Sophie Talbot might be an earl’s daughter now, but she wasn’t always and life in London society rife with whispers and gossip about her sisters, the “Scandalous S’s.” When Sophie unwittingly becomes the centre of a new scandal, she runs away, desperate to try to claim a life for herself away from the ton‘s scorn. Stowing away in the Marquess of Eversley’s carriage, she plans to go unnoticed. Unfortunately for Sophie, Kingscote (the Marquess) quickly discovers her, convinced she’s trying to trap him into marriage. He’s determined to avoid matrimony, Sophie is determined to get away from him as well, and this wild road trip is following rules of its own.
The Rogue Not Taken is Sarah MacLean’s latest book and the first in her new Scandals and Scoundrel series. I have a special fondness for characters and couples in the first books in all of MacLean’s series (e.g., Callie and Ralston, Bourne and Penelope), so it’s no surprise to me that Sophie and King quickly found their way into my heart. This novel combines some of the best romance genre tropes to great effect: a young woman disguised as a footman, a pre-Victorian road trip with carriages rattling towards Scotland, and (one of my personal favourites), the hero and heroine who despise each other – until they don’t at all. But the very best part of this book, for me, was Sophie, because I immediately felt a connection to her.
While reading The Rogue Not Taken, there were three particular threads that stood out to me. The first, and perhaps most obvious, were the parallels between the scandal sheets of Sophie’s London and the tabloids of the 21st century. MacLean herself has said repeatedly that Sophie and her similarly S-named sisters are modelled after the Kardashians, but she also contemplates the idea that the media, whether it’s an 19th century ladies’ newspaper or a 21st century TMZ report, rarely reports the whole story. Scandal sheets and tabloids often distort the truth and package it with the specific intention of selling copies. In MacLean’s novel, Sophie and King both find themselves wrapped up in this environment. Sophie yearns to escape society’s critical eyes, while King clearly judges Sophie based on half-truths and outright lies he’s heard around town. Their relationship grows and develops when they learn to look past preconceived notions.
A second story thread in The Rogue Not Taken deals with Sophie’s feeling of being overshadowed by her more outgoing and scandalous sisters. I self-identify as an introvert, and am surrounded by well-meaning extroverted family members, many of whom have larger than life personalities. So I felt a kinship with Sophie as she struggled to make her own way in the world. At the start of the novel, she has long resigned herself to being the plain and boring Talbot sister, and often finds it difficult to make her own voice heard within her family. It’s bad enough when King automatically (initially) judges Sophie based solely on her family name; my heart broke for her, though, when I realised she believed all the gossip about herself, instead of trusting her own strength. Thankfully, MacLean doesn’t write weak heroines; King has a particular talent for insulting Sophie and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but Sophie routinely calls him out on his rudeness (and, as a reader, I cheered).
The third and final story thread that caught my attention when reading was Sophie’s desire to return “home” – without realising that life changes how we view our past and what was once “home” may no longer be so. We all eventually try to find our own place in the world, but sometimes that means that we can’t go back, because we’ve changed too much. When Sophie tries to reclaim the happiness of her childhood, she’s forced to confront the reality that time, people, and places have all moved on. In contrast, King has spent most of his life outrunning and avoiding his childhood. It’s only when his adventure with Sophie brings him home that he’s able to make peace with the past. Life often takes us in the direction we’re meant to go, but that can also mean letting go of – and grieving – the choices we’re not going to make. Sophie and King confront that truth in The Rogue Not Taken, and the results are spectacularly emotional – in the very best way.
The Rogue Not Taken is yet another triumph from Sarah MacLean. I’m a huge fan of historical romances where the heroine does her best to buck society’s trends and MacLean has added another worthy example to that canon. Sophie is witty, intelligent, stubborn, and independent. At times, it seemed impossible that anyone could deserve her, especially King, but his journey is just as hard-won. The Rogue Not Taken is a fantastic novel and I can’t wait to see what MacLean comes up with next!
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
[Photo Credit: Goodreads]