Well, that was just delightful. I loved every single minute of Brazen and the Beast, even the melodramatic bits. This historical is Book 2 in the Bareknuckle Bastards series and although I had no trouble starting here, I do plan to read the first book since they are closely connected.
Lady Henrietta Sedley (Hattie) is still single at twenty-nine and determined to make this The Year of Hattie. It’s a four stage plan: Business, Home, Fortune, Future. Step One is to lose her virginity, thus sealing her unmarriagibility. She and her fabulous best friend Nora, who deserves her own book and possibly an entire series, head to a high class brothel that caters to women so she can get that pesky step taken care of. It’s very practical. Allow me to say, for what will not be the last time in this review, that I adore Hattie and I adore Nora and the fact that they are not the stars of a television series about pirate queens is a crime.
Anyway, when Hattie gets in her carriage she discovers that there’s a stunningly handsome man in it who is unconscious and tied up. She makes sure he’s not dead, kicks him out of the carriage, and goes on her way. He shows up at the brothel and explains that he wants the name of the person who stole from him, attacked him and put him in the carriage, and he has reason to believe that Hattie knows this name. Hattie suspects it was her idiotic brother, Augie, but of course she’s not going to tell this strange man that fact. Eventually the guy, whose real name is Whit, tells Hattie that his name is Beast, which she finds duly ridiculous, and they make an arrangement that Whit will “relieve” Hattie of her virginity after she returns what was stolen. A battle of wits and sexual attraction is on.
There’s plenty of plot here but basically what we have is Hattie vs. the Patriarchy and Hattie vs. Whit but also Hattie allied with Whit, who is the only person who is both wildly attracted to Hattie and also truly respectful of her – not in the sense of manners but in the sense that he respects and appreciates her intelligence, her business acumen, her drive, and her autonomy. Hattie grew up learning every detail of her father’s shipping business, but her father is set against leaving the business to Hattie because Hattie is a woman. No amount of evidence that Hattie is more capable than her brother changes his mind.
Meanwhile, Whit’s biggest enemy is his own past, plus a brother who wants to kill him. Whit has tons of brooding angsty baggage about his abusive upbringing which means that he is very protective of his own people (employees and family). It also means that the reader, and Hattie, constantly want to hug him despite the fact that he prides himself on being terrifying. All Whit wants to do is protect his business, protect the people who work for him, and protect Hattie. Hattie will have none of it. She’s not TSTL, she knows she has some limits, but Hattie in a towering rage is a sight to see. Have I mentioned that I adore her? I adore her.
It’s hard not to spoil Hattie’s reaction to finally meeting a man who has, for all intents and purposes, been described as the boogeyman. It’s hard not to spoil her answer to what seems like a business coup de grace. All I can say is that while Whit is a glorious character (brooding, protective, emotionally wounded yet sensitive, and appreciative of Hattie’s smarts) this is Hattie’s book.
This book is funny, sexy, and empathetic towards its characters. It does tend towards the melodramatic so readers will have to decide if melodrama is a feature or a bug. The supporting characters are wonderful (or infuriating, depending on which character we are speaking of). The ambience is flawless. It’s also notable that neither Hattie nor Whit are members of the aristocracy. Hattie’s family is rich, but her father is a businessman, after all, and Whit’s background is best referred to as “complicated.” I will re-read this book many times, but first I have to read the previous book in the series!