Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Brilliant Conclusion to the Rules of Scoundrels Series
“Men see what they wish to see.”
THE STORY: Lady Georgiana Pearson was only sixteen when she gave herself to a man who she believed she loved but who abandoned her leaving her pregnant. Utterly ruined, Georgiana has secretly resurrected herself into the most powerful woman in Britain. At the tender age of twenty, she founded The Fallen Angel recruiting as her partners three men who had also fallen from the grace of the aristocracy.
“She might never again be accepted by society, but now she held the power to destroy it.”
For years, Georgiana has had three different roles: Georgiana, sister to a duke and a fallen woman; Anna, the madam of the Angel and the most famous whore in London; and Chase, the mysterious man who holds all the secrets of the Angel and the aristocracy. At the beginning of NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER, Georgiana is reluctantly seeking out a husband. She wants the respectability of a title to protect her daughter Caroline’s future prospects and as a result has had to re-enter society.
“She was like no woman he’d ever known.”
At a ball, Georgiana “meets” Duncan West. Unknown to West, the two have actually interacted for years. Chase and West have been partners of a sort in the secrets of London. The two have sent messages back and forth dealing in the secrets of the ton. Anna and West have also done some mild flirting as Anna acted as messenger for Chase. It is meeting, Georgiana, however, that most intrigues West.
Duncan West is “brilliant and powerful and handsome as sin.” A newspaper magnet, West owns five newspapers and magazines known throughout Britain. (Readers of MacLean’s other books will recognize West’s publications. West himself appeared in ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART along with the prior books in the Rules of Scoundrels series). A self-made man, West has dangerous secrets of his own that he is working feverously to keep hidden. Considered an unofficial fifth partner in the Fallen Angel because of his critical rule in controlling and disclosing the scandalous information that the Angel trades in, West knows nothing about the roles that Georgiana plays for the Angel.
“He was a man, and men saw only that for which they were looking. And still he seemed to see into her.”
Almost immediately in the story, West discovers part of Georgiana’s connection with the Angel. Thus begins a dance between Georgiana and West where each discloses and conceals truths about themselves while making deals and trades and also falling in love with one another. West agrees to help Georgiana capture a titled husband at the same time that the simmering attraction between them begins to consume them both.
OPNION: NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER is a book I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I read it – twice already. Georgiana is a heroine that is so incredibly unique and brilliant. Determined, driven, witty, sarcastic, ambitious, smart and loving, protective and caring, Georgiana is a woman on par with the men of the Fallen Angel. My favorite part of this book might be her relationship with Bourne, Cross and Temple who clearly care about her and yet treat her as a strong, independent partner and not a woman that has to be protected. They treat her as an equal and MacLean has written Georgiana as their equal. Duncan at first wants to protect Georgiana and yet as he gets to know her, he also learns to respect and ultimately be in awe of what she has done with her life.
Georgiana is not a weak young woman who needs to be rescued. She is the linchpin, the creator, the originator of the Fallen Angel. She has been so integral to the happy endings for others (her brother Simon, Bourne, Cross and Temple) sometimes to her own detriment that her journey to happiness had special meaning. Georgiana is a woman who has made herself strong and yet is not hard. She gives everything to those she loves. That trait, which led to her ruination, also makes her capable of having a forever type of love. By the end of the book, the girl who wanted so much to be wanted, is shown as a woman who has the loyalty and love by more people than she would have imagined.
The relationship between Georgiana and Duncan is truly a match of equals. The clever and witty repartee between them urged me to return to their interactions again and again to re-read them. The two are on guard with one another and the tension created by the fear that each has of disclosing their weaknesses while at the same time deeply hungering to reveal themselves to one another drives a great deal of the emotional angst of the story. While stories based upon the keeping of secrets from the other can be quite tedious an annoying as the reader yells – “just talk to one another already” – this is NOT one of those books. The secrets that Georgiana and Duncan are keeping have the power to utterly destroy them. To disclose secrets is to give power to the other. As the two begin to build trust between them, the secrets are revealed. By the time the ultimate secret, Chase’s identity, is revealed, it feels like the proper time.
I greatly appreciate the heat level of NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER. The book is sexy and hot, but not gratuitous or crass. The heat level is high but always grounded in the emotional intimacy of the characters. Plus, there is a very sexy scene in an indoor swimming pool.
This historical feels incredibly fresh and new. Georgiana does not react in stereotypical historical heroine fashion. The opening where Georgiana and West meet is one of the most amazing scenes I have read. All readers of historical romance have read the scene where a heroine is being savaged by gossips in the ton. What was unusual is Georgiana’s reaction. She does not simper or whine or fear. Instead, she is incredibly strong and dark in her reaction. I loved the reaction of Georgiana and it is a risk for MacLean to make her heroine vengeful in those circumstances – but entirely within the character of the woman who created the Fallen Angel.
As a lover of dark, angst filled romances, this book was a tumultuous emotional ride. MacLean’s writing goes deep inside the emotional journey of her characters and drags the reader along. The focus is always on the characters and their connection to one another. The story is painful and funny and sexy and empowering. The writing is at turns brisk and lush declarative and evocative. Rather than reading like a high school English paper, this book is more like poetry or stream of consciousness. MacLean uses all the tricks of a master writer who knows how to break the rules that schoolchildren are taught to increase the tension and flow of the story. It is a book that I could not put down and immediately wanted to read again.
WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of the Rules of Scoundrels series and her Love By Numbers series will be pleased with the amusing cameos MacLean gives of the lives of the heroes and heroines from those books. By using the excerpts from West’s newspapers, MacLean gives readers updates on those characters, glimpses into their lives, that don’t interrupt the flow of the story. Also, for Georgiana switches from breaches to dresses and is comfortable in both which I love!
FINAL DECISION: NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER is a winner of a book. Dark, emotional, fresh with a hero and heroine who are strong and smart and clever. A fan of the series, I was worried that this book would be a disappointment because I expected too much. Those fears were unfounded. While Pippa and Cross remain my favorite couple, NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER may be the best all around book. I highly recommend the entire series. I've already read this book twice and look forward to revisiting the story for a long time.
CONNECTED BOOKS: NEVER A LADY BY HER COVER has been a long time in the making. Georgiana was first introduced in MacLean’s Love By Numbers series. Readers meet her as a pregnant unwed teenager in TEN WAYS TO BE ADORED WHEN LANDING A LORD and then as a new mother in ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART. She, of course, also appears in the first three books of the Rules of Scandals series although readers do not know her true identity. This book can be read independent of the others but readers who really want to enjoy this book should start at the beginning of Georgiana’s story in TEN WAYS TO BE ADORED WHEN LANDING A LORD. MacLean has created a world where every one of her books inhabit the same world. Readers can start with her New Adults Novel THE SEASON, read the three books of her Love By Numbers series, and then the four books of her Rules of Scoundrels series and see cameos by characters throughout. A small spoiler that Lady Sophie who appears briefly in this book will be the heroine of her next book THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN.
STAR RATING: Unreserved 5 stars! Immediately a keeper.
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