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Friday, August 30, 2019

'Brazen and the Beast' The Bareknuckle Bastards #2 by Sarah MacLean

From the BLURB: 

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly... until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure... on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires... for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power... and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything... including their hearts.

'Brazen and the Beast' is the second book in Sarah MacLean's new historical romance series, 'The Bareknuckle Bastards'.

I became OBSESSED with this new his-rom from MacLean, that is largely set in the "underworld" of London in Covent Garden, and is a bit of an upstairs/downstairs for centring around four siblings - three of whom are from the "gutters" and the first two books focused on brothers Devil and Beast, had them paired with ladies ("toffs") from the gentry. 

First book was about Devil and Felicity, who are now married when we dive into 'Brazen and the Beast' which is all about brother Beast and his Lady Henrietta Sedley. 

Surprising no one, this second book from MacLean is more brilliance; an absolute master-class in a new era of historical romance that is both feminist, progressive, and hot as all get-out! 

It starts with Henrietta 'Hattie' being a larger-than-life woman (literally) who has always been *too much* for the ton; too loud, tall, plump, ambitious ... her father runs a shipping company, and it is her great desire to inherit it over her brother and have some control over her own life and future. Since Hattie is 29 and unlikely to ever wed, running the family business is her one chance to be the master of her fate - until she crosses paths with Beast 'Whit' Bareknuckle Bastard of London. 

This is more of MacLean casting off the ballrooms and sitting-rooms of most historical romances, of putting aside this idea of nobility and class to delve into much more working-class and inclusive sides of London rarely seen in such books - and it's the reading-equivalent of loosening our corsets, for readers and Hattie alike. It even changes the tropes of his-rom, when we have Hattie who is so desperate to take herself out of that gentry equation and not marry into money or security, but make her own way and take care of herself. It's incredible that MacLean is totally upending the usual "rules" of the genre, but still settling us into this fabulous saga series based around a family whose rejection of title is both what made them, and what could break them ...

Hattie and Beast/Whit are SUCH a good pairing. MacLean really explores in them, this idea of equality - and what it means to truly be *partners*, especially in a world where women are reliant on men to dictate all aspects of their lives ... and it's also so interesting for how she puts a microscope on this within romantic relationships of the genre, when a key ingredient for a happy-ending is the hero choosing her own path. Also: Whit and Hattie are HOT. This is some of the best sex-scenes and scenes if intimacy, reminding why and how MacLean remains at the top of this game. It's pretty hard to see how future book/s in the series will top Beast...

On that note; I'm a little in two minds about the next book in the series being about Grace and Ewan - the latter being the menacing brother-villain looming over the whole series, and Grace as his childhood sweetheart he's been made to believe has died. Part of me was hoping that *maybe* Grace and Ewan wouldn't be paired up, only so we could get TWO more books in this series .... I also half-hoped that *maybe* Grace could get an LGBT+ storyline (though in 'Brazen' we get the hints of a fabulous one, between Hattie's friend Nora and Covent sentry Anika - that I hope continues into the next book) ... and I thought it could be interesting if Ewan's story was about having to move on from what he thought was his GREAT LOVE, and what that would do to who he eventually ends up with - someone who won't want to feel like they'll always place second? 

BUT; it does seem that MacLean is steadfast in pairing Ewan and Grace, and I am resigned ... and also keen to see how she'll flip and subvert what is clearly meant to be a Catherine and Heathcliff dysfunctional pairing (Please - I am here for MacLean to scream from the rooftops that "WUTHERING HEIGHTS IS NOT A ROMANCE!" and show us how it would need to be flipped and fixed to become one). 

I also appreciated 'Brazen and the Beast' for the little cameos from MacLean's other series (I noted two - but I'm sure there's more I didn't realise or haven't read yet?). It was a lovely reminder of how full and well-rounded this world feels that MacLean keeps dipping us back into, and why I'm so sad to think there's only one 'Bareknuckle Bastards' book left. Bring on 2020!


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