levels.  Those types of experiences as recounted in literature are simultaneously trivialized (because we — the collective audience — are consuming them for entertainment) and sensationalized (because these fictional experiences have to be powerful enough to register with readers), and the result is simply too disturbing for me to get into right now.  Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in my expanding on this tangent in a future post. /tangent)

To go back pre-tangent, I also loved that Caro was never a damsel in distress (except at the opium den, I suppose) and that she helped Sebastian just as much as he helped her.  (Also, isn’t it seriously ballsy for a romance novel to have a heroine who’s married to someone else?)

I’ve been trying to tread carefully in this review to avoid spoiling the story for anyone.  The fact is that I want everyone to read Rumors that Ruined a Lady and then talk about it with me (and anyone, really).  I want to know if there are other readers, like me, who want books that deal with some of life’s darker elements but still recognize that a happy ending (and love) is a valid one.

Stay tuned tomorrow, because I’ll be hosting Marguerite Kaye on the blog to talk about the difficult path to happily ever after.

Rumors that Ruined a Lady was released on October 22, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market paperback by Harlequin.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Marguerite Kaye, please visit her website or check her out on Twitter.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

19 thoughts on “Review – Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

  1. Down with historical fluff! I don’t know if I’ve recommend it to you before, but have you read Still Life with Murder by PB Ryan? It’s a mystery but the hero’s an opium addict and the heroine goes with him to an opium den. Great scene. The romance arc over the course of the series is one of my favorites because it seems SO impossible they will ever get together.

  2. First of all, thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful review. The point you made, about whether a historical heroine’s trauma trivialises it, got me thinking. Part of the problem with historicals is that women were so constrained by convention and economics that you almost have to put them into an extreme situation to force them to act. I thought long and hard before making Caro’s marriage abusive for the reason you mentioned – I wasn’t going to be dealing with the abuse, but the consequences, and this was a romance! But if she wasn’t being abused, frankly she’d be unlikely to leave – and dealing with divorce in the Regency was kind of the point of my story. I would very much like to see more of this discussion, so yes please on the tangent, I look forward to it.

    • Great! I’m thrilled to have a subject to churn around in my head.

      Now I’m wondering if maybe the trivialization of all that trauma is due not actually to individual books but to the collective impact of all those trauma stories. Do we as readers come to expect (and maybe to demand) that our heroines, as Emma mentioned in the comment below, earn their HEA (or earn our respect? That’s what I meant when talking about trauma being a requirement to a heroine being taken seriously.) through the overcoming of past trauma, especially abuse or assault. If we do expect that, what is the cultural cost?

      And I don’t think that authors should steer clear of these topics — quite the opposite — but I worry about these topics becoming a trope or a gimmick (especially in NA).

  3. Pingback: Guest post – In Search of the Elusive Happy Ending by Marguerite Kaye | Reading with Analysis

  4. This is a great review; I really want to read this book now!

    I would absolutely love to read a follow-up post. I feel like I’ve seen essays on the travails of the heroine, either in terms of making her work or suffer for her HEA (e.g., Jane Eyre) or punishing her for being successful (e.g., pretty much every Katherine Heigl romcom ever) and I’ve read about the commodification/trivialization of violence in narrative.

    I read something excellent recent on the gritty subgenre that I can’t find now but was really smart I swear. However, I’m intrigued in the worst way by the idea that a violent backstory might exist in order to make us see the heroine as a serious character or that writing violence in a narrative might give a book literary cred. So yeah, get on that will you. ; )

    • Thanks! I will get right on it, but I think I’m going to ask for help to make it more of a cross-genre discussion of literary trends. I read a lot of romance, but I generally steer clear of literary fiction and the other genres (mystery, suspense, NA, SFF, etc.). I think it would be interesting to explore whether this notion is more narrowly confined to romance and literary fiction or whether it crops up in other genres as well.

      Pardon me while I tangent, again. I’m one of those stodgy folk who run from New Adult; the main reason I cringe away from the genre is that so many of the blurbs that I’ve read advertising NA books reference the heroine’s past trauma — has anyone else noticed that? — and it’s almost like the authors in NA can’t conceive of a coming-of-age story that doesn’t have its roots in abuse of one form or another. That genre is outrageously angsty, but is it any wonder why when all of its characters are dealing with so much baggage? What happens to the narratives of all the unabused/untraumatized women who are also coming of age? Are their struggles less valid? /tangent

      Anyway… YES! I’ll be thinking and talking more about this issue in the months to come.

      • Yes!

        I think it’s really complicated, right, because certain kinds of victimization/survivorship almost never get represented in popular culture and thus it could be really powerful if narratives were addressing those forms of violence in a constructive, realistic manner. Childhood sexual assault, for example. I too am not a big NA reader, but I did pick up a NA romance in which that was in the heroine’s backstory because I wanted to see how the narrative would address it (horribly badly it turned out, so I won’t name the book).

        There are a significant number of representations of adult sexual assault and domestic violence, ranging from cases where it’s well handled and to times when it feels trivial or exploitive, but I think you’re asking, Kelly, is what the cumulative effect might be–beyond whether any single representation has value or not–and if in the larger textual or generic economy uses violence as a shorthand for something else. Strength. Grit. Adultness, maybe in the case of NA.

        Someone in Romancelandia, Courtney Milan perhaps, did a post at one point in which s/he talked about how events in a narrative have to be self-justifying. Of course I can’t find it now (grr), but what I remember is that the author argued in order for the inclusion to be ethical–charged word; sorry! I mean it descriptively–it has to justify it’s presence in the narrative through an amalgamation of possibility, textual ethics, character, and narrative constraints. I’m not doing this idea justice, but what bugs me about the persistent trauma in NA (and perhaps in romance or literature more broadly) is that it doesn’t feel like a representation of the sadly epidemic trauma in young adult’s lives nor does it feel self-justifying and it serves some sort of larger narrative economy that’s not clear to me.

      • Is it this one?

        It might take me a while to define exactly what it is about trauma narratives that gives me the willies. It’s easier to explain why I so enjoyed how the trauma narrative was handled in Rumors that Ruined a Lady. Because Caro’s abuse was referred to and mentioned but never directly shown in the narrative (which would have been weird, anyway… like the worst prologue ever), I never felt like a snooping voyeur being entertained by a traumatic narrative, and I never felt that Marguerite was trying to justify Caro’s actions by demonstrating just how bad the abuse was. Instead, the narrative felt very neutral, like Marguerite had no interest in passing a value judgment on what’s “abuse abuse.” I flippin’ loved that neutrality, because it allowed the real story to shine through. It allowed Caro’s decision to leave her husband to have all that moral gray area. If the narrative had shown him beating her to a pulp, wouldn’t it be so obvious that she had to get out of that?

        Does that make any sense at all?

        Back to your comment, I love what you’ve said about violence becoming a shorthand for something… like it’s a membership card characters keep in their back pockets and use to demonstrate credibility (for the heroines) or to gain sympathy (for the heroes). I strongly suspect (and know in one sense) that actual survivors of violence don’t view their past experiences in quite that way.

        Anyway, to respond to both for first and second paragraphs, I’m concerned about a few things, here. (1) That trauma narratives (specifically those that occurred in a character’s past and might be used to explain certain quirks of character development (Christian Grey) or to establish a character as a survivor and/or adult (Lisbeth Salander might be one), and it seems to me that the power of a trauma narrative is diminished when it is forced to serve another purpose; and (2) that there are so many versions of this story that are badly done that we might lose sight of the reality and individuality of trauma experiences. As an example of what I mean, I’ll proffer the idea that many people in the U.S. have no idea what rape is outside of the “rape rape” they see depicted on television shows, in movies, and in literature, the “rape rape” that gets discussed as a valid rape narrative, and all the other ways that rape can occur get secondary status as “not quite rape.” I’d hate for that trend to happen to all stories of abuse, you know?

      • 1) Your Google Fu is so much stronger than mine. Well done! So using Milan’s logic, it seems like many representations of trauma fail because they only justify themselves in the narrative future (moving the plot along, explaining something about character) but not in the narrative present.

        2) I’m totally intrigued by the idea that trauma narratives might serve a different purpose for male versus female characters. I’d also be curious if GLBT trauma narratives operate differently than m/f ones.

        3) The narrowness of representation is a huge problem. I don’t want crime procedurals, but based the ads, it all strange man jumps out of the bushes, blah blah. And that *&*^$! spills over into the real world because then juries expect survivors to act a certain way, assailants to look a certain way, police to have a certain investigative capacity, etc. This is a complicated process of course and it’s easier to talk about narrative economies in the abstract, but it’s not just textual.

      • I’m not a writer, so I’m not sure I’m understanding what’s meant by the narrative being justified in the present. Do you mind explaining? (I was confused when I read Courtney Milan’s tumblr, too…)

        You’re right that this is a complicated question… several questions, probably. I think it’s going to take a lot of work to clarify just what we’re talking about, and the question might be different for each genre. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have something to think about. 😉

      • Can I add something to what I think is shaping up to be a fantastic discussion on the place of rape/trauma in fiction? One of the most worrying aspects of this trend, to me, is the frequent use of rape or attempted rape as the “go-to” Worst Trauma Ever when the author needs to show how gritty and real the heroine is, but the corresponding Worst Trauma Ever for a man (to show how tortured and compelling he is) is usually watching a friend or close relative die in some terrible way. I read very thoughtful blog post on this which I’ll try to track down and link. Basically, even if we can all agree that sexual assaults do happen and far more often to women than men, it’s more a reflection of our society and rape culture than of reality that fiction writers tend to employ rape to give their heroines needed grit or (my personal favourite, which we see in a lot of historical romances) provide a great excuse for the hero to save her at the last minute.

        This ranting contribution to your interesting but entirely tangential discussion is in no way aimed at Marguerite Kaye’s book, which does not sound like it trades on assault in the way I’m describing. It sounds good and I’ll probably go buy a copy.

      • I had to take a few days to think about what you’ve written here, because it’s so damn interesting.

        For a while, it felt like every historical romance I came across featured the hero swooping in at the last minute and saving the heroine from rape. In fact, one author whose books I binge read (no idea why, really) used that motif in three books…

        What do you suppose that could mean, in a more general sense? Do we, as readers, enjoy the double drama of the threat of both the heroine and hero enduring The Worst Trauma Ever (or do authors just assume we do?)? Does that motif simply market on (and help perpetuate) the fear that a rapist is around every corner and that rape is a little bit inevitable for every woman to experience at some point in her life?

        You know what always bothers me about the stories that include that motif? It seems like there’s always a sex scene shortly after the hero rescues the heroine wherein the hero calms the heroine’s skittish nerves and reaffirms the “rightness” of their sexual intimacy. Just once I’d like to read a book that features such a rescue and then gives the heroine the space not to want to be touched for a while, you know?

  5. I’m fascinated by this, and distracted (I’m supposed to be writing!). To take a step back for a moment, I think the need for trauma stems from the expectation in the romance genre that the hero and heroine have to EARN their HEA – I think this point was made right at the start. So if they haven’t got any emotional baggage, there’s no hurdles for them to overcome and you get a very flat story. And then, there’s a limit to what emotional baggage you can use and so writers are turning to more fundamental traumas to try and get a fresh take. Plus, even in historicals, as readers, we don’t much like our heroines being rescued any more and want them to rescue themselves, and so they need what Faye calls ‘grit’ – and to give them grit they need to have endured something and so – you can see how it’s becoming a trend, and when something becomes a trend, it can, in the wrong hands, become shorthand and therefore open to accusations of trivialising (trivialasation? don’t think there’s such a word).

    I used domestic abuse in my story as one of the very few things in my heroine’s historical situation that would have been extreme enough to make her quit her marriage. It wasn’t a plot device, part of my reason for writing this story was to draw attention to the harshness of the marriage laws at the time, but I did worry, when I was writing it, that I was perhaps playing down the trauma of it, maybe even sidelining the issue – and I toned down the abuse accordingly (I originally had planned to make it so bad that my heroine killed her husband). The problem is, you can’t have major trauma central to a romance, you have to have the romance central. And so for me, I’d steer clear of trauma like rape, because it would feel like it had to be centre stage and then I would be writing a whole different book.

    But on the other hand, romances are character studies, and I’ve got to thinking about what’s been said about watching someone you love die. That is a trauma that is in one way much more common, it’s character-defining or -changing, but it’s a trauma that is part of life, and not, like rape or violence, the exception (still, thankfully). I don’t know if any of this helps the debate, but it’s helping me shape my next story!

  6. Kelly: Hmm, I can try!

    Let’s say you’re writing a novel and you’re trying to come up with a way for your hero and heroine to meet. He’s a lawyer, so you decide to have you heroine get involved in some sort of accident and then end up in his office looking for legal representation. The theory of self-justification would say that the accident must come not out of the needs of the plot–they have to meet somehow–but out of the heroine’s character, her backstory, and historical and cultural reality, otherwise it’s unethical. Manipulative, maybe.

    One of the things I love about romance is that every entry in the genre is at some level engaged in a meta conversation about the tropes of the genre. Another name I’ve seen for self-justification is restorative metafiction, meaning fiction that, rather than diluting or destructing tropes, reinvigorates them through the ethical use of narrative devices.

    This at least is how I understood. Anyone know Courtney Milan and want to ask her how she was using the term?

    (And incidentally, in my life as a writer, I’m not sure I’m good at this. I just finished a revision on a book in which one of the characters has trauma in her backstory. Not the kind of trauma that’s been discussed here, but something that leaves her deeply shaken. And the reasons for this are a combination of biography–my biography–and the demands of the plot. So there are no high horses here. I wish I were better at it.)

  7. Pingback: Wounded military code-breakers, artists, agony aunts and engineers | Reading with Analysis

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