A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin by Sophie Jordan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin should be just the kind of book I love to read. There's a likeable heroine and a hero with a dark, tragic secret in his past. There's delicious, snarky banter as the pair revisit an old childhood friendship and renegotiate their interaction as adults. The love scenes are hot enough of scorch the print right off the page.
Yet I can only give this book two stars. If this were a first book, from a new author, I might rate it higher... but I just expect more from the talented Sophie Jordan. The prose is lush, the side characters well crafted and humorous. The difficulty lies with the main characters, Rosalie and her stepbrother, Declan. These two characters never come fully to life. Rosalie just isn't particularly...deep. She's grown up in a rural boarding school, placed there by her mother, the notorious second wife of a recently deceased Duke. Her mother is an awful person, who has abandoned her... yet we are never really shown how this abandonment has impacted her personality. When our book begins, she's been living at the school two years beyond graduation, without any financial support from her family. She's being unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of her step-brother, the new Duke, by a headmistress who can't keep her and has no place for her.
The stepbrother hasn't seen our heroine for ten years, since he was unceremoniously chucked out of the house by his late father, the previous Duke, at roughly the same time that Rosalie was sent to school. When our characters reunite for the first time, he doesn't even recognize her, and apparently hasn't given her a thought in a decade.
As for Rosalie, she seems to have cherished a childhood crush on her stepbrother... but has made no attempt to keep in contact with him after they were separated. (At this point, the reader will start wondering, why not? But no explanation is ever offered.)
Actually, that's the main problem with Rosalie. For whatever she does, throughout the course of the book... no explanation is ever forthcoming. Her mind is completely opaque to the reader. She moves from situation to situation without really reacting to them, unmarked by the tragedies around her. She is never perplexed by the attitudes and behaviour of her relations, but accepts them unquestioningly. So Mom stuck her into a school and never came back... Rosalie doesn't mind. Declan left the house, never wrote her a letter, and didn't answer the headmistress when she wrote him about Rosalie. Again, Rosalie doesn't ever question why this is the case.
Small spoiler, here... Declan, our hero, is a victim of child molestation at the hands of his stepmother. But we are never really shown any effects this situation has left upon his life, either. He's your cliche regency rogue. He's even introduced to the audience with a tart on his arm, bringing his friends home for a bit of drink and debauchery. When reunited with his stepsister, we are given glimpses of his thought processes which are frankly, disturbing. He goes from "who is this chick?" to sexual yearning in about a paragraph. Remember... This is a sexual abuse victim, looking at the daughter of his rapist. If that doesn't tell you what's wrong with this book, nothing else I have to say will really matter.
Selling these stepsiblings as a love story was always going to be a challenge. But the author never really delves into the necessary angst to make us believe in this relationship. Instead, she relies on some sort of instantaneous sexual magnetism between her lovers- a situation which, under the circumstances, beggars belief.
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