Hell’s Bells, Book #1
Heat Factor: He really likes to go down on her.
Character Chemistry: It started before the book, so there’s not a ton of buildup.
Plot: She’s in an extralegal girl gang, he’s got dark secrets, being together isn’t going to work, but everything swirling around them connects them. As does sex.
Overall: There’s a lot in this book that should be more prevalent in historical romance.
Series Starter: I am excited about Adelaide and Imogen. In terms of getting me to want to read more Hell’s Belles books, this one succeeds.
Storytelling: I have lots of thoughts here, and the way that this book addressed issues with the story told was really great.
- It’s not uncommon for historical romance heroines to be Not Like Other Girls, but the how and why of that characterization matters. Sesily demands to be seen and respected as an independent, 30-year-old woman who is perfectly capable of making her own choices. It’s, like, not an outrageous ask. MacLean’s characterization of Sesily works where some often don’t because 1. Sesily wasn’t born into the aristocracy so it’s not a reach to think that she doesn’t care what society thinks, 2. she’s seen her sisters all make more traditional choices but understands that she doesn’t really want the same for herself, and 3. she is on a mission that is bigger than herself, so she’s not about thumbing her nose at society and being isolated simply because she’s Not Like Other Girls. The only other thing that I would have liked to see was Sesily telling off her older sister for treating her like she’s not an adult who is fully capable of making her own decisions and living with the consequences of those decisions. Or Caleb telling Sesily’s sister the same when she asked Caleb to follow Sesily. We almost got it at the country estate, but it was a brief comment in the middle of a larger argument.
- Women are central in this story. The four women that form the center of Hell’s Belles are all on a mission to deliver justice or aid to women when alternative options are limited, non-existent, or sub-optimal. And they have a network of friends and acquaintances who support each other and who understand the limitations that women face in Victorian society, but who also aren’t willing to take a back seat just because. The number one reason I would say to read this book is because Sesily stands for something and falls for nothing. Everyone in her life, whether they know what she’s up to or not, wants her to take the safe path, but doing something when the easier choice is to do nothing is how change happens, and it made me really excited for these Hell’s Belles who acknowledge the dangers in their world and then go forth and do good work anyway.
Romance: Please don’t revoke my Sarah MacLean fan club card, but I never got particularly invested in Sesily and Caleb. I would have happily read a book (or more than one) about the four women in Sesily’s extralegal justice crusade with no romance at all. (Okay, that might be a lie. I haven’t read a non-romance in a pretty long time except by accident.) Two things were in play for me here:
- The romance started before the book started, so there was very little buildup of sexual tension. They’re very horny over each other all the time, and I just wasn’t there yet. I often enjoy a story with protagonists who already have some kind of relationship, so I think in this particular instance it was simply too much too soon.
- We spend about 60% of the book with Sesily being like, “He feels NOTHING! NOTHING, I TELL YOU!” OR like, “Oh, he is SO into me. He can pretend all he likes. Pfft.” and Caleb being like, “Woe is me! I can’t have love because the deep, dark secrets from my past will haunt me forever!” So here’s me being like, “Pick a freaking lane, Sesily. Does he want you or not? I’m getting whiplash over here.” And also like, “OMFG, Caleb. Just. Nut up or shut up.” I am very unsympathetic to the emotional struggles of angsty characters, I know. But by the third round I wanted us to get on with the action!
Was this my favorite Sarah MacLean book ever? It was not, but it set up a woman-centered series narrative that I’m really excited about.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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