Book Review

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean

Bombshell is a Victorian age romance with a ton of pining, and a heroine who belongs to a girl-gang out to dismantle the patriarchy. One of them specializes in explosions. Objectively I can look at this book and say that some readers may have an issue with how much time spent on the girl-gang scenes versus the romance, but also ONE OF THEM SPECIALIZES IN EXPLOSIONS. I think part of this imbalance is to set up the rest of the series, but the gang’s quest for justice was very heisty and fun. Frankly if there had been no romance I still would have enjoyed this book because we get to see justice delivered to assholes who deserve it. The issue is that the conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart was revealed far too late in the narrative.

Sesily Talbot has always lived life on her own terms, never marrying, enjoying being known for scandal, and running with a group of three other women who have banded together to get justice for women. Sesily is used to getting what she wants, with the notable exception of Caleb Calhoun, her sister’s business partner. Caleb is American and when Sesily confessed her feelings to him, he up and left for Boston. Ouch. Now Caleb is back for her new nephew’s christening and Sesily is still pretty raw about the whole deal.

Meanwhile Caleb is pining for Sesily and that pining is glorious (I love pining in my romance. Give me all the yearning glances). Unfortunately, Sesily and Caleb spent far too much time mutually longing for each other without a satisfying explanation given for why they can’t just be together. If Caleb wanted Sesily that much, and knew the feeling was mutual, why couldn’t he pull his head out of his ass and be with her?

We do eventually get an explanation for Caleb’s reluctance, and it’s a good one, but it came quite late in the book. If it had been woven in earlier, the conflict would have made more sense to me.

Meanwhile, while Caleb is making moon eyes at Sesily, he’s also concerned at her recent activities with her girl gang. She’s putting herself in physical danger (at one point even getting into a bar fight) and Caleb wants her to stop. Sesily is not having his overprotective BS. She knows she can take care of herself. During said bar fight she tells him:

“Men are ridiculous.”

“For wanting to keep you safe?”

“For believing you aren’t the thing from which we are most in danger.” She spread her arms wide. “Look around you.”


Overprotective heroes drive me up a wall because they’re determined to protect the heroine from outside forces without examining how they contribute to the power structures that set those forces up to begin with.

Eventually Caleb learns that Sesily can handle her shit, Sesily learns why Caleb is being a butthead about their mutual attraction and affection, and all wrongs are righted.

But back to the girl gang. I can only assume the other three members of the gang, Miss Adelaide Frampton, Lady Imogen Loveless, and The Duchess of Trevescan will be the heroines of the following books in the series. Along with Sesily, they are determined to bring what justice they can to the women around them through plots that involve creating situations where, for example, terrible people humiliate themselves. Because they are women, their activity is largely overlooked (with the exception of Caleb) and each time they deliver a comeuppance it is immensely satisfying.

The plots of Sesily, Adelaide, Imogen and The Duchess felt very Ocean’s 8 to me. Each of their plans for comeuppance has a heist-like feel and each character has a role: Sesily is the face man; Imogen the demolitions expert; The Duchess is the financier; and Adelaide is the reconnoiter. All that combined with a romance full of pining and a heroine who doesn’t need saving added up to such a happy reading experience. I could have used some of the conflict being explained earlier on, but I was enjoying myself plenty and look forward to the next book in the series.

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Bombshell by Sarah MacLean

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  1. Georgina says:

    Well, this sounds delightful. Thanks for the review, Elyse!

  2. Katty says:

    I’m not quite sure how the review leads to the B- grade? Other than the reason keeping the heroine and the hero apart being revealed too late in the story, you seem to have enjoyed the book a lot. To me that sounded like a solid B, so I was a bit surprised at the lower grade. Obviously, these things (and what we mean by which grade) are extremely subjective, so not saying the grading’s wrong in any way! Just curious about what to me feels like a dissonance between the text of the review and the final grade.

  3. DonnaMarie says:

    I really just skimmed this for the grade and the explosions. I haven’t read any Sarah MacLean recently. I don’t know if that’s because I lost track of her (Yes, that happens) or if she hasn’t published anything in a while. Either way, I am so looking forward to this, that I don’t want to color my reading.

    The last 8 months have been all about comfort reads, and I’m hoping to add a new book to that list.

  4. Lisa F says:

    Hmm, this is drawing B’s down the line, which is interesting.

  5. Annie Kate says:

    This sounds almost like a Victorian-era Leverage with a female cast, which is basically my Platonic ideal of escapism.

  6. Darlynne says:

    Someone mentioned EXPLOSIVES?

  7. Ellie says:

    I was so disappointed by Day of the Duchess, and refused to read the last of the Bareknuckle Bastards series because I could not handle another book where the villain from the previous books becomes the hero. However, I plan to read this new book because of Sesily.

  8. Lora says:

    I’m reading it now as it was a preorder for me. I’m a bit underwhelmed so far. I quite liked Caleb in the elder sister’s book (day of the duchess?). I’m not super impressed with the antics and shenanigans of the girl gang (drugging someone and writing a rude name on his forehead? This is justice somehow?). I’m hopeful it will pull together into something more delightful, as I’m a fan of Maclean in general.

  9. JoanneBB says:

    I DNF’d the last Bareknuckle Bastards book, so I think I’ll wait for a sale. I used to preorder her books but no longer.

  10. Crystal F. says:

    “Objectively I can look at this book and say that some readers may have an issue with how much time spent on the girl-gang scenes versus the romance,”

    ^ This kind of hits on the main issue I had with The Day of the Duchess.

    There were just SOOO many female side characters in that book, and all of them trying to talk at the same time. It actually made me angry, because I felt that it was taking page time away from the couple working their problems out. (And I have a hard enough time with second-chance romances, (and timeline jumping back-and-forth), as it is.)

  11. Ellie says:

    @Crystal F.–for me, the female side characters were the only redeeming part of Day of the Duchess! It would have been a much better book if Malcolm had met his demise in his underwater grovel grotto. Sera could have been a rich widow and married someone who deserved her and was perfectly ok with her being unable to have kids (the surprise! baby epilogue was just the last straw).

  12. Laura George says:

    Ok, I haven’t even read BOMBSHELL yet, although I pre-ordered and currently own it. But in terms of THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS? I’m with the haters. I hated, hated, hated it. I don’t care how excessive, operatic, overblown, etc. the grovel is — nothing makes this hero or this novel bearable. I’m sorry that I even read it once. I hope that the Bombsells sequence doesn’t end with a similar slimeball redeemed via outlandish groveling. I understand why @Ellie wouldn’t read the last Bareknuckle Bastards book. I read it but won’t be repeating. Sometimes it is time to update your shtick and stop disrespecting your audience.

  13. Anna C says:

    I think I’ll enjoy Bombshell, I definitely enjoy heist-type shenanigans, but I have mixed feelings about Maclean in general. I enjoyed the Rules of Scoundrels series, and The Rogue Not Taken is one of my absolute favorites but I was really disappointed with the others in that series (especially Day of the Duchess, woefully inadequate grovel) and with her Bareknuckle Bastards series. I used to preorder, but now I just get them from the library. Hopefully this is reasonably enjoyable.

  14. SandyS says:

    Honestly, I wish there was more time spent on the girl gang and less on the romance in this book! Give me more girl gang shenanigans and explosions!

  15. Ellie says:

    I finished Bombshell last night and will not give any spoilers other than I read this book with a whole lot of side eye–waiting for the plot twist/unnecessary aside where the hero in inspired by mythology (note: this is included but not excessive)/looking for how she is setting up the stories for the rest of the series (I have ideas)/turning to the epilogue with trepidation. I think I might enjoy it more on a reread now that I know what happens.

  16. Any reason why Sesily is spelled this way rather than the more conventional Cecily? I know there are books where characters spell their names phonetically and wondered if this was one.

  17. Sandy S. says:

    @Jane Lovering – Sesily is one of the “Soiled S’s,” the five scandalous Talbot sisters. All five have names beginning with “S.”) The family was introduced in the Scandal and Scoundrel series.

  18. JenniferA says:

    I loved this book so much and without spoilers, the ending sequence so funny I was laughing so hard I ended up reading half of it to my husband. To me, the best part of this book was the girl gang and I’m pretty sure I know who the next two pairings will be and I’m so excited about it. I liked the Bareknuckle Bastards a lot, but my favorite series of hers are the casino books and this felt like that, only funnier. I would have given it an A-

  19. Jennifer says:

    “If Caleb wanted Sesily that much, and knew the feeling was mutual, why couldn’t he pull his head out of his ass and be with her?”

    Sounds like my real life 🙁

  20. Ricki says:

    I felt like this book suffered from genre limitations. Because it would have been a better book if a) Caleb basically came to the conclusion that Sesily and her girl gang were the shit fairly early, revealed his back story right then, and then worked with the girl gang to resolve his stuff, which would beautifully coincide with the girl gang’s goal to get Coleridge (?). Then the rest of the book could have been girl gang + Caleb heist stuff, with the bonus of hot sex, and/or b) do that, but also have all the belles get their HEAS in the same epic heist/romance.

  21. Lindsay says:

    I’m just commenting because I found this book adequate and am most interested in Imogen’s story which I was hoping would be next. Alas, it’s Adelaide and this book was extremely close to DNF. Like, skimmed the last 15% to get to the end.

    Agree with @JoanneBB, Maclean used to be an autobuy for me but I don’t know if her speed is effecting quality, if she has a hardcore group of fans who ABSOLUTELY LOVE “sinful””dragging” kisses at moments so inopportune that I almost gave the book up right there, but Imogen’s story is going to have to blow me away (ha.) and I’m wondering if the Duchess is going to be a twist on Chase.

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