Romance novels are typically associated with the idea of being trashy. Picture the dollar books on the shelves at Target with dramatically dressed women clad in ripped bodices, tigers in a field of lilacs and some flowery title slashed across it, like “Lily Loses Her Love” or something equally terrible.
Sarah MacLean is not an author I would associate with terrible romance novels.
Not because there aren’t ripped bodices or awful titles, but because they’re well plotted with brilliant characters.
Take a look at the second book in her Love by Numbers series, “Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord.” Does the title and the cover scream stereotype? Of course. But the plot and the characters do not.
The novel opens with Nicholas St. John’s life turning upside down as he’s published as one of the top bachelors to land in London. In an effort to escape from his newfound stardom, he takes a commission from a friend to hunt down his runaway sister when he meets Isabel Townsend.
Isabel runs a home for girls who have nowhere else to go, who need to escape arranged marriages or abusive husbands or otherwise unhappy homes.
Nicholas’ arrival could ruin everything Isabel has worked hard to build — after all, what she’s doing isn’t exactly legal. And the only way Nicholas can bring home his runaway is to figure out what kind of place Isabel is running. Both lie to each other about what’s going on, even as both begin to fall in love with each other.
And here’s the thing about the book: it’s not just about Nicholas and Isabel falling in love, though of course that’s a major part of it. It’s about the vulnerability of Isabel’s house and her position as a lady in charge of a runaway home and what could happen. The stakes aren’t just in the hearts of the romantic leads, but the lives of many women who don’t have anywhere else to go.
The plot doesn’t merely rise and fall with the love story. There are character faults the two need to overcome in order to understand each other and to fix the chaos in their lives. The side characters actually have depth and aren’t just stock characters there to flesh out the world. Everybody has a part.
So the next time you see somebody reading a romance novel, stop and think. Is it really a senseless bodice-ripper? Or is it something infinitely better?