Review: Janna MacGregor’s Rules for Engaging the Earl
Do you ever read a romance and feel like it has been written specifically for you? That was my experience of reading Janna MacGregor’s Rules for Engaging the Earl. I am a refuse heap for childhood-friends-to-lovers and I really believed that Constance and Jonathan were the only people with the power to make each other whole and happy again. Too often in romances I feel like, okay, these two have a connection, but do they really have to be together? Here, I 100% believed that they did. While some historical readers might be startled by the beginning of this novel, I ate it up. Their initial parting in the prologue felt typical of the genre (in the best way!), but I really liked that, when we meet them again ten years later, their lives have both become so much more complicated. It felt so true to life. Constance has been abandoned by her first husband and now has a baby. An expert marksman, Jonathan has been wounded in the war and finds himself at the mercy of malicious rumors about his conduct while serving the Crown. Their marriage is, on one hand, a matter of convenience, but it also isn’t. They both want to be married to one another and yet aren’t quite ready for all that marriage holds.
This dilemma is beautifully rendered. MacGregor does exquisite work showing the emotional subtleties of Constance and Jonathan's interiorities. And the conflict in this book was so high quality. All of the issues in their relationship felt authentic and completely understandable given their characters. I loved both Constance and Jonathan and found them to be exceptionally relatable, likable characters, who care for each other and want to do right by one another even after they have failed at that task.
I especially loved Jonathan. He had been through so much and was so wounded, physically and mentally, but his love for Constance was so pure. I loved Constance, too, but sometimes your experience of a romance is hero-forward and this book was one of those for me. That said, I think I have higher standards for heroes than heroines in my romances in general (do others agree??)—at times, I am guilty of viewing the heroine as merely a vessel for conveying the hero into my consciousness, like the cracker to a fine cheese. I’m never happy with a Kraft Single, but I can get down with a Ritz cracker, if you know what I mean. I want something special from my heroes and a romance is much less likely to be a favorite if I don’t care for the hero, whereas a lackluster heroine can be made up for (and even enjoyed) due to a great hero. That is not say that, in Rules for Engaging the Earl, I didn't find Constance superb. But I give my general thoughts on heroes and heroines as context here because I think they help explain why I might have loved Jonathan a little too much! When Constance and Jonathan inevitably have a big conflict at the 80% mark of the book, I couldn’t handle it. It was hard for me to see Constance be critical of Jonathan, even though he was definitely in the wrong. MacGregor also does an amazing job showing Jonathan’s alienation from Constance’s friends and family on the page. At one point, her support system visits his home and MacGregor does great work making his struggle with this visit palpable and sympathetic to the reader. This portion of the book was just masterfully done.
I also enjoyed how the dynamic between Jonathan and Constance allowed her to take the lead, particularly in their sexual relationship. Even now in historicals, this dynamic can feel rare and it is one I would like to see more of. I love an assertive heroine who knows when she has to be the one to make the move and I was obsessed with Constance and Johnathan’s dynamic. It was SO sexy.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves historicals and especially those seeking a fresh dynamic between hero and heroine in the genre. Rules for Engaging the Earl was my first MacGregor and I’ll definitely be back for more.