Heat Factor: One extremely sexy F/F encounter
Character Chemistry: Slow to start, but they have their moments
Plot: Con artist infiltrates mining corporation in search of incriminating data, falls for boss
Overall: This is an excellent heist book and a middling romance
In the author’s note at the end of A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite thanks Cathy Pegau for writing a book about a bisexual con-artist in space and I was like:
So here we are, getting ready to talk about Rulebreaker.
Opening scene: Liv is lying on the floor of a bank while it’s being robbed. Extra lame? She was there to rob the bank herself, and those jerks beat her to it! How embarrassing. And one of those jerks is her ex-husband! This is really not her day.
But then, Tonio the ex comes to her with a proposition – join him and his (very dangerous) new associates on this next job, and they’ll all make so much money she can retire for good. What’s a girl to do? Join them and go undercover as the new assistant for one R.J. Talbot (Zia to her friends), head of R&D at one of the local mining companies.
As you can see, a very promising beginning. And Pegau definitely delivers on the whole corporate intrigue / con artist angle. I couldn’t put this one down, because I was right there with Liv as she realized that she was in way over her head, and I wanted to see how she was going to pull it all off. Liv is a great character, who is deeply flawed but essentially a good person, so I enjoyed spending time in her head.
However (there’s always a however). The romance between Liv and Zia was a little bit underdeveloped – the emotional build up felt secondary to the actual plot, which meant that the moment when the emotional connection became central to the plot didn’t work as well as it could have.
As I see it, there are two reasons for this weakness.
Let’s talk about pacing. There’s a standard arc for a heist story. First, we have to set up the con – gather the crew, establish the stakes, etc. Then, the con begins; in this case, at around the 30% mark, Liv starts her new job as Zia’s assistant. Next, the protagonist realizes that things may be more complicated than initially suspected. The plot thickens as the mark becomes a real person and/or the protagonist realizes that there’s stuff her associates neglected to mention. About ¾ into the story, shit hits the fan and there’s an epic shootout or a daring escape or whatever. And then the last 10% or so of the book ties up the loose ends and shows our protagonist pulling it off.
Pegau nails all these marks. The problem, however, is that this pacing is less conducive for developing a romance. In this case, it means that the reader doesn’t even meet Zia until a third of the way into the book; Zia doesn’t become a character with a personality beyond “hot boss” until at least halfway through. That leaves Pegau a lot less space to develop the emotional connection between Liv and Zia.
The other thing that weakens this book as a romance is the focus on secondary characters. We spend a lot of time with Liv’s partners in crime, as well as with the sheriff who is on their trail. Tonio, in particular, is really well fleshed out. While this makes Rulebreaker a richer book as a whole, it does mean that Zia gets less time on the page, and the lack of detail on her really stands out when we compare her to Tonio. Liv spends the first third of the book processing her feelings for Tonio – including her continued sexual attraction and her decision not to act on it; in fact, if I hadn’t read the book blurb, I would have expected Tonio to be the love interest, and for he and Liv to eventually work out their bad communication in classic seducing my spouse fashion. Even once Liv starts spending more time with Zia, she continues to deal with her complicated relationship with Tonio.
The short version of all I just said: the components of Rulebreaker that make it work as a great heist book mean that there’s less development of the main love interest than there otherwise could be. Whether or not this is a weakness depends on what you’re looking for.
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