Book Review: Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

I’ve read the first five of the Malory-Anderson Family series books. While I like Love Only Once, Tender Rebel and Say You Love Me, my favorites so far are Gentle Rogue and The Magic of You.

First, some of the language could be considered a bit iffy—I’ll leave you to deduce which on your own if you choose to read; secondly, as with any historical fiction, there are some problematic issues, namely men and patriarchy, but what’s a girl gonna do, eh, not to mention the other socio-political concerns; and third, I would really like to know where all these tall, well-built aristocratic hyper-masculine men are hiding? Is there even such a thing that isn’t a crazy right-wing fucknut? It’s fiction, you say? Still… 🤔 Apparently, this is a thing in whiteness: to accentuate white males and their accomplishments in a hyper-masculine stereotype or—specifically in this instance: white aristocratic males—as more than they actually are (see Mary Beard & Tressie McMillan Cottom). This does not surprise me.

James is an arrogant rebellious asshole idiot pirate and aristocrat (I cannot recall his title) and George is adorable, sincerely candid, real and headstrong. This has a Sweet Polly Oliver trope feel and the play upon male names gave me wonderful subversive ideas (i.e. queer, non-binary, transgender) in a perversely fun ‘no woman could entice him into marriage, but a cabin boy sure did’ [Big grin]. While reading these books, it’s endlessly fun to go down those rabbit holes. These two books had a nice mixture of hot and hilarious and I enjoyed both so much, I read them twice. Listen, it’s stressful out there—we need get amusement where we can.

I was urged to think about who these novels are for and as a writer that struck me as subjective since I don’t write for anyone but myself (I know! How incredibly self-centered of me); I thought all writers wrote for themselves. I don’t deny that some writers write for others, or money, as hilarious as that sounds given most writers make squat. I’ve decided to philosophically meander my way down that path of thought when reviewing because I’m shamefully and purposefully avoiding my other writing. Let’s dawdle briefly in a discussion on the physical descriptions of the historical romance protagonists: I rarely ever pay attention to these details, if written—perhaps vaguely—as it doesn’t really interest me, but a reminder that I am white and that’s where a problem arises among white readers bringing up a whole host of other issues. Unless otherwise noted, we’re not gonna assume they are white even though the literary and entertainment industry is so outrageously and unethically so—or should we? On the original cover of this book is Fabio (I think), an Italian-American—does he identify as white? White is and always has been malleable; a century ago, Italians were not considered white so…

Where was I?

Yes, that Fabio is on the original cover—a gorgeously artistic cover, I might add—does little to sway my interests as I’m not physically attracted to him or that type of big-beefy men—although Chris Hemsworth and Jason Momoa are aesthetically pleasing, and Martins Imhangbe from Bridgerton is gorgeous; okay, so I am attracted to that type of body, but do we consider them ‘beefy’? I have no idea where I even adopted that word and I’m now wondering if it’s impolite and impolitic to describe someone as ‘beefy’? Usually, I find myself more emotionally and intellectually attracted to the women protagonists’ personalities and how they interact with others and life; I get crushes on all genders and non-genders though if we must be completely honest and to my family’s continued denial. I’ve been told, however, that since I’ve hit the half-century mark it’s improper to crush on anyone that could be old enough to be progeny—thirty or younger thereabouts, and we’ll leave it at that. Really? Since apparently old is when you don’t know of any male Hollywood hotties under the age of 30, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for me. I still don’t know who Harry Styles is. Though I do have a crush on a number of women Hollywood hotties over and under the age of thirty—I know, how scandalous and wicked of me. I’m not sure that says anything good about Hollywood when I’m familiar with more women under the age of thirty than men. I’ll let you chew on that bit of wisdom.

If I were to adapt these series into a visual medium, I would look for someone mildly beefy who could handle the sentimentality, wit, sex, nudity and complexities of the male protagonists in historical romance novels, and, most importantly, ones that would not casually dismiss the significance of the genre—kinda like a Henry Cavill, Mike Colter, or Chris Evans-type bod (Sigh. I really must stop watching all these superhero movies/shows). One wonders whether or not any if these men would deign to gift themselves the likes of such a ridiculed genre as Hollywood would surely mock them if and when they would so dare. It makes me wanna challenge them to see if they’re worthy and capable of such a feat. I triple-dog-dare the hot Hollywood A-listers to step off their mighty large pedestals and award us with some homemade provocation, at which we desperately need now—especially now.

Isn’t requiring a specific body-type sexist, you ask? This is where, as a woman, I would laugh in your face then move right along.

Beyond the descriptions of the protagonists, the setting of the historical fiction could be a huge problem for those that are anti-imperialists or those that oppose normalizing colonialism and the aristocracy since a majority of them are set in Great Britain and the United States. I make the case that this is where a competent showrunner and her team could expose the whitewashing of history and the chicanery of the aristocracy—how wielding their power and doling out their measly ‘concessions’ to us plebs, was and still is an abuse and suppression tactic to obtain more power and wealth blah blah blah; that could be considered cynical, you say? Well, we do need a little cynicism in our art to be realistic, yes? There are a number of ways that one could adapt and present some really great historical romance novels as educational and entertaining social justice means, even the problematic ones. We ultimately have to remember though that a lot of us humans are miserable pieces of shit and assholes that do hopefully find redemption (or not), and we have to show those too fortunately; life would be very dull without them. And they needn’t all be from Great Britain and the United States—please, no; we may want to believe all the assholes are from Great Britain and the United States, but I am sadly here to inform you from experience that they are worldwide—so sorry to burst that bubble; it seems to be a persistent human trait regardless of gender, era, age, time of the day—or month, caste, ethnicity, borders, etc. Colonialism and patriarchy and assholes affect us all across the globe and there are so many examples and an utter lack of historical romance novels detailing such, outrageously and embarrassingly so. I would love to see a closeted bisexual Oscar Isaac-Pedro Pascal South American slow burn historical romance. Oy, someone throw that together pronto.

A reviewer for the Bridgerton series—I forget who—used the term escapism and I suppose you could call these books escapism though that could be considered dismissive; others consider them bodice-rippers (I’m not overly fond of that nickname; I find it demeaning and violent); some people simply don’t like the genre—okay, so don’t read them. Some would have issues in these two books with the ages of the women protagonists—I don’t. The entire Malory-Anderson series has its good and bad attributes like the Bridgerton novels—as do a lot of books. As an eclectic reader and a viewer of pretty much everything across genres, my philosophy is what you take away from the viewing or reading experience is what you bring to it—what you can learn and apply to your philosophy of life; if you are an intolerant, narrow-minded, cynical and nihilistic, self-centered individual that rejects empathizing and learning and savors greed and power, then that is what you’re gonna take away from the experience; if you have a love of knowledge, of freedom, and a life-long openness to learning along with proper critical thinking skills combined with edicts of compassion and empathy, then I am confident you will find your way to greater thought, awareness and enlightenment—hopefully; maybe? It’s complicated? If that sounds corny, I fucking hope so and look forward to your corny philosophical meanderings as we journey through these reviews together. I’m not here to tell you not to read or watch or what to think or to judge how or what you read or watch; I’m here to philosophically meander my way to enlightenment also. I am not a critic; I’ll leave that to the professionals. I seek only to read and learn and be entertained. If you want a judge and jury or a paternalized figure telling you what to think for each piece of art created, you need only go to Goodreads or Amazon reviews and take a tumble down those hell holes.

A reminder that I am a certified member of the lippy-bitch club, so you’re occasionally gonna get opinions—you know, those things women are not supposed to ever have.

All that said, if I see any further reviews comparing the Bridgerton novels or show to any Jane Austen novel or movie, I’ll vomit. Do these reviewers read any other books?? Is their literary background so incredibly limited and obtuse then? This kind of behavior reminds me of those people that only read Harry Potter novels yet tend to lecture others on what they should or should not read. The disrespect shown to the historical romance genre continues to be insanely infantile almost to an absurd degree. That it gets dismissed and disrespected in such a manner displays a vapid type of elitism that is not only anti-intellectual, but bitterly uncreative and artistically inflexible. It’s gross. And sad. And eye-rollingly annoying.

The Magic of You was another in the series that had a dramatic age difference; like I wrote earlier, I could care less about that; it’s never really bothered me like it does a lot of feminists; it’s situational depending on the age difference and context. I loved this book because Amy went after what she wanted to a relentless hilarious and endearing degree; and Warren was such an asshole in adamantly refusing her that he and the chase became charming and sensual—an adventure and endeavor she was confident she would dominate. I remember when I first read this book, I was young, impetuous and demanding, and their relationship was annoying and I had little patience for characters and narratives like this that made me wait; I hated that the protagonists were aggravating and difficult and refused to do or be who I wanted them to be and do. Well, I’m older with a lot of lived experience and I can relate to both Amy and Warren so much I find a wicked sort of humor and a vulnerable joy, grace and charm in it and them. Warren was a challenge and Amy pursued him with an adoring reckless confidence that was assertive and fearless. It was a fascinating subversion to the usual guy chases girl trope.

This book follows Gentle Rogue so George and James play a large part too. I have yet to read the others. When I do, if I have any favorites, I’ll note them in future reviews. Stay safe and healthy, y’all.

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