Rant, Review

Review: His Rebellious Lass by Callie Hutton (2019)

Scottish Hearts Series, Book 1

Heat Factor: There is sex.

Character Chemistry: Please, tell me again how you don’t want to be attracted to each other.

Plot: Let’s put everything we can into one story.

Overall: Slather it on with a spatula. The big sort for icing sheet cakes.

I’m not sure if this was a hate to love story or a bad guy rescue story or a ruination story or a feminist crusader story. It was trying a little bit to be all the stories. By the time I got to the end, I was thinking, “WHERE DID THIS NEW THING EVEN COME FROM?” My head was already spinning from all of the other conflicts. Why add one more? But also why was I surprised?

Lady Bridget is a lively Scottish lady on a mission. Her crusade? To create a refuge for abused women. Her problem? Even though she’s 21, her father made her the ward of the Marquess of Campbell, so she can’t access her fortune until she’s 23. The Marquess, whose name is Donald, but who is referred to as “Cam” for the entirety of the story, is an active member of Parliament as well as an autocratic rake who refuses ever to marry because he had a difficult childhood.

Short story: She wants nothing to do with men who by virtue of the law own women, and he wants everything to do with women except marriage. A reasonable storyline for a late-Georgian/Regency romance. The result was heavy-handed and a little bit too much. Of everything.

The romance: Hate to love.

Cam doesn’t even know he has a ward when he walks into his library and Bridget starts attacking him. She’s already decided he’s an insufferable, repugnant man, even though she doesn’t know him at all and she doesn’t know how he feels about her being his ward. Seems like a sensible approach to her desire to break the guardianship and gain independence by behaving like a rude, spoiled brat. Definitely an approach one should consider when placed in that situation. People usually like being insulted by strangers and are generally amenable to considering said strangers’ requests subsequent to all the insults.

Other than Bridget’s conviction, there is really no evidence of raking or other unsavory behavior on Cam’s part. He does decide to be autocratic about marrying her off so he can abdicate responsibility for her, but other than that, he’s pretty reasonable. (Until that last conflict mentioned above that’s just…what.) He’s a member of Parliament. House of Lords, yes, but he still has to negotiate with other peers to pass legislation, so he can’t have a particularly unsavory reputation or he wouldn’t be able to get anything done. And the legislation he’s trying to pass? Support for soldiers and their families. Sounds like a really ugly customer. I’d steer clear of this one.

Hate to love can work. I think it’s a difficult connection to make believable, though. We are introduced to the idea that Bridget and Cam’s story is hate to love not because of the protagonists gradually warming to each other, understanding each other. No indeed! It is because we are categorically informed that they have frissons and electrical connections. Also that Cam is inexplicably and unreasonably jealous of imaginary husbands. Repeatedly. Do remind me at least once a chapter how much you don’t want to be attracted to each other but are anyway. I might start to believe you.

The feminist crusade: Young woman on a mission who doesn’t fit the cultural mold.

The notion of tackling the legal status of women in early to mid 19th century Britain is a good one. This period is extraordinarily popular among both readers and writers, comprising the vast majority of historical literature in the genre. We romanticize the period. Certainly I do. It’s delightful fantasy and escapism in so many ways. Have you ever heard a fellow reader say, “I was born 200 years too late!” I have. But in context, we probably really, really don’t actually want to live in this period, and legal status of women is simply one reason why.

Bridget is inspired to open a shelter for women because her friend died at the hands of an abusive husband. She had no legal status of her own as his wife, and culturally during this period victims were blamed rather than abusers (shocking, I know). Reminding the reader of this fact and also drawing some parallels to the modern day struggle is meaningful.

This book runs headlong into some frustrating stereotypes. This book is set in 1818. There is no escaping certain historical realities about this period, and yet a very popular approach to “feminist” heroines is to make them both anachronistic and wholly devoid of “feminine” traits. Bridget, for example, prefers Scotch whiskey to tea, shooting to embroidery and ladies’ gossip, and so on. She doesn’t even know how to ride side-saddle even though she would have started to learn to ride at an age when she wouldn’t have been able to make the decision to ride astride for herself. And of course she rides astride in breeches. Women can like different things, have different interests and tastes. Of course they can. We do. But presenting “feminist” women as if they must reject dresses, corsets, stitchery, the company of other women and tea (everyone drinks tea!) is catering to a certain stereotype of what feminism looks like.

But that’s not the only pitfall. Bridget wants to open this shelter, but she is presented as running into the project in a childish, headstrong, and ill-considered way. There are so many times that Cam questions Bridget about her project and she’s like, “I didn’t think of that,” or “I’m not good at accounting…I’ve been so busy thinking about furniture.” Basically, Bridget’s heart is in the right place, but she can’t actually do anything on her own because she’s not thinking things through. Bless her heart. At one point Cam thinks to himself that it’s such a bummer he keeps bursting her balloon by asking her questions about logistics regarding her shelter, but she really needs to understand the complexity of the problem she wants to solve. Cam just needs to bite his tongue and let her reach the right conclusions on her own, in her own time. Barf.

Oh also, before I leave this section: Cam refers to marriage as the “parson’s noose,” which is a repellent, androcentric stereotype, but which also makes sense in the context of his aversion to marriage. I guess. He has very specific reasons for his aversion, so a general aversion isn’t necessarily out of character. But then later we are in Bridget’s head and Bridget is thinking that it’s amazing Cam has avoided the parson’s noose for so long. This indicates that it’s not only Cam’s opinion of marriage, but that it is a universal view of marriage. Marriage is a trap. But only a trap for men. That’s a super healthy view of marriage.

The writing: So. Much. Wat.

Here we suffer from a case of spell-it-out-for-me. Hutton attempts to do a lot in this book, and probably it’s a little too much, but it could have been done well if we (the readers) were nudged to conclusions rather than having conclusions layered onto our minds, dollop after dollop. A hint of a frisson, a fleeting wonder, a little puzzlement, an arrested gaze. Instead we have those completely out of the blue jolts of electricity and inexplicable jealousies. We are informed that the protagonists’ thoughts are so often centered on each other. Cam’s masculinity is projected by his (supposed) rake status, his time at Gentleman Jackson’s, his aggressive desire (although not really penchant) to use his fists to “protect Bridget’s honor,” his refusal to submit to the parson’s noose, his jealousy over Bridget’s interactions with other men, etc. Bridget’s feminism and independence are projected by her refusal to engage in feminine pursuits/desire to engage in masculine pursuits, her refusal to meet men or prospective suitors, her irritability about almost everything Cam says, her refusal to marry in the face of ruin, etc.

Aside from the heavy-handed and sometimes repetitive explanations of everything, there’s a lot of other just — Wha?

  1. Bridget’s father died two weeks before the book starts…but she’s attending social functions…in colors.
  2. Bridget attends events with Cam…without a chaperone…even though she has her own chaperone and is also living with Cam’s sister.
  3. Cam’s sister and brother-in-law leave for the country…without Bridget…even though she’s been staying at their house with them for the sake of her reputation.
  4. Cam is Bridget’s guardian…marrying her while she’s his ward would be dishonorable.
  5. Bridget expects to solicit money for her shelter…but doesn’t care tuppence for her reputation…how does she expect to get donations?

If you can get over all of that, this book is for you.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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