Genre: Historical: European, Romance
Theme: Class Differences, Enemies to Lovers
About a quarter of the way into When a Rogue Meets His Match, I realized the book was probably not going to be a particularly successful villain redemption or enemies-to-lovers romance. About three-quarters of the way in, I started to wonder what, exactly, the intended message of this book was, because it was verging in a startlingly uncomfortable way on emotional abuse apologia. Everything after that felt like too little, too late in terms of trying to earn any kind of HEA. This was an incredibly disappointing read for me, and I will do my best to articulate why, even though my primary reaction is just wordless angry yelling.
The premise of When a Rogue Meets His Match is as follows: Messalina Greycourt is an intelligent, beautiful aristocrat with an evil uncle, the Duke of Windemere. The Duke of Windemere sends his head lackey in matters of Evil, the low-born Mr. Gideon Hawthorne, to collect his niece from the countryside and bring her back to London. When they arrive in London, Messalina learns that she is to marry Mr. Hawthorne against her will.
The blurb of When a Rogue Meets His Match calls this union a “marriage of convenience.” This is misleading: it is a marriage that is forced on Messalina and Messalina only. Gideon wants to leave the Duke’s employ, but he agrees to perform any final single task the Duke asks in exchange for marriage to Messalina, because he finds Messalina sexy and fascinating and also plans to use her massive dowry and social standing to make an entrée into polite society.
Okay, so. At point 0, this is a really shitty thing the “hero” does. He sort of negotiates with Messalina to grant her some concessions (including 10% of her own dowry once they consummate the marriage, which they agree will be in a month) but it does not negate the fact that he has conspired with the Duke to massively violate Messalina’s human rights and autonomy for completely self-interested reasons. To me, this indicates that he thinks of Messalina as something less than a full human being, at least at this point in the book.
Now, I actually don’t think this in and of itself necessarily poses an insurmountable obstacle to an eventual HEA, although it is a pretty huge one!! I greatly enjoy a well-done villain redemption romance. Part of what is so compelling about the romance genre for me is the idea that giving and receiving genuine love to another person can redeem almost anyone. A key component of this, however, is that the villain has to actually be redeemed, and at such a pace that as the romance blooms, the evolving relationship between the main couple does not feel icky.
To that end, I would posit that for a villain redemption romance to actually work, one of two things (or some combination) has to happen:
- We learn new information about the villain that recontextualizes his (it’s almost invariably his) actions to make them seem less reprehensible, thus lowering the height of the overall barrier to HEA.
- Through some amount of emotional suffering and hard-fought personal growth, the villain actually changes as a person in a believable way and makes restitution for his actions, thus convincing the reader that he both deserves an HEA and that he deserves to have it with his love interest.
Unfortunately, When a Rogue Meets His Match completely fails at doing either of these two things. This means the “romance” is very un-fun as it reads more like an easily manipulated woman being duped repeatedly by an incredibly selfish, callous man for about 80% of the book. You could take out the hastily slapped-on HEA, shelve this as historical tragedy, and the book would basically work.
The first big red flag that made me think the romance was not going to cohere was actually how quickly Messalina forgives Gideon for forcing her into marriage. She is initially planning on getting her promised 10% dowry money and immediately leaving the country with her sister (which is a great plan, in my humble opinion). But she is so pleasantly shocked that Gideon is not 100% cruel and awful every moment of every day that she is already starting to fall in love with him within 2 weeks of marriage—to the extent that she is engaging in revisionist history about their wedding. She actually tells her siblings:
I don’t know if anyone could have prevented the marriage.
GIRL, WHAT? GIDEON COULD HAVE PREVENTED THE MARRIAGE, BY NOT PARTICIPATING IN A PLOT TO FORCE YOU TO MARRY HIM!! The fact that Messalina says this when this man forced her into marriage about 14 days ago is BANANAGRAMS and it makes it seem like she has Stockholm Syndrome.
It is painfully clear from Gideon’s narration that he has not remotely earned Messalina’s tender feelings at this point (or any other point). He continues to have NO remorse for forcing her into marriage, indicating that he has undergone no personal growth. While she’s thinking about how she feels guilty for planning to leave him because she’s feeling “fondness” for him and his beautiful lips, he’s thinking:
But Gideon couldn’t bring himself to regret forcing Messalina to marry him. She was softening, day by day, hour by hour. If, in the end, she was truly content with their marriage, perhaps even happy, what did it matter that she hadn’t started that way? It was merely a small quibble.
Bluntly, what the fuck?! It’s a big quibble for me. “It’s fine that I forced you to marry me if I can love-bomb you into not despising me” is an incredibly disturbing attitude and shows that Gideon has not changed one iota since forcing Messalina to marry him. He has the same selfishness and disdain for her personhood that he had at the beginning of the book.
And that task Gideon was supposed to complete for the Evil Duke?
He’s supposed to murder Messalina’s brother, Julien Greycourt. For the record, he spends the majority of the book planning on committing the murder. And not in a “I’ll get around to it eventually, I guess,” kinda way, in a “following him around town actively planning how to murder him” kinda way.
Also, in case you are wondering how the Evil Duke is maintaining leverage against Gideon when he’s already married Messalina, Evil Duke is going to hold on to the dowry until Gideon completes the murder. This means the only actual motivator for Gideon to kill Julien is for money, and it’s Messalina’s money. Ugh.
To recap, so far in this “romance” Gideon has done an awful thing to Messalina that he has zero regrets about and is planning on doing at least one more awful thing to her, all while she is starting to fall in love with him. This was icky, but at this point in the book I thought maybe this was just going to be an uncomfortable pacing issue and that Gideon would start gaining ground in terms of actual redemption. Boy, was I wrong.
Once Messalina’s siblings arrive, Gideon realizes that the unconsummated marriage could pose a problem, because with help from her brothers, Messalina could still annul the marriage. So that night, knowing Messalina is attracted to him, he seduces her about two weeks ahead of their previously agreed-upon consummation schedule. Boom! One potential escape route for Messalina gone. Gross.
This poses a huge structural problem to the resolution of the romance, because here we are about halfway through the book and the villain-hero has selfishly and dishonestly violated the heroine’s agency and personhood again and he does not ever express remorse for it or make restitution for it.
Messalina eventually finds out the truth about the timing of the, er, event (not from him, of course) and re-resolves to leave him. I personally wanted her to take her little sister and her dog and leave him and never return and have the rest of the book be about her adventures in Europe. But alas, there was even more messed up shit in store for the “romance” of Messalina and Gideon.
While she is thinking about leaving Gideon, Messalina gets truly horrible advice from her friend, Freya (who was the heroine of the first book in this series). In encouraging Messalina to not immediately leave, she says:
“Remember, though, we don’t choose whom we love, none of us. You’re angry now and with good reason. He’s been despicable to you. But that doesn’t stop love. No matter how much we wish it would.” She looked at Messalina. “Do you love a lying, manipulative rogue who likes to fight with knives?”
Messalina’s brain was awhirl with doubts and fears, base longs and feelings. “I…have feelings for Gideon, but I don’t know if I love him. And I can’t tell if all his talk was lies or the truth, perhaps hidden even from himself.”
“You need to find out.” Freya nodded. “I suggest you stay until you’re certain—one way or the other.”
Hey, Freya, guess what???? Love doesn’t make it okay for someone to hurt you. It is okay to leave someone you love when they have repeatedly hurt you, even if they love you. In fact, sometimes it is the only thing you can do to protect yourself.
Look, relationships can come back from betrayal and hurt, and some of the best romances explore that, but at this point nothing in this book has shown me or Messalina that Gideon is anything other than a narcissistic person with no respect for Messalina, but who happens to be charming in a day-to-day context.
So, with Freya’s spectacularly awful and messed-up advice in mind, Messalina is prepared to be receptive to Gideon’s manly wiles once again. This leads to the thing that possibly upset me the MOST about this book:
The thing that makes Messalina soften towards Gideon again is that he buys her a goddamn library. To be clear, he does not apologize. He does not acknowledge that anything he has done up to this point is messed up and hurtful. He just buys her a present. This is such a common abuse tactic (do a horrible thing, buy an extravagant present to make restitution but never change) that I was physically nauseated reading this scene.
Oh, also, somewhere around here Gideon FINALLY realizes he probably can’t go through with killing Julien, but it’s not like he’s honest with Messalina about what her uncle asked from him.
Around this time, we also learn more about Gideon’s traumatic childhood when he tells Messalina about it. I hated this late-book reveal of Gideon’s Tragic Past because it felt extremely manipulative to both the reader and to Messalina. Look, traumatized people (and aren’t we all traumatized people!) sometimes do messed-up stuff as a result of that trauma and they do deserve to be able to grow and change. But just the fact that Gideon has a serious trauma history does not make the abusive behavior he inflicts on Messalina okay, or mean that she should forgive him, and it feels like the narrative arc is trying to tell us that it does mean those things.
Finally, FINALLY, Messalina learns what Gideon was supposed to do for her uncle (but only because she demands to know, not because he was ever going to tell her of his own volition). Once again, she decides to leave him, and she actually makes it to the carriage and leaves London this time. Once again, various people around her question whether this is “what she really wants” when it should be crystal-clear to literally everyone that Gideon is toxic and Messalina should be running away from him screaming.
Only at this eleventh-hour point when Messalina has left London does the book attempt to show Gideon changing in any meaningful way, but it’s far too late. And I mean it’s far too late for me, the reader, to be convinced. Naturally, Messalina comes running back at the first sign of a conciliatory gesture and they have a completely undeserved and enraging HEA.
My problem with this book, then, can be summed up as follows: Gideon repeatedly inflicts emotional suffering on Messalina and never makes what I would describe as genuine or believable restitution. The Gideon of the end of the book is exactly the same as the Gideon of the beginning of the book except he is capable in a literal way of saying the words “I love you” even if they appear to have no real meaning or impact for him. I guess I believe that he has come to care about Messalina being happy or content in a kind of abstract way (just so long as she is happy with him). But a “romance” that validates the idea that if two people love each other, it’s okay for one of them to repeatedly hurt the other one without ever even apologizing, let alone doing anything to change, is a pretty big failure as a romance. Even die-hard Hoyt fans (as I generally am) should consider skipping this one.
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I know this is a small quibble in the face of the issues your great review just skewered, but…this woman’s parents named her Messalina? (*Messalina???*) The worst stories about her are roughly 90% lies, but still!
That plot could be imported wholesale from a vintage late-1970s bodice-ripper. I had hoped we’d moved beyond “emotionally rapey” heroes. Le sigh.
Thank you, Ellen. I’ve been blindsided rather a lot in the past couple of years by highly recommended romances that leave me screaming “THIS IS STRAIGHT FROM THE ABUSERS’ HANDBOOK!”, and I appreciate reviewers I can trust to notice and point out abuse-normalization narratives. I don’t need that trauma.
Wow. Just wow. How?
Sorry, I just can’t understand how an author with that big a platform and support can end up with this out there? Was there no one flagging this at any point?
Oh thank god, I thought it was just me. I was really excited for this book, started reading it yesterday and about a quarter of a way through i’m alternately bored and annoyed by Gideon. I was willing to look past the premise cause I also love a good redemption arc but I can’t even root for him to deserve that. Messalina also came off as a bit oblivious, there’s a scene where she decides to be kinder to the new cook after she realizes how difficult it is for those who live in the streets…but how does she only know that now?! She’s twenty-eight, has presumably spent a lot of time in London but it takes a shopping trip to make her realise that very obvious thing.
Wow. I’m rather relieved I left Hoyt behind a while ago.
And its rather beside the point, but did he buy that extravagant “apology” present with her money? Cause, again. Wow.
@1Esk19 Her family appear to have a theme going on names: her uncle is Augustus, her siblings are Julian, Lucretia, and Quintus, but that just raises more questions, like where is the additional pre-Quintus sibling, and why did her parents not pick Roman matrons not famous for sexual excess/being raped*? I sat down and came up with three off the top of my head: Cornelia the Mother of the Gracchi, Livia Drusilla, Faustina (elder and younger).
Also, her brother starts off being annoyed that his uncle, while administering the family estate, stole all their money, but…that is why you hire lawyers? Even if he is famously evil, you can still get a lawyer! Because robbing an estate which you hold in trust is dumb as fuck.
*The author has not done a family tree for this one, so possibly I just did not read far enough to discover a Secret Missing Sibling.
@lainey I once got completely thrown out of one of her books when the hero started being distressed that the heroine’s family treated her like she was living ‘in slavery’, and this was the 1710s! Slavery on the streets of London was a thing! Why are you so fussed about this nice woman’s (objectively bad) treatment and comparing it to literal slavery
I’ve read several of Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and this review (which is excellent, btw) encapsulates many of the concerns I’ve had previously—heroes with serious flaws who never seem to do the work to make a HEA possible.
I do sometimes wonder what’s happened to romance authors to lead them to write stuff like this.
Wow. Just wow. This is one of many reasons why I read very few M/F historical romances these days. I keep thinking ‘oh maybe I should try that’ and then see a review or comments like this and think ‘OH HELL NO.’ Why are so many of these books STILL about trying to turn the objectively awful legal realities of life (for women) into vehicles for Asshole Hero Is Perfect Mate? Or, to put it another way, why do so many authors still seem to think Asshole Hero is a remotely desirable thing to write?
If I want to read a book in which horrible things happen to a woman and she still comes out ahead, I’ll read Frances Burney. It is a lot less offensive coming from a contemporary author than one here in the 21st century.
So disappointing because I really like Hoyt. :/
This sounds horrifying!! Am definitely avoiding. I loathe it when romances (or rom/coms, looking at you Happiest Season) take toxic relationship traits and make them part of a romantic journey rather than something one should avoid.
I am sorry but as soon as I saw the name Messalina. I thought nope!
Who in their right mind would have ever called their daughter that?
@Audra (Unabridged Chick) oh damn… I’ve been saving Happiest Season for an evening when I want to curl up with a movie rather than a book. It has this problem? Why can’t we have nice things!
@Penny: I don’t want to spoil anything for you but the relationship as depicted is awful, and at first I thought the arc would be the one partner realizing how terrible she is but her awful behavior is just waved away! It was v distressing and not funny or romantic at all. SIIIIIIGH…
Wow, this is disappointing from Hoyt, who never did anything This Bad in her Maiden Lane series.
I will never understand romance writers that allow their heroes to be disrespectful to their heroines beyond the halfway point, and beyond actual improvement of character. Minerva Spencer’s new one (Notorious) suffers from the same problem.
Not to derail the topic but I agree wholeheartedly with @Audra (Unabridged Chick). I just came from writing a ranty post about The Happiest Season and terrible partners and undeserved redemption (that wasn’t a redemption at all). I ended up not really enjoying it outside of a few characters who really carried what was good about it on their backs.
But back on topic. The review for this book has given me a sad. The blurb sounded intriguing and led me to believe that it would be a battle-of-wills type storyline. Oh, well. I have soo many unread other things…
I picked this one up because I usually like Hoyt, but it was a DNF for me about half way through, when I realized I just wanted to strangle both the hero and the heroine. I usually don’t mind bad-boy heroes, but this guy, just no.
I’ve loved some Hoyt books but not been quite so fond of others, but this sounds full of WTF moments. Among all the other horrid things Gideon did, did he think that Messalina would never find out that he was the one who killed her brother? That she wouldn’t care? That the library would make up for Julian’s death? Somehow neither Gideon nor Messalina fits my concept of a romantic hero/heroine.
Ellen, go scrub out your brain with Loretta Chase’s Ten Things I Hate About The Duke. I preordered it and the Hoyt and an now regretting reading the good one first (will probably park the Hoyt until I forget about this review). Anyway, my advice is good, LC will cure you of your ills.
Wow. I am glad that I did not pick this one up when it was on sale recently. Thanks Ellen for suffering through this and warning us. Abuse is very unsexy and unromantic and this sounds terrible.
Ellen, great review! Skipping the book, but I found your review a great exploration of how romances of this type should work vs. this. Really well written and enjoyable.
I did buy the book when it was sale recently, but just returned it. There is enough badness in the world without having my precious reading time besmirched with the icky.
Elizabeth Hoyt was an autobuy for me, but this series just killed that.
@Deet yesss Loretta Chase’s new book was such a sweet, tender redemption story. Where the hero actually becomes a better person, and it isn’t the heroine who ‘fixes’ him but he just reaches a point in life where he grows up and realizes he’s hurting people and makes so much genuine effort to be worthy of the heroine. This is how a redemption arc should be done, as opposed to whatever is happening in Hoyt’s new book o.O
Good grief! I’m relieved I caught this review as I had my eye on reading it. This series has thus far not been receiving positive feedback. In any case, happy to give this one a miss.
Disappointed – was looking forward to reading this one because I felt pretty lukewarm about the first in the series, but I think I’ll have to skip. I love most of Hoyt’s backlist so this is a bummer 🙁
I remember leaving a review for a book I was unable to finish because of the awful hero who decided he’s going to hurt the heroine by taking away her child. Someone said I needed to finish the book because there was a backstory that would make the hero’s actions understandable. Dude. No. There is literally zero backstory that would make me okay with someone taking away someone’s child to hurt them. None. Zero. Zilch.
Perhaps I have mellowed in my old age but I was not bothered by this book as you were. I just finished the book before reading the review and almost feel as if I read a different book. I saw that Gideon was unhappy about the job from the beginning but he felt trapped that he had to complete it. Also, he knew that he was actually delaying and avoiding completion and that was not normal behavior for him. I actually liked him better than her because he knew he was technically a bad guy and he admitted that to himself and others. I did feel that his redemption was honest and heartfelt. He had, in fact at the beginning of the book, tried to quit working for the truly evil person, the uncle. I also try very hard not to impose modern mores on 18th century people. So, I was not as upset as I would be if this was a contemporary romance. I only say this because there may be other readers like me who might see this book in a different light and I wanted to present an alternative view.
I agree with Karen H, I liked this one more than the first in the series which was utterly forgettable (as well as some of the Maiden Lane books). I don’t see Gideon as a villain, more like a lost soul. I’d give it a 3.5* out of 5. Either my standards are low or I just don’t approach historical romance books as if they were the real life. One of my top ten DIKs is still To Have and To Hold which was very controversial. I think Gaffney does a credible job of redeeming the hero but his treatment of the heroine in the first half of the book is beyond the pale and many readers can’t get past it. OTOH I disliked Spymaster’s Lady because I felt the heroine couldn’t stand up to the the hero as much I wished her to. I guess we all have different triggers.