After a lengthy--for the romance genre--break following the first in the Greycourt series, Elizabeth Hoyt returns with When a Rogue Meets His Match. I'm not sure why this series is received less favorably than the Maiden Lane series, but to me the hallmarks of her historical romances are still there. Her writing still pulls the emotions out of me and her plots are complex and action-packed.
If you're familiar with Hoyt's books, you know she starts every chapter with a piece of a story, usually a fairytale. When a Rogue Meets His Match doesn't hide the Beauty and the Beast theme at all. In this case the opening story if that of a fox (the beast) and Bette (beauty). Like in BatB, Gideon is a grumpy, menacing figure who forces Messalina into marriage. Rather, her uncle does that, but Gideon has loved her for all the years he's worked for the horrid uncle and therefore takes the deal offered to him. Do this one job for the uncle and he can marry Messalina. Gideon is low born and has done the duke's dirty work for years, so being married to a duke's niece is a Big Deal. Plus the heart feelings, which he's slow to acknowledge. Messalina is angry and plans to fulfill a bargain with Gideon, get part of her dowry and run away with her younger sister (whom the duke is using as a way to force Messalina to marry).
Obviously, they fall for each other even if Messalina is unhappy with her developing feelings. The conflict of the book hinges upon two things: the forced marriage and the job Gideon has to complete before he can get Messalina's dowry and they can both get away from the duke. Turns out, the duke wants Gideon to do something Messalina would never forgive him for.
This was my biggest problem with the plot, though I'll try not to spoil it. Gideon could have told her at any point and they could have worked together to foil the duke's plans. He decides by the midpoint of the story that he's not going to do The Bad Thing, but it's not until the very end that he works with someone else to get out of it. Messalina forgives a lot, even if she stands her ground and makes the best out of many situations. Still, this is a BatB retelling and therefore she's strong and resourceful but still subject to the whims of men.
As usual with historical romance, there are some problematic bits (see CWs) and I don't recall any characters who aren't white. A large part of Messalina's character arc is her moral awakening as she comes to know all the formerly impoverished people Gideon employs. She eventually decides she wants to start a school for boys to help give them hope for a future. (Girls can go live in an alley I guess?) However, the book is set in 1760 and there's no mention of slavery despite the focus on poverty and inadequate wages. Gideon repeatedly points out that the clothing and items Messalina says are necessary for his entrance into society could feed a family for years, but there's no discussion of the humans who are not only impoverished but stripped of any freedom at all. Gideon was able to claw his way out of poverty, but that opportunity existed for him because he was a free, white, abled man. That said, historical romance usually glosses over all of this and I assume the reason the omission was so glaring here is because of the focus on class oppression.
That said, I enjoyed When a Rogue Meets His Match. Despite being able to point to several problems, I like Hoyt's writing and will continue to read her books. I'm a sucker for a Beauty and the Beast story and tend to hand-wave a lot of things for my "problematic faves," so there's that.
If you like Hoyt's books, I suggest picking this up.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review but borrowed and read the audiobook from my library instead.
Content notes: Three men will probably get books of their own and I'm not sure how their stories will be handled. One lost his hand in an accident years before and appears to have self-loathing and dysphoria either because of the loss or because of the death of the woman he was with at the time. He's closed himself off to everyone and everything since. Another is a self-destructive alcoholic. The third is described as having a ruinous secret that's tied to the open wounds on his back. This suggests that he's engaging in BDSM play, but it doesn't seem to be fun for him, instead tied to past trauma and abuse.
Blackmail, forced marriage, assault, near-death, mentions of past death including hanging of a child, grief, gender essentialism, discussion of poverty including starvation