Narrated by Tim Campbell
Eva Devon (who has also written as Maire Claremont) opens her Must Love Rogues series with The Rogue and I, a story she says in her author’s note is an homage to her favourite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing (which is one of my favourites, too). Many, many romances feature couples who bicker à la Beatrice and Benedick, but Ms. Devon has taken that one step further and the first part of her story follows the plotline of the play fairly closely, mirroring some scenes and adapting dialogue to fit characters of the nineteenth rather than the sixteenth century. I enjoyed spotting those similarities (such as, when faced with confronting the heroine, the hero says “Send me anywhere… anywhere but here”, while Benedick begs: “Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end?”), although I felt that sometimes the implied bawdiness didn’t quite fit the regency setting.
As the play is a well-known one, I think it’s probably pointless for me to try to avoid spoilers in this review. The plot of the book and the plot of the play do diverge after the half-way point, however, so I’ll keep those events under wraps as far as possible for the potential listener.
As in the original, the hero and his friends – and here, they’re his brothers – are not long since returned from war. The Harts – James, the Duke of Huntsdown, Garret, and Edward – have arrived at the country home of Edward’s betrothed, Miss Emmaline Trent, the daughter of a rich industrialist. Garret decries his brother’s desire for matrimony and also makes clear his disinclination to come face to face with the bride’s cousin, Miss Harriet Manning, the young woman with whom he’d fallen head-over-heels in love five years earlier, and who had broken his heart when she betrayed and left him. Interspersed with chapters set in the present day, listeners are privy to the couple’s first meeting and subsequent romance in flashback; their meeting in the present is simply dripping with sexual tension and laced with barbs so sharp they could wound at twenty paces.
Clearly, Edward and Emmaline stand for Claudio and Hero, while James is Don Pedro. To complete the set, the Harts have a bastard brother – John Forthryte – who is clearly resentful of his legitimate siblings; anyone familiar with the play will have an idea of what his role in the story is to be.
With a week to go before the wedding and feeling rather bored, James and Edward concoct a scheme whereby they will trick Garret into believing that Harriet is still in love with him, and with the help of Emmaline and her cousin, Meredith (fulfilling the role of Margaret), trick Harriet into believing that Garret still loves her. Each duo manoeuvres their chosen party into overhearing a conversation in which they state that Garret/Harriet is still pining for the other and that their very public verbal sparring is nothing more than a smokescreen to hide their true feelings. Fear that the other will deride them keeps them silent, so they can never, ever know how the other feels and the participants in the conversation swear each other to secrecy. As in the play, the scheme works and causes the protagonists to abandon their “merry war” – but their happiness is destined to be short-lived, when John’s machinations contrive to drive a wedge between Emmaline and Edward and destroy their marriage plans. This event leads to revelations about the end of Garret and Harriet’s affair five years earlier, when they discover that they, too, had been manipulated (this time, by the late duke, Garret’s father) into believing that they had been betrayed and abandoned by the person they loved.
It’s at this point that the storyline of The Rogue and I diverges from the play upon which it is based, and these truths, instead of bringing Harriet and Garret closer together, drive them apart – because Reasons – which, I confess, didn’t make much sense to me. I’m also not a fan of romances in which the HEA is arrived at through the prodding of secondary characters, which is what happens here. In fact, the best part about this last section of the story is the way in which Emmaline re-invents herself and takes charge of her life. Even when Edward and James acknowledge that they have been duped, Emmaline refuses to go back to the way things were and insists on making her own way under her own terms. I also liked that while John is the villain of the piece, he’s not quite as black-hearted as in the original and gets to tell his brothers some home truths they badly need to hear.
I do wonder how someone who is completely unfamiliar with Much Ado About Nothing would view this story, because the romance is not so much developed as it is a fait accompli. Shakespeare tells us that Beatrice and Benedick have a romantic history, but it’s just a line or two and the audience gets to see the present relationship played out; here the author constructs a backstory for Garret and Harriet, but there’s no real romantic development and the romance feels rushed. She writes the verbal sparring between the couple very well and there’s a nice dollop of sexual tension between them, but I still felt as though there was something missing.
Tim Campbell does a wonderful job here of capturing the spirit and humour of the story. In fact, this is the first time I’ve listened to him in a comedic romance, and I was very impressed by his comic timing. His pacing is spot on and his character differentiation is excellent; there are over half-a-dozen male characters in the story and each one of them is distinctly portrayed so there is never any confusion as to who is speaking. His interpretation of Garret is a real highlight; he’s every bit the slightly dangerous, sexy hero he’s written as, and if you like your romantic heroes to rumble darkly in your ears, then you won’t be disappointed!
In addition, his female voices continue to be among the best I’ve heard from any male narrator; there’s no falsetto, just a softening of timbre and a slight hike in pitch and as with the men, each of the ladies is clearly delineated and easily identifiable.
The issues I’ve had in the past with Mr. Campbell’s pronunciation and accent have almost all been eradicated, and while there are a few slips, they are few and far between – a few “larshes” instead of “lashes” and “ont”s instead of “aunt”s. I also noticed that he tends to pronounce “Miss” as “Miz” when referring to Harriet (I checked the text, and it’s definitely written as “Miss” and not “Ms.”) which was a little odd. All in all though, it’s a terrific performance; expressive, funny, emotionally nuanced, and once again proves him to be a very talented vocal actor.
The Rogue and I is fairly short – it comes in at just under six hours – and while I was entertained, the weaknesses in the story mean it’s probably not an audiobook I will revisit. That said, Tim Campbell’s performance is definitely worth the price of admission, so if you fancy a short, mostly fluffy listen, you might consider giving it a whirl.
TITLE: The Rogue and I
AUTHOR: Eva Devon
NARRATED BY: Tim Campbell
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy The Rogue and I by Eva Devon on Amazon