A Regency romance without a scandal is, of course, hardly any kind of romance at all. What’s the fun of having all those rules if no one breaks them? But while we’ve all relished our share of rakish heroes with scandalous pasts and sinister reputations, there’s something bold and delightful about this trio of romances featuring convention-defying women. These heroines seem, at least on paper, to be the very last sort that any Regency hero would marry.
Charlotte Hurst, the heroine of Not the Kind of Earl You Marry by Kate Pembrooke, is most definitely an unexpected match for William Atherton, Earl of Norwood—especially given that their engagement is announced in the newspaper before the two of them have even met. It’s part of a plot to embarrass William and damage his political ambitions, but Charlotte and William choose to combat it by keeping the ruse going and playing the happy couple. Or at least, that’s William’s hope. Because he initially accuses Charlotte of being the source of the story, she takes some convincing. That’s his first hint that she's not like the other women he’s known. Far from fawning over the rich, handsome and titled gentleman, she’s quick to tell William off, informing him that he’s not the last man she’d ever marry, because that doesn’t go far enough. She’d never marry him, even if there were literally no options left.
Pembrooke uses the pair's first meeting to set the stage for the relationship they’ll build, in which Charlotte continues to startle and engage William by defying his expectations and puncturing his ego in the process. Charlotte’s pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude is refreshing not just to William but also to readers, who will appreciate her honesty, her kindness and the warmth and sincerity of her growing love for the one man she was quite certain she’d never marry.
In contrast to Charlotte, Kathleen Calvert knows exactly how she consistently ends up the subject of gossip in Vanessa Kelly’s The Highlander’s Irish Bride. She keeps finding herself in absurdly inappropriate situations through (mostly) no fault of her own. When the latest scandal gets her banished from London and sent to visit a cousin who has married into a Scottish clan, she immediately clashes with Grant Kendrick, the most staid and serious member of the somewhat riotous family. He’s Scottish while she’s Irish. He’s quiet while she’s talkative. He’s proper and buttoned up while she’s . . . not. Kathleen’s immediate reaction is that they could never suit, which any romance reader knows means that they’ll eventually discover they’re perfect for each other. Which they are, of course. Kathleen’s exuberance brings much-needed color into Grant’s rather drab life, while his steadiness eases her restless energy and helps her find a place to belong at last.
There’s a lovely poignancy to the scenes where the couple bonds over the things they do share: love of family, devotion to siblings, deep-seated sadness over the loss of parents. Grant and Kathleen are surrounded by quite a bit of drama and chaos as their romance progresses (people are held at gunpoint multiple times, and there’s a love triangle that gets delightfully convoluted) but Kelly uses their growing love as an anchor, grounding all the excitement in something real and warm and lovely.
Hanna Zaydan, Diana Quincy’s heroine in The Viscount Made Me Do It, is the most scandalous of this trio, but she is also the most heroic. She’s a bone setter, a historical occupation that was a bit like a chiropractor, but without a formal education and without a fraction of respect from the established medical community. As such, Hanna is viewed as a charlatan at best and a prostitute at worst, and even her own Arab English family finds her choice of profession inappropriate. The only person who believed in her was her father, who trained her in the craft and whose practice she has taken over following his death. Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, comes into her life as he searches for his parents’ killer, and Hanna earns his admiration and respect when she cures him of a long-standing injury that the medical establishment has been unable to treat. His admiration grows into a fascination that soon tips over into love. It would not only be shocking for a viscount to wed a working-class woman in a disreputable profession, but Hanna’s big, close-knit family would never view Thomas as an acceptable match, since he's not an Arab.
In a subgenre as WASPy as Regency romance, The Viscount Made Me Do It is a marvelous breath of fresh air, reminding readers that there were other cultures, other religions and other perspectives present in this era besides the ones most commonly focused on. Hanna is a fascinating creation for all the ways in which she defies convention—and her love story is all the more dazzling for the richness and vibrancy her perspective brings.